Q&A with Gary Barta

July 5, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta recently sat down for a Q&A session with the UI athletic communications department.

Q: This past year was another successful season in University of Iowa athletics. What will you remember most about the 2011-12 athletic season?

Barta: This is usually the time of year when we think back on highlights from the previous year. There were plenty of moments that I will remember from last season.

In football, watching our crowd participate in the card stunt at Kinnick Stadium was exciting. The red, white and blue and America Needs Farmers graphics in the stadium, and then to cap it off by beating Northwestern, is a special memory.

Men’s basketball has been on the rise and it’s been great to see what (head coach) Fran (McCaffery) and his team has done over the past two years. The moment in time I will remember from this past year is the NIT game versus Dayton. I saw Carver-Hawkeye Arena the way it was 15 years ago. We aren’t where we want to be yet, but the electricity in the arena that night was magnificent.

There was a lot of build-up coming into the Olympic Wrestling Trials. The communities and chambers of commerce got behind the event and coach (Dan) Gable was active in the bid process and wanted to put on a show for the entire world to see. Iowa City is the epicenter of wrestling, and Hawkeye fans, as well as wrestling fans around the country, stepped up to make the Trials a great event. Our decision to put the Dan Gable statue up around that event was intentional. I’ll always remember the families, all weekend long, stopping to take photos next to that statue.

To rewind a little bit in the year, the opening of the Dale and Marilyn Howard Pavilion and the newly-renovated Carver-Hawkeye Arena was very special. All the years of planning and fundraising helped us open a new facility, not just for men’s and women’s basketball, but for wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics and all of our Olympic sports.

Q: Even though it seems like fall is right around the corner, there is a little down time before the competitive seasons begin. What is your biggest focus during the summer?

Barta: Once the competitive seasons wrap up, we go out and travel the state with the I-Club circuit. Our fans do a tremendous job of coming to Iowa City for our events all year long and this is our chance to go to them. I just finished my sixth year at Iowa, and the enthusiasm on the I-Club circuit was the best I’ve seen. There were locations where fans had to be turned away because the event was sold out; one location turned away more than 100 people. The excitement and enthusiasm around our program right now is another great example of why it’s great to be a Hawkeye.

May and June is budget time as well. A few years ago, as a university, we made the mandate that athletics would be self-sustaining; no tax dollars, no student fees, and no general fund dollars. We were able to accomplish that for the first time in 2007 and every year since. We’re blessed to have a very large budget and this year it will be $80 million. But keeping that in perspective,$80 million will position Iowa with the eighth-largest budget in the Big Ten. We know we have to keep pushing and we have to do more with less. Fortunately, the people that work here and care about this place are willing to out-hustle and out-think people to maximize that budget.

I spend a lot of time during the summer on our strategic plan and thinking about what the next five years will look like, competitively, academically and in regards to facilities. This year, we are in the midst of a football facility and golf facility renovation. We need to make sure those projects are done on time and within the budget.

Finally, just getting ready for the fall season to begin. It’s exciting to think about hitting the road to Chicago for our game at Soldier Field and then return to Kinnick Stadium.

Q: The look around Iowa’s athletic facilities is changing, with current construction on the football and golf complexes. Talk about the level of commitment the athletic department has to improving facilities, in order to give its teams a great chance to succeed.

Barta: The first thing you have to do is hire and retain great people. You can have horrible facilities, but great people, and still have success. You can also have great facilities, but less than great people, and you are likely going to fail. Our first responsibility is to get great people on staff.

Once you have great people, you need to give them the tools to succeed. That’s been part of our master plan. Bob Bowlsby started it before I arrived with the Kinnick Stadium renovation and I came in on the heels of that. Since then, we have completed the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center (HTRC), the Beckwith Boathouse, the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center (CRWC) and the Carver-Hawkeye Arena renovation, to name a few. Now we are working on football and golf projects. Our great people are getting the tools they need to be successful.

Q: Football is on the minds of Iowa fans throughout the year. Even though fall camp is more than a montha way, what has you excited about Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes this fall?

Barta: We have the same great foundation and value system that Kirk Ferentz brought to Iowa City. In addition to that, we have a new energy and excitement. It’s great to have someone like (offensive coordinator) Greg Davis on our staff. He has many years of experience, he’s been through the wars and he fits very well with the Iowa football mentality.

To go along with that, we have two younger former players that had success under Kirk, then went on to have success in the professional ranks. LeVar Woods played in the NFL for a decade, and Brian Ferentz came to us on the heels of coaching in the Super Bowl.

The combination of some newness in the staff, some youth and new energy and the experience of Greg, that gets me excited. I’ve talked with some of the players and they seem to feel it as well.

Q: The atmosphere in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Iowa’s NIT game against Dayton was electric and the buzz around Fran McCaffery and Iowa basketball is high. What do Iowa fans have to look forward to when basketball season rolls around in November?

Barta: If you go back to Fran’s introductory press conference two years ago, you are seeing some of the things he promised when he arrived coming to fruition. He’s going to build a foundation and do it the right way. He’s going to play fast and exciting basketball and his goal is to win a championship. We’re not there yet, but anyone that has been around the program the last two years can see we are moving in that direction.

