External review finds racial bias, bullying in Iowa football program

Wadley alleges playing for Iowa was a nightmare (0:53)

Adam Rittenberg details former Iowa RB Akrum Wadley's allegations of mistreatment, specifically calling out head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. (0:53)

An external review of Iowa's football program found an environment where many Black players felt bullied and demeaned, and recommended that coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta take steps to improve the culture.

Iowa commissioned the review, conducted by Missouri-based firm Husch Blackwell, after claims from more than 60 former players in early June about racial inequities in the football program. The review found many positive comments from current and former players toward Ferentz, but it identified three members of the coaching staff, on-field or from the strength and conditioning program, who "abused their power and verbally abused and bullied players."

Iowa on June 14 reached a separation agreement with longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who was the subject of many allegations of mistreatment by Black former players. Doyle, who denied any wrongdoing on the basis of race, received approximately $1.1 million (15 months' salary) as part of the agreement.

Husch Blackwell said it is providing four personnel reports summarizing specific allegations of mistreatment by current and former Iowa football employees.

Athletic director Gary Barta, who has reviewed the reports, said Thursday that no additional personnel changes are planned. Ferentz expressed confidence in his staff but said there will be "special attention given," including counseling, for specific situations. In addition to Doyle, former players mentioned offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and linebackers coach Seth Wallace in their claims on social media in early June.

"Is there a pattern of it? That's a question you have to ask. Is it correctable? That's a question you have to ask," Kirk Ferentz said. "Those are judgments that I've had to make and then I've got to answer to people, too, about those things. I'm confident there will be less of that kind of feedback from any of our players."

Several players told investigators that Iowa's issues around race were "not just a Chris Doyle problem" and that Doyle should not be a "scapegoat" for broader issues.

"Chris is an outstanding coach," Ferentz said. "I know in his next opportunity, he's going to do a fantastic job. But that's not the end of the discussion. There are a lot of things we've talked about, we've discussed, unearthed, learned. We just have to do a better job."

Ferentz added of Doyle's role in the program, "We had that position in charge of too many things." Responsibilities now will be delegated to multiple people, and Iowa will reduce ways that it monitors players, a criticism cited in the Husch Blackwell review. Ferentz, the longest-tenured coach in the FBS, described Iowa as an "NFL-style collegiate program" where assistants had autonomy over certain areas, adding that he will be more involved in all aspects of the program. Iowa also will "reshape" how it handles players' transitions into the program, a period many former players cited as problematic in the past.

"I used the term 'blind spot' previously," Ferentz said. "How do you see things quicker? How do you see things better? ... To have one person with as many responsibilities, in retrospect, was probably a mistake. As we move forward, those will be diffused out a little bit so players aren't being corrected by the same person time and time and time again."

Husch Blackwell spoke with 111 people, including 45 current and 29 former Iowa football players, and 36 current and former employees of the program. The review covered areas such as differential treatment of Black players, retention of Black players, allegations regarding NFL draft prospects and the overall racial climate at Iowa.

"I have read the report, and it is clear that the climate and culture must and will change within our football program," university president Bruce Harreld said in a prepared statement. "Our student-athletes must have the ability to be true to themselves, and we cannot and will not tolerate a systemic process that inhibits authenticity."

A coach told investigators that he doesn't believe Iowa runs a racist program but that it is hurt by having one or two coaches holding too much power. That same coach echoed many of the players' allegations in saying it's more difficult for Black players because they have to conform to different standards.

"A second coach stated that players have told him the Iowa Way means 'you act like a White person and cannot be yourself,'" the report reads.

Several former players described verbal abuse they received from coaches, including a Black former player who told investigators it "seemed like every Black player had two strikes the day we entered Iowa. ... I was either a criminal or a dumb motherf---er to these guys."

Ferentz called the report "a moment of truth" and said it showed instances where "coaches had crossed the line from demanding to demeaning, and that's never acceptable."

Several players interviewed told investigators they thought Iowa's team rules targeted Black players, with one saying coaches used restrictions to "eliminate Black culture." Many former players said Iowa's Black players were subject to harsher and more frequent discipline than their white teammates.

According to the report, a coach said he brought up the differences in treatment of Black players to Ferentz "a couple of times over the last four years with no resulting change." A coach also told Husch Blackwell that Black players were held to different standards regarding weight loss and weight goals but did not inform anyone "due to fear of retaliation."

A separate report by Iowa's athletics diversity task force also cited an employee who said Black players received harsher punishments and didn't feel welcome in the football building. Ferentz told investigators that he read the diversity task force's report in 2019 and shared "relevant information" with his staff. He made some changes in the program but said he should have done more.

"The key point is just the lens that you're looking at things through, particularly the last two months, since the end of May, versus prior to that point," Ferentz said. "A lot of viewpoints have changed. I tie that in also with the evaluation of people. You've got to ask better, probing questions to get more honest feedback, so people can feel comfortable telling you about what needs to be addressed. We're getting that right now but we need to continue on that path."

Both Ferentz and Barta highlighted progress they have seen since early June, particularly an emotional June 8 team meeting that Ferentz described as "a defining moment for our program."

"What are the things we need to do to avoid having a report like this come out? ... As we move forward, how do I better ask questions and better get to the truth?" Ferentz said Thursday. "Using former players has been a great vehicle, no question about that, but what about our current players? Because right now, they're talking very freely, but is that going to be the same way a year from now?"

ESPN's Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.