University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has dissolved a committee formed during the summer of 2020 with the intent of helping guide the program into a new era of acceptance, diversity and inclusion.
Ferentz officially dissolved the 10-member committee on Tuesday, saying that he’s looking to “evolve” the committee moving forward, as first reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
On Friday, the university announced that Ferentz had signed a four-year extension on top of his current contract that was set to expire in 2025. Under this new deal, Ferentz will remain the coach at Iowa until 2029 with a $7 million base salary. That figure places him as the 11th-highest-paid college coach in the country (tied with Oklahoma’s Brent Venables).
In June 2020, in response to the social unrest following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, dozens of Black former Iowa players came forward to call out racial inequities within the football program over a long period.
Among the fallout was the removal of longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle and a lawsuit against Ferentz and the university by 13 Black former players. A court ruling has since dismissed Ferentz from the lawsuit.
An external investigation by the Husch Blackwell law firm into Iowa’s football culture in July 2020 concluded that Black players often have felt they were treated harshly but largely exonerated Ferentz of being the root of the problem. Many former players in public comments also accused Brian Ferentz, offensive coordinator and son of Kirk Ferentz, of biased treatment. The Husch Blackwell report didn’t mention Brian Ferentz by name, but it stated that players said problems went beyond mistreatment by Doyle.
Brian Ferentz and Doyle remain defendants in the lawsuit, which is set to go to trial in 2023. The suit was filed by former players Akrum Wadley, Aaron Mends, Jonathan Parker, Marcel Joly, Maurice Fleming, Reggie Spearman, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Andre Harris, Darian Cooper, Laron Taylor, Brandon Simon, Javon Foy and Terrence Harris.
In July 2020, Ferentz announced that he had formed an alumni diversity advisory committee of 10 volunteers in the wake of the widespread allegations that his program wasn’t always welcoming to Black players. David Porter, a former offensive lineman under Ferentz in the early 2000s, was named head of the committee. Then, Ferentz said he had four or five meetings with the 10 former players whose time with the team ranged from the 1970s to recent graduates. He also made the commitment to release all of the names to the public. To date, the full list of names were never released.
In an email obtained Sunday by the Register from the university, Ferentz stated the purpose of the committee was so he “could gain insight and expertise from a small group of former players and coaches from other programs.” He also added that it was important to gain a variety of perspectives and that he’s appreciative of the volunteers’ time.
The formal committee will no longer meet regularly, but Ferentz said in the email that he welcomes continued input and direction from the committee and other former players. He went on to outline two main takeaways from his time with the group:
“1. We can be a team and celebrate players as individuals. Therefore, some team rules were relaxed specifically related to dress code.
“2. Communication builds connection and understanding. The biggest takeaway was to have the opportunity to reach out to players in a more frequent basis. During the season we now dedicate time to getting to know one another much better — those individual stories are necessary to build understanding. Many fans have noticed that at Iowa our players are on the sideline for the National Anthem. You will also see that many players kneel, and their teammates have their hand on the player’s shoulder. This is a sign of support and understanding and a good example of respecting the individual while being a team.”
In conjunction with forming the committee, changes to the program were made including:
- Allowing players to wear earrings, caps and hoodies in the football facility and letting them be active on Twitter.
- Loosening weight requirements for each player.
- Relaxing the use of sleep bands that track the amount of rest each player is getting at night. Doyle had touted the benefits of these devices, but players claimed they were the cause of stress and that they would be singled out in front of the team if they were deemed to be not getting enough sleep. They saw them as another way for coaches to control their behavior.
- Moving the drug-testing apparatus outside of the football facility to ensure more privacy for those being tested. Ferentz denied, however, that Black players were more likely to be subject to the tests, which some claimed.
- Perhaps the most notable change came on Oct. 31, 2020, when 29 members of the Iowa football team knelt for the national anthem against Northwestern. Players had been discussing whether to stage a demonstration during the anthem since June 2020. Whether standing or kneeling, all players held hands. There were 26 Black players and three white players who knelt. Afterward, players commended Ferentz on being open to allowing them to express themselves freely. Kneeling by several black players continued through the 2021 season.
According to the Gazette report, the decision to dissolve the committee was made after a “contentious” meeting in October. The Gazette also reported that Porter sent a Jan. 2 text to a group saying it was time to “bring in a new head football coach, football staff, and athletic director.”
Following the original report, Iowa football alum and possible committee member Jordan Lomax said that other committee members did not agree with Porter’s sentiments. He tweeted this in response to a column by journalist Pat Harty:
“Instead of being so quick to write an article you guys should’ve reached out to the other committee members for their thoughts. This is a one-sided article and only David Porter’s opinion, which I, and others disagreed with.”
Lomax tweeted in a separate post that he believes the only relevant voices at this time are the current players. Lomax declined an interview request.
Ferentz declined the Gazette’s request for an in-person, phone or online interview. In the email received by the Register, Ferentz said he decided to “evolve” the committee in November — after the contentious meeting but over a month before Porter’s text message — and communicated the decision in January. Ferentz stated that Porter’s text had no impact on his decision.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.