By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Not to dismiss anything that was said in Thursday’s press conference with Gary Barta and Kirk Ferentz, but the most encouraging thing I read, or heard, in response to the Husch Blackwell report came on Twitter of all places.
The same place where trouble started for the Iowa football program in early June is now where hope and optimism can be found.
Barta and Ferentz both said a lot of encouraging things during the press conference, and they both once again acknowledged that the Iowa culture hasn’t been receptive enough to black players and they took responsibility for it and promised to do better.
The 75-minute press conference was certainly a positive step forward for a program that has taken a beating from a public relations standpoint, ever since former Iowa center James Daniels said on Twitter in early June that there were racial disparities in the Iowa football program.
But it was a tweet by former Iowa defensive lineman and current Minnesota Viking Jaleel Johnson on Thursday that had the biggest impact on me.
Johnson’s tweet only consisted of 11 words, but it was to the point and very telling.
“I believe Iowa is heading in the right direction. I’m excited,” Johnson said on Twitter.
If Jaleel Johnson believes it, then who am I to question?
Johnson isn’t the kind of person who would help to push a narrative on Twitter if he didn’t believe in it.
He thinks for himself and isn’t afraid to speak his mind as a proud and sure black man.
Johnson’s words carry more weight in this case because they come from the perspective of a black man whose experiences are different than the white experience.
Johnson was among the multiple former black players who accused the Iowa program of having racial disparities and double standards that came mostly at the expense of black players.
Johnson embedded Daniels’ now infamous tweet from June 5th and added this response:
“Very long overdue. It’s time for change in that community.”
Very long overdue. It’s time for change in that community https://t.co/BJJfXgnrjS
— Jaleel Johnson (@leellxvii) June 4, 2020
Change won’t happen overnight, or in a few months, but instead, will be a long and challenging process that involves everybody in the football program.
James Daniels also seems convinced that the program is now moving in the right direction based on what he posted on twitter on Friday.
“So much positive change within the Iowa football program and athletic department! It is amazing to see!” Daniels said.
The past nearly two months has been sad, disappointing, discouraging, but also productive in terms of addressing a problem that had been festering for years in the Iowa football program.
It now seems abundantly clear that Chris Doyle was largely responsible for the flaws in Iowa’s culture, and he paid a steep price by losing his job as the highest paid strength and conditioning coach in college football.
And while it’s true that Doyle received a healthy $1.3 million separation, his legacy is forever tarnished and his career is now at a crossroads.
It’s hard to picture Doyle ever working for another college program, and imagine how he would be received in the NFL where a majority of the players are black.
Doyle isn’t a scapegoat because there were multiple accusations of him demeaning black players, and he paid the ultimate price for it.
Kirk Ferentz still considers Doyle a close friend, so it had to be rough for Ferentz to sever ties so quickly, and under such horrible circumstances.
But it came down to a matter of survival, and Kirk Ferentz had to help himself, and his son, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, first and foremost, and that’s understandable.
Not once have I thought during this evolving story that Kirk Ferentz deserved to be fired, and the same with Brian Ferentz.
In fact, I don’t recall anybody in the media saying either Ferentz should be fired.
There weren’t nearly as many accusations against Brian Ferentz compared to Doyle, and that made a difference while enforcing discipline.
Iowa helped its cause, and Kirk Ferentz’s cause, by acting quickly and decisively with Doyle.
And when it helps Kirk Ferentz’s cause, it also helps Brian Ferentz’s cause.
That isn’t meant as criticism. It’s just a fact.
Brian Ferentz should use this experience as a chance to get better, and remember that his behavior reflects on his father.
Life within the Iowa football program will never be like it was before James Daniels tweeted almost two months ago.
Kirk Ferentz knows that, and you hope that Brian Ferentz does, too, because it’s important to remember that Jaleel Johnson also accused Brian Ferentz of being part of the problem, along with Doyle.
Coach Doyle is the problem in that building. And so is Brian ferentz. Things won’t progress until those two fix themselves. They know they’re a problem. KF isn’t. I respect coach ferentz wholeheartedly. It’s the other in the building.
— Jaleel Johnson (@leellxvii) June 6, 2020
It’s unclear if Johnson’s opinion about Brian Ferentz has changed, but his attitude certainly has changed about the direction of the Iowa football program based on what he said Thursday on Twitter.
Kirk Ferentz will turn 65 years old and Saturday, but he shows no signs of slowing down or being overwhelmed by the challenge that now confronts him during a global pandemic.
Barta believes strongly that Kirk Ferentz is the right person to lead the cultural change within the program.
But more importantly, so do the current players, and a majority of the former players who spoke out.
Most of them made it clear that Kirk Ferentz wasn’t to blame for Iowa’s problems.
So now it’s just a matter of letting this story play out and see what happens.
There already are positive signs, including a coaching staff that is half black and a Leadership Group in which 12 of the 21 members are black.
It wasn’t that long ago in 2017 when Iowa’s Leadership Group consisted of 16 white players and just two black players.
James Daniels has started a movement whose impact will be felt for years.
And he started it for all the right reasons.
So much positive change within the Iowa football program and athletic department! It is amazing to see! #GoHawks
— James Daniels (@jamsdans) July 31, 2020