Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel builds connections with new team


NORMAN, Okla. – New Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel has taken significant steps to help create bonds on a team with many new pieces.

Gabriel, a transfer from Central Florida who took part in spring practice, was busy showing his teammates around the state last month. He got his offensive playmakers together at a ranch in Lawton and took his offensive linemen to Lake Thunderbird, among other things.

The efforts were needed because the Sooners have a new coaching staff, and new coach Brent Venables said 40% of the roster has never taken a snap for the team. Some of the most experienced players have come via the transfer portal.

Gabriel simply saw a need and filled it.

“I have been around a lot of different quarterbacks and no quarterback has ever done that before,” Oklahoma running back Eric Gray said Thursday at the team’s media day. “No quarterback has ever tried to organize and get all the guys together … That’s definitely good camaraderie for the team.”

Gabriel’s goal was to create stability as the Sooners prepare for their opener on Sept. 3, at home against Texas-El Paso. That will be Oklahoma’s first game since coach Lincoln Riley left for Southern California and several players, including quarterbacks Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler, later transferred.

“I think people here have gone through a whirlwind,” Gabriel said. “The school. The fans. I’ve gone through a whirlwind personally. But we kind of have that calm storm. Normality. Everyone is back to normal. New coaches. New team like every year. But now it’s just going to grind and now we’re finally here.”

Gabriel already was familiar with new Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. Gabriel played for Lebby — then the Central Florida offensive coordinator – in 2019, and the Knights’ offense ranked second nationally in yards per game (540.5) and fifth in points per game (43.4).

Lebby said Gabriel has fit in nicely since transferring.

“I think the thing that he’s done is he’s been exactly who he is,” Lebby said. “He’s been very intentional on creating relationships and making sure everybody in the locker room knows who he is as a person. He’s done a great job of that.”

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who followed Venables from Clemson, said the next step – creating trust on the field – should be easier after Gabriel’s efforts.

“I think getting to know one another – that is so critical for any organization, but especially a football team,” Roof said. “Because when you get to know one another and watch each other specifically work, then you can respect a guy. You can fight for that man.”

Still, Roof expects there to be challenges the first year.

“Yeah, there is a newness,” he said. “Every day gets a little bit better. But certainly as you go through Year 1 of most staffs, but you know what, you’re always learning. If you’re not learning, you’re falling behind, whether it’s Year 36 or Year 2. So that part of it, we’re trying to learn every day.”

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.