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. This is the second of a two part series.
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.