Phil Longo says running will remain priority in Wisconsin’s Air Raid

Mark Stewart/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

MADISON, Wis. — New Wisconsin offensive coordinator Phil Longo wants to put one idea to rest.

Just because Longo has a reputation as a quarterback-friendly coordinator because he used some form of the Air Raid offense at North Carolina and other stops doesn’t mean Wisconsin is going to stop running the football.

“I’d be an idiot not to run the football here with the backfield that we have and the offensive line that we have,” Longo said, two days after Wisconsin officially announced he joined new Badgers coach Luke Fickell‘s staff.

But Longo does acknowledge that Wisconsin’s offense will have a new identity.

“We’re going to be more diverse maybe than we’ve been here,” Longo said. “We want to throw the ball probably more effectively, maybe even more rep-wise than we’ve done. But you really want to be effective in both.”

That’s pretty much what he accomplished at North Carolina, which had the most rushing yards per game and total yards passing of any Atlantic Coast Conference team during Longo’s four seasons as offensive coordinator.

Wisconsin made itself a Big Ten contender because of its penchant for producing star running backs like Jonathan Taylor, Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and James White. Longo’s plan, he said, is to make sure the offense’s top playmakers get the ball in space as much as possible, whether they be running backs or receivers.

“We really want to line up sideline to sideline and then we want to stretch and threaten a defense vertically, because in a perfect world you’d like to get all 11 defenders spread out throughout the field as far away from each other as possible,” he said.

North Carolina threw the ball a little more than half of the time this season, but the Tar Heels ran on at least 55% of their snaps each of Longo’s three previous seasons as coordinator. Wisconsin ran the ball at least 59.2% each of the last four seasons, including a high of 65.4% in 2021.

Wisconsin figures to return two quality experienced running backs in Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. Allen has rushed for over 1,200 yards each of the last two seasons.

“We emphasized here in the past building it big up front, running it downhill, having a big backfield, being physical,” Longo said. “Those are things I think you need to win a championship, no matter what offense you’re in. That part of it isn’t going to change. We’re just going to do it a little different.”

North Carolina ranked in the top 25 in passing yards per game three of Longo’s four seasons as offensive coordinator and was ranked 11th this year. Compare that to Wisconsin, which was 92nd or lower in that category seven straight seasons and was outside of the top 103 in five of those years.

“What we want to do is increase how effective we can be in the passing game so that defenses have to defend the full field and all five skill players,” Longo said. “That’s really the goal of the Air Raid here at Wisconsin.”

Longo’s arrival already is making an impact, too, helping Wisconsin attract the caliber of quarterbacks the Badgers have rarely landed in the past.

Tanner Mordecai, SMU’s career leader in touchdown passes, announced on social media that he’s transferring to Wisconsin. Nick Evers, a former Oklahoma reserve and four-star recruit, also indicated he’s joining the Badgers. (Former starting QB Graham Mertz entered the transfer portal after Fickell was hired and will play at Florida next season.)

Longo said he looks forward to working with Fickell, after they nearly joined forces several years ago at Cincinnati. Longo turned down the opportunity to become Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, instead taking the position on Hugh Freeze‘s Mississippi staff – but Longo and Fickell continued to talk regularly.

“I felt like it was a mistake not working with him,” Longo said. “So when I got the opportunity to come and work with him this time, I wasn’t going to pass it up. And then on top of it, it’s at Wisconsin of all places. It’s a double positive for me.”

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.