GARY FETHKE: We've had a tough and focused search. We believe that we've found the very best person for this job; someone who is eager to be here; eager to work as a Hawkeye. I'm just thrilled. He'd had an illustrious career in athletics. He's worked at UNI for seven years, the University of Washington for seven years and three years at Wyoming as the athletic director in a program that is doing very well. So, we're very fortunate to have Gary and Connie, who also is Midwestern, and they'll talk about that with you. So, it's my pleasure to turn this meeting over to Gary and to let him talk about his plans for the university. I'm sure he'll tell you how thrilled he is to be here. So, welcome.
GARY BARTA: Thank you. I did prepare just a couple of comments on the plane over here. So, if you'll just pardon me for a minute so I can go through this. Obviously what I would prefer is that…I know you won't be shy about asking questions. It is very great to be here, very exciting for Connie and I. This is home for us. I was here for seven years at the University of Northern Iowa and had a great opportunity and a great experience there. I met Connie there. We were married in Waterloo. I have great memories. I know all of the back roads and shortcuts and made many, many friends. I'm looking forward to getting those relationships back up and running.
One of the things that I've talked (about) with the staff that I met with this morning is just to give a sense of how excited we are and what this means to us. About 10 years ago, Connie and I realized that our career was going in a direction that we were going to have an opportunity to be an athletic director, run a program. So, we started to look at geographical places we'd be willing to live; particular institutions that we were interested in. And at that time, we didn't know that Bob would ever leave of if he would. We didn't know where our career would be at the time. But we said (Iowa) is the No. 1 job on our list. So, the fact that we're sitting here today is absolutely a dream come true for us.
I'm obviously grateful that President Fethke has decided to make this decision and brought us on board. From the very beginning, one of the things that I was impressed about was the search committee. The two chairs are here, I see, and probably others that I'm not seeing in the back. But Joe and Chuck, thank you. Coach Bluder was representing the coaches. But one of the things that jumped out at me, there were seven former Hawkeye student-athletes on the search committee. That made a big impression on me. It told me kind of how this thing was being approached; our history and tradition. There are a very small handful that go on and compete professionally. Most of our student-athletes end up in the business world, in education. So, it just made a great statement, in my opinion, to have that many former athletes on the committee.
When I went to Wyoming, I took on a fixer-upper. We had a lot had a lot of obstacles in that sense. Obviously that's not what I've come and had the opportunity to do at the University of Iowa. I see that Bob (Bowlsby) is in the back of the room. One of the things that he did is give me a chance early on in my career and I talked to him often. I know that I'm taking on a place…I know there's been two athletic directors here in 36 or 37 years. And the foundation that's been built here is incredible. My goal is to carry on that tradition. I'm honored that I have an opportunity to do that.
One of the things that I know, as good as things are, as good as the foundation is, we can get better. And we're going to continue to strive to do that. I've had a chance to meet with some of the coaches. I'm going to meet with the coaches internally, one on one, and talk about where they're at, what their goals are. I'm going to meet with the campus constituency. Obviously I'm going to spend time with the contributors and the fans and just talk about kind of my philosophy and where we're headed. I'm a big believer in planning. My last athletic director at Washington used to say that hope is not a strategy. So, we're not going to hope we're going to get better. We're going to work toward it.
My kids are 8 and 5. They're in Waterloo with Grandma right now. I'm anxious to connect with them again. Right now, I hope they're not watching television because they just think they're here to visit grandma. (laughter) Won't they be surprised when we tell them they're here to visit permanently? I'd like to answer your questions, but there are so many special things about this place – the history and tradition, the fans. I know full well the people of this state how much they love this program. And I know this, he's a friend of mine, Jamie Pollard would like people to believe based on his billboard that something else is the case. But this is a Hawkeye State. So, I'm anxious to get to work.
What do you have to do here? It seems that everything is pretty much done. The coaches are signed. The football stadium is done.
I haven't played Finkbine for a while. I suppose I could…you must be Randy (Peterson from the DMR). Hi, Randy, how are you? It's been a one-way conversation, but Randy has left me many voicemails and emails the last couple of days. Many of them were clever, Randy. So, I appreciate your persistence.
Obviously, the foundation is very solid here. But there's always room to get better. If we ever stop improving, then we should go on and do something else. You know, our finishes in the Director's Cup; our numbers of conferences championships; or that opportunity in that special year to win a national championship. There's always the opportunity to get better. There's a new TV contract coming on board. There are some new coaches on board.
We've been doing this at the University of Iowa for well over 100 years. When I say, "We", it's in terms of athletics. There's always the opportunity to get better. And my goal is for us to set our sights high. Let's try to be at the top in the Big Ten Conference and Nationally.
