Miller: Hawkeyes Living Under Lucky Stars

Iowa has done well with 'fallback' candidates as of late. Bob Bowlsby was not Iowa's first choice as athletics director, Kirk Ferentz was not the first choice to replace Hayden Fry, and Gary Barta's name was not on the tip of your tounge when it came for replacing Bob Bowlsby as athletics director. But it appears that Iowa may have one again found the right guy for the job.

Iowa's Athletic Department continues to live under a blanket of good fortune.

Bob Bowlsby was not Iowa's first choice to replace Bump Elliott. He might not have been the second choice. He was a fallback candidate; and in my opinion, he did a great job for Iowa.

Kirk Ferentz was not the search committee's first choice to replace Hayden Fry. Depending on what myth or story you wish to believe, Bob Stoops was high on the list, but he had to move quickly as he had an offer from Oklahoma, and Iowa had promised Ferentz and others an interview, and the committee was not prepared to hire Stoops before the interview process.

You might also believe that Terry Allen was Bowlsby's next choice, but those are skeletons that will likely never see the ‘official' light of day; those secrets will be taken to the grave.

But Iowa was certainly fortunate to have gotten Ferentz, the ultimate man for the head coaching position for the football Hawkeyes.

And while more than a few very connected individuals contacted me during the latest search for an Athletics Director, with most of them telling me that the pool of applicants or interested parties was at kiddie pool depth, Iowa seemingly found the perfect fit for its needs.

Gary Barta seems like the right guy for the job.

Everyone I have spoken with about Barta is very excited to have him back in Iowa.

I know some of his personal friends from his days at UNI. They were downright giddy last Friday.

I am also glad to report that those people that told me the pool of candidates was not deep, likely due to Iowa not having a permanent president while the search was taking place, Gary Barta's name was always mentioned, and those mentions were very favorable. He was the strongest candidate from the get go, he was someone that even the skeptics that I spoke with were supportive of, and were his name the lone entry in the pool, I think we still would have had the same outcome.

Barta's strength's appear to lie in fundraising. His bio on the Wyoming Athletics web page was two-thirds fundraising mentions. That is a big, big thing for the University of Iowa, which has the smallest alumni base among the 10 public Big Ten institutions. Iowa is also the smallest state in the Big Ten conference and has another high major conference team in the state to compete with for dollars. Those are major demographic hurdles.

Yet Barta was successful at raising funds at Washington, a school with a $40 million dollar athletic department budget. He was a master at raising funds in Wyoming, not exactly a football or basketball hotbed; all apologies to Fennis Dembo, of course.

When you are good at raising funds, it pretty much automatically means you are a person of great charisma with a high likability factor. My hunch is that Barta will play well on the I-Club circuit and be a media friendly AD; those things just go together.

You have a CFO and CEO wrapped into one, the way you had it with Bowlsby.

The fact that Barta's ultimate destination was Iowa, a course he and his wife set some ten years ago, is a great thing.

To quote Barta from his hiring press conference from last Friday:

"About 10 years ago, Connie (Barta's wife) 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 (Bowlsby) would ever leave or 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."

Those are the kinds of things that leave you with warm fuzzies, especially for Iowans. So often, Iowa is on the receiving end of national jokes, the stereotypical flyover commentary, etc.

When someone wants to be here, when someone knows that it's a special place, that makes it a perfect fit. Kirk Ferentz spent time in Iowa City early in his career. That makes the annual NFL speculation easier to take, because Ferentz knows the special qualities of the job he has.

Barta's wife grew up in Iowa and her family is still here, he spent six or seven years in Cedar Falls, so he was able to get a first hand look at why we all are pretty proud of our state and its institutions.

Barta also inherits a program whose ‘big' sports are on pretty solid footing. The Iowa football program is now one of the Top 15 or 20 in the nation, with its head coach earning the third highest salary in the history of the game. Kinnick will have had a total makeover by the time this season kicks off and the popularity of Iowa football has rarely been stronger.

Lisa Bluder's Hawkeyes were young and injured last year, but still made the NCAA tournament; this year promises to be exciting and successful. Steve Alford's Hawkeye hoops program had the second best record in school history and won every home game; they are also recruiting at a very high level which bodes well for the future of the program.

Tom Brands and Dan Gable will inject new life in the wrestling program, a sport that needs to be a money maker for the department and one that Iowa fans place a lot of pride in.

What is an incoming AD to do? Keep bringing in funds and raise the level of success in the Olympic sports. Barta mentioned improving Iowa's standing in the Director's Cup.

Alford's Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Tournament and football finished fourth in the Big Ten this year. But Baseball was 10th, men's golf was 11th and men's swimming was 9th of 10 teams, men's tennis was 10th .

Women's golf was 8th, gymnastics second to last, soccer 11th and volleyball 10th.

There is some work to do to achieve excellence. I know many of you might not care about those sports, and we certainly don't cover many of those programs here on, but winning titles and being competitive in no matter what you do is important, so Barta has some challenges.

His fingerprints will also be on the upcoming Carver-Hawkeye renovations.

Gary Barta was not a name that many Iowa fans even knew about one week ago.

He wasn't your first choice.

Yet it appears that the Hawkeyes are once again munching on some four-leafed clovers yet again.

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