Kirk Ferentz’s decision to disband advisory committee an unfortunate step backwards
Ferentz says he plans to restructure the committee, but for now, there is no committee
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – David Porter has put his reputation on the line for what he believes is a just and noble cause to create a more inclusive culture within the Iowa football program.
The former Iowa offensive lineman will undoubtedly feel the wrath and resentment of some Iowa fans now that his request that Kirk Ferentz should retire was made public in an article that was published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Sunday morning.
Porter made the request in a chain of messages on Jan. 2 in which he said it’s time to “bring in a new head coach, football staff and athletic director,”
His request came in response to what the Gazette described as a contentious meeting Oct. 18 between members of the Iowa coaching staff and an advisory committee that was formed shortly after the Iowa football program was accused of racial disparities by multiple former Iowa black players in June 2020.
Porter was named the head of the advisory committee, but the 10-member group, which consisted of seven former Iowa players who are black and three who are white, was disbanded this past week by Kirk Ferentz.
“I have come to a decision that this is an appropriate time to dissolve our committee as it stands currently,” Ferentz wrote in a Tuesday email to the 10-member group of football alumni who have worked since summer 2020 to improve the program’s culture. “As we start a new calendar year and prepare to move forward with our preparation for the 2022 season, I am giving thought to how we restructure the committee/board in a way that best serves our program moving forward.”
It seems pretty clear that Ferentz made this decision because he was upset with Porter’s request that Ferentz, his staff and Iowa Athletic Gary Barta should all resign, and that Porter didn’t speak with Ferentz before sending the messages.
Porter was obviously upset when he sent the messages, but he had good reason.
Reports from very reliable sources started to surface well over a month ago that a meeting during the football team’s bye week with the advisory committee and the Iowa coaching staff didn’t go as planned.
Porter had asked the Iowa coaches to answer one question in preparation for the meeting and they had nearly a month to prepare.
Porter also scheduled the meeting during the bye week thinking it would give the coaches more time to answer this one question:
What is your role in creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) environment and what have you done to help foster that environment?”
Ferentz, in response to Porter’s question, according to the Gazette article, provided Porter with team goals, training rules and consequences for unexcused absences, as requested. But Ferentz, according to what Porter told the Gazette, asked about “punting on our staff’s involvement until December?”
“These guys are pushing hard each week and the bye week will be a needed and welcome break,” Ferentz wrote. “An opportunity for our staff to be with and get reacquainted with their families is important to me, as their opportunities have been very limited since early August.”
Porter told the Gazette that moving the meeting would set the wrong precedent and “sends the wrong message to the kids, parents, coaches, staff, UIFAC, and the football alumni.”
Kirk Ferentz allowed the meeting to take place, but it didn’t go as planned because some of the coaches didn’t answer Porter’s one question. Some of the coaches did provide a full response, while some came with no response.
It was disappointing to learn that some of the coaches didn’t answer Porter’s one question because it gives the impression that they aren’t committed to changing the culture.
Kirk Ferentz and his staff work long hours and have little free time during the season grind.
But Porter also didn’t ask for much. All the coaches had to do was answer one question about a serious topic, and yet, some refused to share their feelings.
That’s just not a good look for the Iowa football program.
It gives the impression that some of the coaches are annoyed with the accusations of racial disparities and would like the story to just go away.
The problem is this story isn’t going anyway anytime soon, not with seven former black players having filed a discrimination lawsuit in which Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is one of the defendants.
Brian Ferentz, who is Kirk Ferentz’s son, is accused in the lawsuit of regularly using verbal abuse and racial epithets and intentionally discriminating against players.
Former Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle was also accused of verbal abuse and of using racial epithets. But Doyle was relieved of his duties barely two weeks after the accusations were made public in June 2020, while Brian Ferentz has faced no discipline.
Some fans will probably lump David Porter in with the seven players who field the discrimination lawsuit and accuse him of trying to benefit personally from this controversy.
But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
David Porter, who played at Iowa from 1999 to 2002, has no financial incentive, nor is he out to bury the Iowa program.
He just wants to make the culture within the football program more inclusive for black players, but, unfortunately, he has been met with some resistance.
Maybe it would have been better if Porter had spoken with Kirk Ferentz before sending the messages, and Ferentz addressed that in a statement to the Gazette.
“Dave Porter did not share his sentiments with me directly,“ Ferentz said in the statement to the Gazette. “I was surprised and disappointed by his comment and wish him the best moving forward. His comment had no influence on the decision regarding the advisory committee.”
