Iowa State turns to revamped staff to get offense going again

Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register/USA TODAY NETWORK

Iowa State made a fast descent to the bottom of the Big 12 last season, just two years after its best football season in school history.

Coach Matt Campbell spent December and January studying what worked and, more importantly, what didn’t in a 4-8 season in which the Cyclones won just one Big 12 game. They kept coming back to the failings of the offense – and there’s a palpable sense of urgency ahead of their spring game.

“I think everybody’s being pushed right now,” Campbell said. “The head coach is being pushed, our coaches are being pushed, our players are being pushed. So I think any time you don’t reach the results you would want, there is a deep dive into everybody’s accountability to being pushed to be the best.”

An offense featuring a physical run game mixed with explosiveness in the pass game, plus a heavy dose of tight ends, was a proven winner when the record-setting Brock Purdy was quarterback from 2018-21. Two years ago, the Cyclones were in the Big 12 championship game and beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. They’re 11-14 since.

The problem, Campbell said, isn’t the system.

“You look at what we’ve done here, over the course of that last seven years, we’ve had phenomenal offense,” Campbell said. “The best offense in the history of this school over the course of seven years.”

The dropoff began in 2021, before Purdy left and became an unexpected sensation with the San Francisco 49ers and before Breece Hall was the first running back taken in the 2022 NFL draft.

After seeing his offense score just 20.2 points per game – its lowest average since 2007 – Campbell decided it was time for a new voice and fired offensive coordinator Tom Manning.

Nate Scheelhaase was promoted from running backs and receivers coach to coordinator, and his charge is to revive a unit that was last in the Big 12 in scoring, rushing and total offense.

Three position coaches were hired from the outside. Offensive line coach Ryan Clanton (Northern Iowa) takes over a group that gave up a Big 12-high 23 sacks in conference games. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Jordan Langs (NAIA Indiana Wesleyan) will try to ignite a run game that averaged a 3.3 yards per carry. Receivers coach Noah Pauley (North Dakota State) must find a way to replace one of the most prolific receivers in conference history in Xavier Hutchinson.

Campbell is counting on the hiring of Reid Kagy as the new strength coach to improve an offensive line that returns four of the five starters.

Left tackle Tyler Miller reported for spring at 338 pounds, up from 316 last season, and right guard Darrell Simmons and right tackle Jake Remsburg also have re-sculpted themselves.

“Sometimes that’s hard when you have older guys, to make such massive physical changes,” Campbell said. “If we want to be the best, we have to consistently play at our best. I have great expectations for that group to do that. They certainly have the talent and ability to do that and now we have to put that together.”

Freshman quarterback JJ Kohl, the highest-ranked player to sign with the Cyclones under Campbell, enrolled in January but is not expected to unseat Hunter Dekkers as the starter. Dekkers’ main assignment this spring was to make better decisions. Last year he was intercepted 14 times, most in the Big 12 and tied for third-most in the nation.

Running backs Jirehl Brock and Cartevious Norton have been limited while recovering from injuries, which gave Eli Sanders and Stanford transfer Arlen Harris Jr. more repetitions.

Jaylin Noel is first in line to be the featured receiver following Hutchinson’s departure. The Cyclones made a significant addition with Eastern Kentucky transfer Jayden Higgins, who has raised eyebrows with his hands and ability to make plays after the catch. Another freshman January enrollee, Beni Ngoyi, also has shown promise.

Noel, who caught 60 balls for 572 yards and three touchdowns last season, was primarily a slot receiver his first two years. He’s gotten more repetitions at split end this spring.

“It’s a 50-50 split,” he said. “Being more on the outside this year, it’s more interesting and fun as I develop my skills being out there.”

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.