By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Chris Doyle is gone, but he certainly won’t be forgotten, especially when University of Iowa athletic officials respond to the findings in an independent review of the Iowa football program.
That could come as soon as this week with the investigation expected to be completed by the end July, which is Friday.
The Husch Blackwell law firm from Kansas City, Mo., is conducting the investigation into accusations of racial disparities and bullying by former black players, and it’s assumed that it will release a report to which UI officials will respond accordingly.
Multiple former black players have described in great detail on social media how they were mistreated at Iowa, and most of the accusations have focused on Doyle.
Iowa responded quickly by reaching a separation with Doyle, who in less than two weeks in June went from being the highest paid strength and conditioning coach in college football to being unemployed.
Doyle was paid $1.3 million basically to just go away, his 21-year reign of power and influence crushed by a national movement that seeped into the Iowa football program.
It now seems painfully clear that Iowa’s culture under head coach Kirk Ferentz has serious flaws, especially in regard to racial issues, and the challenge now is to fix what needs to be fixed, and to do it with transparency and awareness.
Part of fixing what needs to be fixed is doing damage control and deciding what is the best way to move forward and to control the narrative.
My guess, or hunch, or theory, is that Iowa has decided, fair or unfair, that the best way to do damage control and move forward is to make Doyle the cancer that had to be removed from the program.
That isn’t to say that Doyle is being used as a scapegoat because there are too many accusations for him to play that role.
It just seems that Iowa is hoping that by cutting ties with Doyle will send a message that the accusations are being dealt with seriously, and that the culture is now completely different due to Doyle having moved on.
Current Iowa players Brandon Smith and Djimon Colbert both said to the media at a recent press conference that the environment within the football program has improved dramatically over a short time.
They didn’t mention Doyle’s name, but it seemed obvious that Smith and Colbert were referring to his departure as the reason why things have suddenly changed for the better.
Former Iowa defensive back Jordan Lomax told the Des Moines Register that Doyle became too powerful over time, and with success.
“Everything pretty much (that) went into Iowa football, Doyle had some type of input into it,” Lomax said to the Register. “And I think that’s where, when you give somebody that amount of power and that amount of autonomy, it’s tough, especially after the program starts to have success (as Iowa did in 2009 and with the 2015 resurgence).
“Because now it’s like, ‘OK, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. So, we’re having success doing it this way. Let’s keep doing it this way.’ And then as time keeps going on, Doyle, it’s almost … you feel like you’re untouchable.”
Lomax told the Register that he believes Kirk Ferentz is the right person to lead Iowa’s cultural change.
Lomax also praised Ferentz for breaking ties with his best friend, meaning Doyle.
So that’s two current black players in Smith and Colbert, and one former black player in Lomax, who are pushing the narrative that life is much better for black players without Doyle running the strength and conditioning program.
And while there is no reason to dispute their claims, will cutting ties with Doyle be enough to convince the law firm that Iowa is responding appropriately to the accusations?
And will it be enough to satisfy the multiple former players who have spoken out?
Doyle wasn’t the only staff member to be accused of mistreating players.
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who is Kirk Ferentz’s son, and assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace, also have been accused of mistreating players, or in Wallace’s case, one specific player.
But it seems that Iowa is trying to shift the focus away from Brian Ferentz and Wallace to Doyle exclusively.
That makes sense with Doyle already having moved on, and with Brian Ferentz being Kirk Ferentz’s son.
It’s only natural that Kirk Ferentz would do everything possible to protect his son’s legacy and future.
Even if it comes at the expense of Doyle.
But how would Doyle react if he believes that Kirk Ferentz, as part of doing damage control and trying to control the message, is destroying Doyle’s legacy in order to save his own legacy and to protect his son?
Doyle might be prohibited from saying anything publicly as part of his separation agreement.
But if not, you wonder when or if Doyle will ever give his side of the story.
Some might say that it’s too early to judge Iowa’s response to the investigation, and how it plans to move forward because more information still is needed to make that assessment.
But is it really?
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta already gave some indication when he expressed his full support and confidence in Kirk Ferentz, before the investigation had even started.
Barta acknowledged during an emotional press conference in mid-June that Iowa had failed to respond appropriately to complaints of racial disparities in the football program.
A Diversity Task Force report that was released in 2019 had multiple examples of racial disparities in the football program, and one of the reasons the former black players spoke out in June is because they didn’t think enough changes were made in response to the report.
Barta knew all of that, and yet, still told the media in mid-June that Kirk Ferentz had his full support.
The Register’s story with Lomax was posted a day after ESPN had published a detailed account of the situation at Iowa. The Athletic also posted a similar story with similar quotes from Lomax.
The message seemed clear in both articles that Chris Doyle was mostly to blame for the problems with Iowa’s culture and that life is much better for the black players without him.
And if that truly is the case, it’s sad to think that one person could ruin a culture, and be allowed to do it for years.