Clemson’s Swinney excited about positive changes for Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney won’t let all the questions about changes on the Tigers ruin his excitement to get back on the field.

“This team has a great vibe to it already,” Swinney said as Clemson continued spring drills Friday.

The perpetually positive Swinney probably has more need for it these days with his team breaking in four new assistants including first-time Clemson coordinators on defense in Wes Goodwin and offense in Brandon Streeter.

Goodwin and co-coordinator Mickey Conn take over for longtime defensive icon Brent Venables, who left to become Oklahoma’s head coach.

Streeter, the team’s quarterbacks coach, steps up after play-caller Tony Elliott took over as Virginia’s head coach.

Former Clemson standout Nick Eason, a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick at defensive tackle in 2002, was hired to coach that position after Todd Bates joined Venables’ staff with the Sooners.

Longtime offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell retired to an off-field position for the Tigers with former Clemson center Thomas Austin hired to succeed Caldwell.

Kyle Richardson was named to coach tight ends, something Elliott did before heading to Virginia.

“We’ve had a great, uncommon stability here so our world was shaken with Coach V and some of those guys leaving,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry said.

Swinney acknowledged the changes led to a few extra sessions of “coaching the coaches” to get prepped for spring ball. The Tigers will conclude workouts with their annual Orange and White game on April 9.

All certainly seemed good as Clemson went through its second practice Friday.

Henry said it has been fun watching Goodwin step into a leadership role on a defensive group that will have questions after losing five starters among its linebackers and secondary who opened in a 20-13 win over Iowa State in the Cheez-it Bowl last December.

Goodwin is not the loud, crazed wild-man Venables showed on the sideline at times the past 10 years. But Goodwin is a smart coach who can diagnose mistakes and put players in good positions to perform at their peak, Henry said.

“He’s going all the right things in the right ways,” Henry said. “He’s going to be good for us.”

Offensive lineman Jordan McFadden said Austin, who was part of Clemson’s staff as an offensive analyst last season, has gained the trust of his players at a position where starters Hunter Rayburn had to give up football due to a neck injury and center Mason Trotter will be out most of the year with an undisclosed issue.

All Swinney would say is what Trotter is dealing with is “not a legal issue or a university issue.”

Streeter’s biggest concern on offense is getting starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei playing like he was expected to at the start of last season. Uiagalelei has shed about 15 pounds, Swinney said, and has healed from a sprained right knee ligament sustained last November and a tendon injury on the index finger of his throwing hand.

Swinney thought Uiagalelei improved as the season went on and the Tigers, after starting 2-2, won eight of nine games for their 11th straight season of 10 wins or more.

Uiagalelei entered last season a trendy pick for the Heisman Trophy, a push that faded as he struggled early and the Tigers faded from the ACC and College Football Playoff race.

Swinney said national championship quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence made their share of errors, bad reads and poor throws, too. “DJ’s mistakes were magnified,” Swinney said. “We weren’t near as good around him as we were around those other two dudes.”

Uiagalelei said he’s improved his technique and his diet to help the Tigers reach their championship goals. He called last season one of the most challenging of his career. “But it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said.

Despite its strong finish, McFadden said players were disappointed at ending a six-year run of ACC titles and CFP appearances. He believes the team is ready to start a new streak this season.

“We want to give ourselves a chance to win those big games,” he said. “Since we didn’t last year, it was a different feeling, a feeling I didn’t like.”

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

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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.