We have more depth and more experience heading into this year. The expectations are that the team should be improving. He’s going to have some freshmen in key roles, so there will be bumps along the way, but everything we talked about when Fran was hired is moving at a pace that he and I, along with Hawkeye fans, are excited about.

Q: Student-athletes and coaches in many of Iowa’s Olympic sports had successful seasons. Can you talk about the level of success, across the board, at Iowa?

Barta: I’ll never forget my first I-Club event six years ago when I arrived at Iowa; it was in Chicago before the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon and there were about 400 people in attendance. A fan raised his hand and asked me what my philosophy was on Iowa’s minor sports. Without hesitation, I responded that we didn’t have any minor sports at Iowa. He didn’t mean anything by that comment and I wasn’t attacking him, but I wanted everyone to know that if you wear the black and gold, our expectation is to win and compete for championships, no matter the sport.

It’s not easy to be competitive in every sport, but we are making improvements in our budget and with our facilities. My goal is to make sure that every sport we have is in the top half of the Big Ten Conference on a consistent basis. From the top half, you can begin your season with the goal of winning a championship and it’s realistic.

We have many successful teams and these are just some highlights. (Head coach) Tracey Griesbaum and our field hockey team are in the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. Our track and field and swimming programs are sending numerous student-athletes to the NCAA Championships, and two years ago, our men’s track team won the Big Ten Outdoor championship. What Mark Hankins has done with our men’s golf team is nothing short of extraordinary. To think a school in the Midwest that deals with the weather elements can be in the NCAA Championships three of the last four years is magnificent.

Some of our sports aren’t there yet, but my job is to make sure those sports have the tools they need, then get out of their way and let them do their thing. Once we get all those teams in the top half, we will start winning a lot more championships.

Q: The I-Club circuit finished earlier this month, giving coaches and administrators a chance to travel the state. What was your message to the fans and what will you take away from this year’s circuit?

Barta: The base of my message every year on the I-Club circuit is: thank you. Our fans make their way to Iowa City and this is our chance to go to their communities and say thanks.

(Former defensive coordinator) Norm Parker was a regular on the I-Club circuit this year. He has been at a lot of universities throughout his career and now he is reflecting a little. One of the things he kept saying was, “understand what you have.” Not just the fans, but me as the athletic director, coaches, everyone. From his perspective, out of all the places he has been, Iowa is a special place. I fully agree with that and I added to that message.

What I added was talking about leadership. Kirk Ferentz is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year and he led us to the most successful decade in school history. (Women’s basketball head coach) Lisa Bluder is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year and has been to five-straight NCAA Tournaments. (Wrestling head coach) Tom Brands is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year and helps us draw 9,000 fans a match. Our coaches, no matter the sport, bring great leadership and integrity to our department.

The overall theme on the I-Club circuit this year was to make sure our fans know how much we appreciate them, but I also want them to know what we have at Iowa is special. The value system and leadership skills our coaches bring is unique.

Q: You completed your sixth year at Iowa. What do you enjoy most about being a Hawkeye and what do you enjoy most about working at a place at Iowa?

Barta: It really is a dream come true. That’s an overused statement, but let me give you some more background. I lived in Iowa 20 years ago working at Northern Iowa. It was a great experience. I met my wife there, and was able to get a feel for what the state was, in terms of people and environment. I knew then that Iowa was the Hawkeye state and at that time we were just trying to carve out a little piece of that for the Panthers.

I left the state for other career opportunities and now I’m back. If you were to ask me in what conference I would like to work, and at which school inside that conference I would most want to be, I would have Iowa circled as my No. 1 choice. I get to do what I love to do, in the place that I would most like to do it. My wife and kids love it here, it’s a great place to raise a family and I couldn’t be happier being a Hawkeye.

Q: What are some of your main goals as director of athletics at Iowa?

Barta: I want to be in a position to win a championship in every sport. That’s a tall order and I understand that. I want to be poised and positioned to have every team competing for a championship.

I also want to be competitive in every area. We always get judged on how competitive we are athletically, but I’m extremely proud of last year’s 74-percent graduation rate. That’s the highest our student-athlete graduation rate has ever been and it was four-percent higher than the general student body. We don’t have the final numbers yet, but I can say with great certainty that it will be higher than 74 percent this year, which means another record for us. I want to be competitive and at the top athletically and academically.

I know that we won’t ever have the highest budget in the Big Ten. It isn’t realistic; our population base is smaller and our university is smaller than most of the other Big Ten universities. But I want to be in a very sound financial position. I want our buildings to be built, our debt in a relatively low mode, our reserve built and our sports to have budgets that allow them to compete at a high level.

I also want to make a difference in young people’s lives. I don’t get the opportunity day-to-day to work with young people like our coaches. But I know we are making a difference. I came from a family where no one had gone to college and I had that opportunity through athletics. Even though I don’t get to work with young people on a day-to-day basis as often as I’d like, I know we are making the same opportunity that I was given many years ago now available to our student-athletes who have earned it.

Q: Anything else you would like to share with Hawkeye fans across the world?

Barta: Things are going very well with Hawkeye athletics. We have had some great periods in our history, looking back through time. Bump Elliott and the environment he developed and Bob Bowlsby continuing that tradition. We have some good things going, but we aren’t done yet. I have a daily belief that the best is yet to come.