Perhaps the timing is just a coincidence, but it seems hard to believe that Porter’s comment had no influence on the timing of Kirk Ferentz’s decision to dissolve the advisory committee.
Ferentz said he made the decision to dissolve the committee in November, and he then sent an e-mail to members of the committee on Jan. 11 informing them of his decision.
The accusations of racial disparities within the Iowa football program came as part of the fallout from George Floyd having been murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.
Ferentz said to the media shortly after Floyd was killed that his team should either stand or kneel for the National Anthem. But whatever they decide, they should do it as a team.
His answer caused former Iowa center James Daniels, who is black, to make the following statement on Twitter:
“If the team collectively decides to kneel, this will bring about a cultural change for both Iowa football and the state of Iowa which I believe is long overdue!!!”
Daniels’ statement kicked open the door to a controversy that had been festering for years within the program.
Multiple former Iowa black players started airing their grievances on social media and it led to Doyle being fired and to the forming of the advisory committee.
Kirk Ferentz admitted to having a blind spot with regard to Doyle and Ferentz also decided to let his players either stand or kneel during the National Anthem. Other steps also have been taken to help change the culture.
Some of the current black players on the team have said the culture is much better now and is more inclusive for black players.
However, the decision to dissolve the advisory committee and to sever ties with David Porter is a step backwards and shows that more progress is needed.
Former Iowa defensive back Jordan Lomax responded to this column on Twitter, saying it was one-sided because it only presented Porter’s view point. Lomax also said that he and other members of the committee disagreed with Porter’s position.
But Lomax declined to be interviewed or to come on the Hawk Fanatic radio show with Porter on Monday. Lomax also never responded when asked for comment after the accusations were made public in 2020.
Iowa also has declined to comment since the column was posted on Sunday. And when asked about the possibility of someone from Iowa coming on the Hawk Fanatic radio show on Monday, Iowa Sports Information Director Steve Roe had this response.
“To come on to a radio program and share these types of private discussions would not be the thing to do.”
And in fairness to Porter, he never said he was speaking on behalf of the other committee members. He shared his feelings, which he has a right to do.
This controversy has caused a split with Iowa fans with some in support of Kirk Ferentz and others in support of the black players pushing for change.
Hopefully, fans won’t lash out at David Porter and accuse him of trying to benefit from this controversy, because again, that isn’t his motivation.
I’ve spoken with David Porter enough about this topic to believe that his intentions are noble and just.
He is proud to be a Hawkeye, and was the starting right tackle on Iowa’s 2002 offensive line, which helped pave the way to a Big Ten title and to an 11-2 record.
Porter now lives in Chicago and has made a name for himself in real estate.
He didn’t have to agree to head the advisory committee, but he cares about the Iowa football program and wants to help make the culture more inclusive for black players.
It’s sad to think that Porter’s relationship with Kirk Ferentz is now strained and that it might never be the same again.
Ferentz hand picked Porter to head the committee, and Porter agreed to do it without any financial incentive. Porter agreed to do it because he wanted to help his alma mater fix a serious problem.
Porter’s request that Kirk Ferentz should retire apparently had no impact with UI officials, considering three days after the committee was disbanded, UI Athletics announced Ferentz had signed an extension through the 2029 season that will pay him $7 million annually before performance-based bonuses — $6 million of which is guaranteed. Under the contract, the UI would pay Ferentz between $42.5 and $48.5 million, depending on the month, if it were to terminate him in 2022 without cause.
Porter certainly didn’t help his cause by requesting that Kirk Ferentz should retire following a 10-4 season. His comment was unrealistic, counter-productive and provocative, and it sort of makes Ferentz out to be the victim, and it will almost certainly cause Ferentz’s many supporters to be even more resolute in their support.
It could be argued that Porter over-reacted by saying Ferentz should retire, and that Ferentz over-reacted by disbanding the committee.
But that still doesn’t change what happened during the meeting in October, or the fact that Kirk Ferentz has disbanded the advisory committee.
Ferentz said he plans to restructure the committee in sort of a two-step process of dissolving and restructuring.
However, the concern is that he might pick former players who will offer little resistance, and who won’t challenge him on key issues.
And the situation with Porter is just unfortunate, and probably could’ve been avoided if both Porter and Ferentz had communicated better.
The national media will almost certainly jump all over this latest development just like it did when the accusations of racial disparities surfaced in the summer of 2020.
Kirk Ferentz has vowed to fix the culture within his program and he now has eight more years on his contract to complete that daunting task.
But it’s abundantly clear based on the Gazette article that he still has lots of work to do.