What is your legacy that your most proud of maybe in Wyoming, Washington and Cedar Falls?
Well, my greatest legacy or what I would hope that people in my 19 years would say about me is, one, yes, we've been very successful, but more importantly, he's a person of high integrity. He loves student-athletes. And yes, he loves to win. I believe, and I hope this is part of my legacy, that you can win and graduate. I believe you can win and not cheat. The Big Ten Conference, the University of Iowa, represent those things. The value systems are there. I'm not going to point out any conferences that I think I probably wouldn't work in, but I think the world of this institution and what it stands for and what it has stood for over the years and of this conference.
Like I said, this is the place that we circled over 10 years ago as the place that somebody would be the place that we'd like to end up. And I'll just tell you that we weren't looking to leave (Wyoming). I was about ready to sign a new contract. My president was putting together a new contract for me back at Wyoming. Fortunately, he had been very supportive of me looking at this opportunity because it's just one of those places that because of our personal relationship and professionally it was a great opportunity for us.
How long is your contract for? It didn't say in the release.
Some of the things that you come into have already been put in place. What kind of challenges does it present that they're already done before you get here?
With the circumstances with an interim president, an outgoing athletic director, there was a lot of uncertainty. There was not a certainty that this search would come to a conclusion today. So, the last thing that you want to do is have your coaches uncertain about their future when they're out recruiting and they're trying to prepare for the season. The fact that those coaches have been extended already I see it as a positive. They all have been very successful in their own means and their own sports. It gives the new person, it gives me a chance to come in and evaluate them and watch them and learn what they're doing in their programs, and not have to have a hot button that has to be pushed right away.
The fact that there's no full-time sitting president, did that concern you at all?
You know, I will tell you that the most important thing in terms of a job satisfaction, it's obviously all the things we talked about – the history, the tradition, great staff. All of those things are important. But I know that having a great president is critical to me having an enjoyable and successful career. So, am I concerned about it? No. IS it important to me? You better believe it. I'm already on my second president at Wyoming. And I know this, The University of Iowa is not going to go out and hire someone to be the next president who doesn't have the same appreciation for the role that athletics can play at a university. I feel very comfortable about that. A personality conflict would unusual. I get along with just about everybody. Is it important? Yes. Am I worried? No.
When you were at UNI, who had a chance to judge what the Iowa fan was about; how deep the ownership is with the fans. Have you met anything like that at Washington or Wyoming? The culture here is a little bit different.
You're right. That's when I first started to really appreciate the fans in the state, the alumni across the country and across the world, and how they feel about this place. Whenever there's a football game or we're on the road for any kind of sport, there's always the Black and Gold represented in big, big numbers; bowl games, NCAA Tournaments, whatever it might be. It is unbelievable. I read that the season ticket window has shut down already for football. That doesn't happen at very many places in the country. Do I understand it and appreciate it? Absolutely. That's one of the reasons that I'm here.
What other family ties do you have in Iowa?
Well, Connie's family are the ones that live here. Her folks still live in the same house she grew up in. One of her brothers still lives here. It's all on her side, nieces and nephews. And then my family all live up the road about 3 ½, four hours in the Twin Cities area. So, for us, clearly it's just a chance to come home, be a part of a great program and do it at a place that we're comfortable. We're Midwesterners. We grew up in the Midwest. Our family is all here. The people, the work ethic of the Midwest, we understand. We're one of them. It's just great to be home.
You said that you can make the department better. What are the issues that you might look at?
If I mention any of it, I probably don't have enough information. What do I want to look at? You know, I'll look at every team and meet with every head coach and visit with that coach about - What are your goals? Where are you at? How close are you to getting there? What more do you need do you think to get it done? Same with all the categories – the ticket office, fundraising, marketing, facilities, whatever it might be – and just listen to each expert in that area. To say, this is an area, this is an area, this is an area, I don't have enough information right now to say that these are the areas that we've got to get better at. I have to hear it from them first kind of the background and where it sits.
When did talks about this job start and how did things wrap up?
Well, they began with a phone call from the search firm to me asking if I'd have interest. The answer was yes. Because I had a great situation where I was at, the desire to keep it confidential…of course that didn't last all that long, partly because of my ties to the state. I think there was an assumption that I'd have interest because of my career and the path that it had taken. With that, it then was taken to the next step in an interview with the search committee that we talked about earlier. And then it wrapped up last night with an interview with President Fethke. It finalized this morning. We flew in and here we are.
