Dear Gary Barta…

March 26, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Dear Gary Barta,

The reason I am writing is to offer my unsolicited two cents on the coaching search you are conducting. I know, you are getting quite a bit of that these days. Everyone is an Athletic Director, right?

First off, congrats on the stealth mode! I guess if you are going to pay the Parker Search Firm tens of thousands of dollars to help you play matchmaker, you had better get quite a bit in return. They do a good job of helping you to keep things low.

There are a lot of names that have floated around, a lot of whispers and a lot of chasing shadows. Us out here in media land have a job to do, which I know you understand, because we are catering to the folks that hopefully will be buying season tickets again real soon. It’s been fun trying to piece a few clues together along the way, but it’s been mostly grasping at shadows. You’ve even got the national guys chasing their tails, but we both know a lot of the names those guys throw our are trial balloons for coaches they have relationships with…favors, you might say. Who knows? You might be floating some trial balloons yourself, but I doubt it; that hasn’t been your modus operandi.

I know that you would love for this to get over sooner rather than later, but only if you find the guy that you feel is right for Iowa. I am not going to sit here and pass along the names I have been discussing; those are guys that I feel fit a profile that might have the best shot at success for the Iowa job right now, but that comes from my own bias and opinion.

One concern I have is that you might be spending at lot of time at finding a ‘press conference’ guy…someone that will appease a lot of people on the name recognition front.

If you find the guy you think is best for the job and he has what it takes for the monumental task at hand and he also has name cache, that’s great. But if you see other candidates out there that might not have a name value, but they are climbers, guys that still don’t mind getting their hands dirty and have exhibited an ability to bring in talented players, please don’t overlook those candidates because some fans might ask ‘Who in the heck is this?’

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I have seen some people talking about that already, saying you had better make a splash hire, otherwise you shouldn’t have fired Todd Lickliter. I think that’s folly; I believe we both know that one or more players on the current roster, good players at that, would not be around next year if Lickliter were still here.

As for making a ‘splash hire’, outside of Bruce Pearl being your guy, I don’t think there is a name you are going to get that will equal instant and significant growth at the turnstiles. I also think you believed all of the players would have stuck around for next season if Lickliter been retained, you wouldn’t have fired him…and if I am right on that, you were already prepared for next year to be another ‘loser’ with regards to basketball revenues, so I hope you’re not seriously looking at instant financial health from this hire, unless it’s Pearl.

Take however much time you need. I don’t care if it’s another two weeks, as long as you find the guy that is right for this job, right now. I am guessing you may have even been surprised at the opinion the coaching community has regarding this job, right now. It’s not the peach it once was, but I think it can be again. This next guy has to be the RIGHT guy, so I don’t care what his name is.

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College basketball is mostly about getting players to commit to your school. Last week, an SEC coach told me that John Calipari’s teams are not hard to scout against; people know what it is they want to do. Their players are just so much better, it really doesn’t matter what sort of plays he draws up. Players make plays.

We don’t need a guy that is great at x’s and o’s but at the same time having little to no clue on how to consistently recruit to this level. We’ve tried that the last 11 years, and it hasn’t worked. Alford spent six of those years learning on the job, then he went and hired a guy that had a reputation as a recruiter and he was the one that drew up the plays on the grease board. I don’t think anyone questions Todd Lickliter’s knowledge of the game, it’s just that he didn’t have the right plan to land players that can win more games than they lose at the Big Ten level.

Iowa…needs…players. Period. Which means they need someone that has a proven ability to get those players. And just because someone was an assistant for a hall of fame coach at a hall of fame school doesn’t automatically mean they know the dirt roads.

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That may mean you’ll have to make a hire that some people deem to be well outside the box, and who some might deem as a reach, or a risk.

The real risk here is hiring someone that doesn’t work out, someone that doesn’t have an appetite for the work at hand. You can’t miss on this one…The stakes are too high right now for another misfire (or mis-hire) and I think the program is teetering on the brink. It’s already mostly irrelevant from a national perspective. The only time Iowa has been prominently mentioned in the national media in the last three years was when you hired Todd Lickliter and when you fired Todd Lickliter. In between we saw the worst three year run in program history.

Just find the right person for the job that awaits them in Iowa City, and don’t worry about making some splash at the press conference. That might be taking care of itself if we are to believe the pool of coaches you may be interviewing. But we can’t know for sure, because you’ve done such a darned good job of keeping things off the radar. I’ll give you an ‘A’ for that so far.

That’s about it for now. Hope you get a chance to come back and watch some spring football practice to lift your spirits.

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