USC’s Riley details recruiting coups, reunion with Williams

Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News
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LOS ANGELES — Lincoln Riley says he didn’t – and couldn’t – talk to Caleb Williams between the day the coach left Oklahoma and the day his once-and-future star quarterback entered the transfer portal five weeks later.

Southern California’s new coach had to wait patiently and stressfully for the chance to land the centerpiece of his first recruiting class with the Trojans, along with two more ex-Sooners who decided to follow Riley from Norman to the West Coast.

“There’s a long period of time where there’s zero communication,” Riley said Wednesday while announcing his February signing period class. “And then all of a sudden, Caleb and his parents make the decision to jump into the transfer portal. We had a conversation shortly after that, and I don’t think we talked even one bit of football. It was just kind of like a long-lost friend. It was good to be able to reconnect.”

Riley closed the deal with Williams for the second time, and the former five-star recruit enrolled at USC last Friday. The quarterback’s commitment capped a bountiful haul for the Trojans in the transfer portal: Riley signed 13 players away from other schools, from Oregon to Virginia, restocking his first roster with elite talent.

Riley said he doesn’t plan to rely on transfers this heavily in the future. His evaluation of the Trojans’ 2021 roster led him to identify spots needing quick improvement, and his coaching staff worked aggressively to find veteran collegiate players who wanted to join them.

“This is a unique year and a unique situation,” Riley said. “When you’re trying to really revamp a roster and fill the amount of spots that we’re attempting to fill, being able to have all these different mechanisms to use to fill that has been extremely valuable.”

USC signed two veteran Pac-12 running backs in Oregon’s Travis Dye and Stanford’s Austin Jones, who racked up a combined 2,318 yards of total offense last season. They also grabbed three productive transfer receivers: Oklahoma’s Mario Williams, Colorado’s Brenden Rice and Washington’s Terrell Bynum produced a combined 1,115 yards receiving last season.

Mario Williams and Caleb Williams already are a tight duo, and Riley believes his new quarterback will form similar bonds with his new receivers. Although Caleb Williams kept the Trojans waiting for nearly a month before announcing his decision, Riley knows Williams is eager to get to work in his new home.

“He works really hard at his craft, and he does a great job of bringing people together,” Riley said. “I think that’s what he’s most excited about right now is to just go to class, to get with the guys, to get back just in the flow of being part of a team and part of a university.”

The Trojans’ recruiting class is a mighty haul for a short time frame at a school that went 4-8 last season. Riley thinks the players were enticed by the chance to win quickly in a desirable location like Southern California, where name, image and likeness rights will only become more valuable in the uncertain recruiting landscape of the future.

“I think the real surge (in NIL) has happened now as recruiting has gotten competitive,” Riley said. “It’s a factor, and anybody that says it isn’t is not paying attention. … I think it’s going to continue to be another way that we as a program can separate ourselves, and we absolutely plan to do that.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.