You said that you saw you career path taking the turn toward the athletic director position. When you became the athletic director in Wyoming, did you ever think that three years later you'd be at a school like Iowa?
No, I didn't think I'd be anywhere else but at Wyoming. We're making great progress at Wyoming. Like I said, I was getting ready to sign a new contract. I didn't have my eye on any particular job and certainly didn't know that Stanford would come calling for Bob. It came out of left field, but when it came we ran back to the fence and jumped up and tried to catch it.
What does it mean to take the position from Bob, who you used to have a relationship with?
I hope I still have a relationship with him. (laughter) You know, Bob and I have been friends and he's been one of my mentors for many, many years. It's probably easier to take over a program that's in dire straights and try to build it back up because maybe you can look more like a hero more quickly. But I'm not intimidated by taking over a program that's already on very solid ground and already at the top of its game because I'm somebody that just strives further all of the time. Wherever I'm at, I want to get better. I have great comfort in knowing that this program has been great hands for 15 years because I know the person whose hands it's been in. That's how I feel about it.
It says in the press release that you start on Aug.1 and Bob finishes July 7 or so. Will there be…?
He knows my phone number and I think he'll give me his new one. Obviously, I'm going to want to spend time just listening to Bob about ideas he has, things he was working on, kind of the status of different areas and then get in and roll up my sleeves. Bob, while he's my mentor and we have a great relationship, I'm going to do things differently than he does. I'm sure. We've not worked together for 15 years or 12 years, whatever it's been. That doesn't concern me because I'll have a chance to visit, hopefully, whenever I need to.
Where do you stand on Title IX?
First and foremost, yes, there is a need to comply with the law. But if that's are starting point, we're doomed from the beginning. I don't think it's the end of progression for women's athletics. As long as the leaders of the departments have a philosophy of wanting to make sure that every student-athlete has a great experience; and that might be a different thing to golf than it does to tennis or to football to basketball, but if you start if you start with your premise of we want every student-athlete here to have a great experience. Make sure the women's golf team is staying in nice hotels like the basketball team. That doesn't mean they're the same hotels, that just means…I had a coach once who was trying to get their budget in line and they were sleeping four student-athletes to a room. That's not a great experience. We've got to make sure that we take that off of the table. My understanding is that Iowa is in compliance. At Wyoming, we are in compliance. Washington, we were in compliance. I'm going to want to and strive to stay in compliance, but not just to stay in compliance with the law. I want our student athletes to have a great experience so it never becomes a legal issue.
What are some of the differences that you noticed between the Mountain West and the Big Ten? What might be different for you as you approach it?
One of the great things about the Big Ten Conference is stability and the longevity of the league. Certainly, the types of institutions are larger, public institutions. It always comes down to a discussion about money. But when you break down the student-athlete in the Big Ten and the student-athlete in the Mountain West Conference, they both have the same heart, the same desire. Many of our athletes could probably compete at the Big Ten level but for whatever reason didn't have that opportunity. Those are a few of the things. But at the end of the day, the goal is still the same. That's to graduate and have a great athletic experience in both conferences. I feel very strongly about the Mountain West Conference and the fact that it's a very good conference. But this is just an opportunity for me that's in a conference that I've admired for a long, long time.
Do you have a sense that the expectations are different here than the Mountain West?
Ah, does everybody in Iowa want to win? I say that tongue in cheek. Winning and graduating are the expectations. They're as high at Wyoming as they are at Iowa. There might be more attention. There might be more fans. But the goal and the game is still the same.
What was you graduation rate at Wyoming?
This passed year, it was 54 percent. Last year, it was 62 percent. This year, it was about 3 percent points below the general student body. Last year, he was about 2 percent above the student body. Every institution is different. That graduation rate at Iowa wouldn't be acceptable because the graduation rate of the student body is much higher than that. That's my philosophy. Let's have our student-athletes graduate at or above the general student body.
How big of a role did your history as a fundraiser get you this job?
You'll have to ask the person next to me (Fethke). The comment that I'll make is that every single day we need to be out raising money because of the resources needed to run these programs. When I first got to Wyoming, the staff said wasn't it great to be at Washington? You had large budgets. I said, it's the same, if you have a $20 million budget, the needs are $40 million. If you have a $50 million budget, the needs are $70 million. I'm very comfortable raising money, but I'm comfortable raising money because I believe so much in what we're doing. I wouldn't necessarily want to go out and raise money for other things. I just have such a great passion for what I do that it comes easily for me.
This question is for Gary Fethke. Your decision to hire a full-time AD without a full-time president in place, why is that?
