Competition to succeed Thompson-Robinson starts for UCLA QBs

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – Chip Kelly had only two choices for his starting quarterback during his first season at UCLA.

He will have a variety of options this time as the Bruins have their first quarterback battle in five years.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson‘s successor is unlikely to be determined until a couple weeks before UCLA’s season opener on Sept. 2 against Coastal Carolina, but Kelly is going to give his five quarterbacks plenty of opportunities during spring practices the next four weeks to prove themselves.

“It’s a really good quarterback room. I’m excited for all of them,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to get a lot of guys reps. We learn by doing. We have to be structured and efficient in what we are doing.”

Kelly only had Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight and Thompson-Robinson to consider in 2018. When Speight got injured in the opener, Thompson-Robinson took over and started in only his second collegiate game.

Thompson-Robinson ended up starting a program-record 48 games and also set school records for passing yards, total offense, total touchdowns, passing touchdowns and completions. He also helped lead UCLA from 3-9 in his first season in 2018 to 8-4 last year and an appearance in the Sun Bowl.

Of the five looking to become the starter, Ethan Garbers, Chase Griffin and Justyn Martin have experience in Kelly’s system while Collin Schlee made 11 starts for Kent State last season.

The biggest buzz, though. surrounds Dante Moore, who was the first five-star recruit Kelly has landed since coming to Westwood.

The Detroit native, who won’t turn 18 until May 24, was an early enrollee. He said the Bruins’ move into the Big Ten in 2024 played a role in switching from his early commitment to Oregon.

“The Pac 12 is a great conference, but playing in the Big Ten and having that light on the team was a big factor,” Moore said.

Moore said the biggest learning curve so far is adjusting to the speed of play, especially on deep throws.

“I remember the first week I got here I was a little late on a couple throws and they were just telling me ‘Hey, you know, just adjust to this and that.’ The speed and understanding the offense are the biggest things (to adjust to),” he said.

Garbers has taken the most snaps with the first team through the first week of drills. The redshirt junior has seen action in 11 games at quarterback the past two seasons after he transferred from Washington.

“With Dorian being gone there’s a gap in leadership that needs to be filled and I’ll try to do that,” Garbers said. “This is my third year in this playbook and coach Kelly’s offense, so I think I’m just more comfortable and just diving deeper into it.”

Griffin, a fifth-year senior, has the most experience in the program. He played in four games as a sophomore in 2020, including two starts, and saw action in two games last season.

Schlee made the decision to enter the transfer portal after Kent State coach Sean Lewis left to become Deion Sanders‘ offensive coordinator at Colorado.

“It has definitely been a learning curve because it’s a little bit more of an in-depth offense with different plays, style and lingo. But I’m ready for it and this is what I wanted to do,” said Schlee, who passed for 2,109 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions last season. “I wanted to come here and learn an NFL-style offense so I could improve my learning.”

Martin drew praise from Kelly for his work during the offseason program and becoming faster and stronger. The redshirt freshman is best known for throwing for 13 touchdowns for Inglewood High School in a 106-0 win over Morningside in 2021.

“I feel like I’m not really trying to catch up and learning each week on the install. When I see the plays it’s easier than last spring when I kind of got thrown in,” Martin said.

Thompson-Robinson has remained a presence during the early phases of practice. He was giving pointers and watched drills as he continues preparations for the upcoming draft.

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.