Saturday, June 24, 2006

New Athletic Director Gary Barta Is a Perfect Fit for Iowa -- But I Assume Kirk Ferentz Will Be Buying Lunch and Leaving the Tip. He's the Money Guy

It's not every day I say something nice about a group of people that had enough good sense to hire the right guy for a job.

Especially the job as athletic director at a Big Ten university.

Specifically, the one at Iowa.

I don't think Gary Fethke, interim president at the University of Iowa, and his search committee could have done any better than bring in Wyoming's Gary Barta to be Iowa's 11th athletic director.

In fact, Fethke did so well that I think he should get the president's job at Iowa permanently if he wants it.

If he doesn't want that, he should be the president of something.

But back to Barta, 42. I can't think of a better fit for him than Iowa.

He has worked at the University of Northern Iowa; his wife, Connie, is a native of Waterloo, he knows outgoing Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby very well and he has an outstanding background as a fundraiser.

Assuming Barta doesn't screw things up -- and his track record at North Dakota State, UNI, the University of Washington and Wyoming tells us he won't -- Iowa's athletic department is again in strong hands.

With that in mind, here are a dozen other thoughts on my mind regarding this subject:

1. I still don't know why a large university needs to hire a "head-hunter" firm to get a list of candidates for an athletic director opening, but the search for Barta went surprisingly fast and efficient. But if you ask me, Iowa could have done without the head-hunters because Barta probably would have hitch-hiked to Iowa City to interview for the job.

2. When Barta and Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz go to lunch the first time, my guess is that Ferentz will pick up the check as well as the tip. At least he better. Ferentz is making $2.7 million a year, Barta's salary is $295,000.

3. When it comes to any decisions on Kinnick Stadium, Barta can have a hands-off policy. Bob Bowlsby, Iowa's outgoing athletic director, did a masterful job in quarterbacking the $90 million renovation of that classic stadium.

4. Barta won't need to put up any billboards in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids that say, "It's a Hawkeye State." That kind of stuff is always reserved for the second-place school.

5. It's an interesting group of major-college athletic directors in our state now. Barta is 42, Iowa State's Jamie Pollard is 40, Drake's Sandy Hatfield Clubb, 42, is the first woman hired to be a Division I-A athletic director in this state, and UNI's Rick Hartzell somehow manages to run a department when he's not officiating bigtime collegiate basketball games.

6. One of Barta's first orders of business should be to find out why Iowa can't sell out its men's basketball games on a consistent basis. Coach Steve Alford obviously doesn't have the answer.

7. Somebody needs to tell the people in this state that Iowa also has a women's basketball program. I think there are lots of folks who think the university cancelled the sport when Vivian Stringer left.

8. Barta can cancel Iowa's baseball program any day now. It's on life-support anyway.

9. I can see the possibility of an Iowa-Wyoming football game sometime in the future. After all, the policy has been for those two universities to play twice every century. Forest Evashevski's 1953 Iowa team beat Wyoming, 21-7, and Hayden Fry's 1987 Hawkeyes slipped past Wyoming, 20-19, in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego. The Hawkeyes had to score 13 fourth-quarter points to win the bowl game. Merton Hanks' two blocked kicks were instrumental for Iowa. So I think it would be a great matchup.

10. Now that we've got new thinking at the top, it's time to finally schedule that Big Four men's basketball tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines. Drake can play Iowa and Northern Iowa can play Iowa State in the first round of games. The only thing we have to make sure of is that Hartzell doesn't bring his zebra shirt with him from Cedar Falls so he's tempted to officiate one or both of the games.

11. I hope Barta likes Florida. Iowa's football team goes there every January. But, frankly, I kind of like California. Specifically, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena -- somewhere a Hawkeye team hasn't won since Jan. 1, 1959.

12. I'm sure Mike Gartner and the Board of Regents will make some stupid comment any day now regarding the hiring of Barta. My advice to Barta is to ignore anything they say to him or about him.

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[Photos from bottom to top are Gary Barta of Iowa (right), Sandy Hatfield Clubb of Drake (left), Rick Hartzell of Northern Iowa in the zebra shirt, accompanied by an angry Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan, and Jamie Pollard of Iowa State].