GF: Well, partly it reflects my desire to make a difference here. If I take an interim position, I want to make decisions that will benefit this university. In some ways, I have a clear path. I have no other agenda expect to help this university. I thought going into the fall with all of the great challenges, really wonderful challenges that we face, that we needed administration in place. I had mentioned to Bob earlier and noted that Bob had served with six presidents successfully. Bob is pretty adaptable. I thought we could find an athletic director that would fit our culture. Our processes and our culture are very, very important here.
I want to comment on a previous question. I think (GF and GB) talked four ours last night and I don't think were two sentences about fund raising. Even though that's extremely important, we were talking about exactly the same things that Gary has been discussing with you today, about our values, about what we want to do to do things right at Iowa and about our winning tradition.
What was that made Mr. Barta stand out above all the other candidates?
GF: I think you're seeing it. He is someone that has an enormous pull and passion for this institution. I've said this to the athletic staff today. I've been here almost all my adult life. It's very important to me that someone wants to be here, which in some ways validates my being here. You find an articulate person with vision and wants to be where I want to be, that's pretty attractive, and can articulate very successfully about what it takes to continue the great progress that we've made under Bob.
Once you received the names from the selection committee, how quickly did the hiring come about?
GF: We had a fantastic search committee. They had my complete confidence. They were led by consummate professionals, who did their homework and worked tirelessly for this place. So, they handed me a very difficult decision. That's the kind of decision you want, where you feel you can't fail when you make the choice. It's a matter of deciding on subtleties and on aspects that I thought would best suit us. My job was made easy by the colleagues I had on the search committee.
Gary (Barta), how comfortable are you with the fact that this university has made a statement in the last few years in how important football is with Coach Ferentz's contract and the stadium. How comfortable are you with football's role here?
GB: Well, I better be very comfortable if I decided to take this job. Whether it's at Iowa, Washington, Wyoming, wherever it is, to our bottom line it means everything. It's the front porch. Your talk about our brand; you talk about our fan passion, every sport we have is important. The one that in September will start to turn the lights on will be the football program. That's the one that we start off with every fall. So, I'm very comfortable with that and the things that I've learned about Coach Ferentz; the way he runs his program; the attention he pays to graduation rates; and then certainly what he's done on the field as well. I've just heard nothing but great things. So, I'm very comfortable.
When was the last time you were at an Iowa football game?
Wow. It's been a long time. When I was at Northern Iowa, I came to a couple of them. So, that would be what, 12, 15 years?
You didn't get recruited by Hayden Fry, did you?
No, and I'm bitter about it. (laughter) Coach Fry was too smart to recruit a slow, option quarterback.
President Fethke is it true that there were no Iowa staff interviewed for this position or anybody in the state of Iowa interviewed?
GF: That's true.
Can you say why that was?
GF: I thought that the pool of candidates was truly a great pool. The committee made these decisions on a set of criteria that we established with the committee. They made some judgments. They're tough judgments. In some sense subjective and hopefully they have objectivity to them. There were many people who were not interviewed who are extraordinarily able and are doing fantastically in their jobs. It's just a very tough process to search your way through a pool of candidates like the one we saw.
Quickly Gary (Barta), where were you born?
Minnesota. And most of my family is still living in the state of Minnesota. When we made our phone calls this morning, I think Connie's mom fell over and my dad started crying. It all broke loose. They're very excited to have us back home.
Was he crying because you're going to Iowa?
(Laughter) Great question. He's very adaptable. He'll own a lot of Black and Gold, now.
Just to kind of sum up, you've already said this a few times, but how exciting is this for you and how excited are you to take over this athletic department?
To be politically correct in my family, I have two kids and I was married in 1994, so this is the fourth most important thing that's happened in my life. As I described, this is something that we didn't no if it would ever come to fruition. We didn't know if we'd ever have the opportunity. Once it came about, and when I received my phone call this morning that we were the ones, it's just, I can't wait. It's a thrill for us. My kids are developing an identity crisis. They were born Washington Huskies. They became Cowboys and Cowgirls. They need to become Hawkeyes for life. We don't like moving. We like to make friends and settle in. (Turns to Fethke) If you'd like to sign a lifetime contract, I'm a…We're very excited to be here.
When's your start date?
August 1. And what has traditionally happened or what's happened with me in the past is I'll probably be working kind of double-duty doing two jobs for a while because I owe my current employers some wrapping up some things. At the same time, I'm sure I'll be here a couple of times physically and certainly via telephone and via email. I already have a few staff members…Mark (Jennings) and I go way back. He's already going to hand me some things and Rick (Klatt) is going to hand me some things. So, August 1, technically, but I'm a Hawkeye. So, I've started already.