JACKSONVILLE, Fla — “If I had to put a word on it, I would say ‘contentious.’”
That is how former Iowa football player Terrance Pryor describes his relationship with former Iowa Strength and Conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
“I respected him as a coach, just because of what he did. Distinctively, he was good at breeding competitors to be the best they could in strength and conditioning,” Pryor continued. “But we did butt heads a lot...a lot of the times, I would be the butt of his jokes in front of the team.”
Pryor is not alone. A “contentious culture” was the sentiment expressed by the more than a half-dozen, former Hawkeyes First Coast News interviewed over the last four days as well as the fifty-plus testimonials shared during this summer’s organic, social media outpouring by former Iowa football players. Almost all those former players are Black and cited consistent, racially insensitive microaggressions by Doyle, the second-in-command of the Iowa football program for more than 20 years.
One specific “joke” has stuck with Pryor, now a practicing, sports law attorney in Atlanta: while rehabbing from a season-ending injury, Doyle approached him. “Hey Pryor, you ever think that football isn’t for you?” Doyle asked. A confused Pryor asked why Doyle would think that.
“Maybe you should take up rowing or something, you know? Oh wait, Black people don’t like boats in water, do they?”
Pryor shared this memory in a tweet back in June and again with First Coast News this week.
“He said it in a joking manner. But it was a joke that shouldn't have been said.”
The University of Iowa has since taken steps to change this culture of racial insensitivity and bullying. Doyle and the University separated for a reported, $1.1 million. Head coach Kirk Ferentz, the longest-tenured FBS coach in the country, pledged to do better. A meeting was held among current players and staffers, an “open mic behind closed doors” to share their experiences of racial bias within the program; players and staffers called it life-changing. Former Hawkeye Broderick Binns was brought on as the Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. An advocate panel of former Hawkeyes was created, chaired by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Mike Daniels. The law firm Husch Blackwell was hired to conduct a racial disparity report within the Iowa program. The bottom line of the firm’s 28-page report: "the program over-monitored players to the point that they experienced heightened anxiety and maintained a culture that allowed a small group of coaches to demean players."
The Doyle controversy, which faded after his departure from Iowa, was rekindled when the Jaguars hired Doyle as the Director of Sport Performance less than a year after those allegations surfaced. Further complicating the situation: Doyle resigned 36 hours after the Jaguars announced his hiring.
First Coast News reached out to multiple Hawkeyes for their reaction to Doyle’s hiring. Just like Pryor’s, and so many other Hawks’, relationship with Doyle, almost every player reached for comment shared a two-pronged response.
“I think he’s a great strength coach and that many lives were changed due to his work,” said one former Hawkeye, who wished to remain anonymous and is Black. “But I think that if I were him, it would be hard for me to find another great-paying job at that level so fast after all that went down over the last year at Iowa.”
Another former Hawk, who currently plays in the NFL and also wished to remain anonymous, was more straight-forward:
“White privilege. End quote.”
“Football is a sport that is like a personification of life. Right? It breeds brotherhood,” Pryor added. “A lot of times, people focus on that brotherhood between the players – but that brotherhood also goes to the coaches. I knew that, eventually, Coach Doyle was more than likely going to get an opportunity just because he's a coach and there are coaches who understand and relate to him just for that simple fact that he's a coach.”
Meyer’s response when asked by reporters Thursday?
“I’ve known Chris for close to 20 years. Our relationship goes back to when I was at Utah and he was the number one strength coach. Really, he was doing sports performance before sports performance became a high priority in college sports. I’ve known him. I’ve studied him. We’ve had a relationship.”
Or as Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, described it Friday: the hire further “reflects the good ol’ boy network that is precisely the reason there is such a disparity in coaching opportunities for Black coaches.”
Of the 31 staff hires announced Thursday, 12 are Black.
Chris Doyle will not be a part of that Jacksonville Jaguars staff. But does he still deserve a second chance elsewhere?
“From the couple guys that I have talked to, he seems to be on to the next [challenge] …I had a feeling he wasn't going to be down for long,” former long-snapper Tyler Kluver, now a fitness and nutrition coach himself, told First Coast News. “He's the kind of guy that needs to go to work and and get things done.
“I'll stand to this day and say that Chris Doyle isn't a racist person. But were there some racially insensitive things, if you pulled back the curtain and broke down individual situations with individuals, certain guys? Maybe.”
A recent, Iowa football graduate, who wished to remain anonymous, echoed Kluver’s sentiment.
“When I heard Coach Doyle got the job, I was both relieved and excited! I was happy to see that someone was willing to look past the heresay, believe in the actual investigation that took place, and hire the best strength coach in the nation,” the former player said. “I’m forever indebted to Coach Doyle for the lessons he taught me and discipline he instilled in me.”
Terrance Pryor was “shocked, but not surprised” Doyle received another opportunity in less than a year.
“I felt like, it was kind of a quick hire, but I wasn't surprised that it did happen. Because I kind of knew eventually it was going to happen. We all know that.”
“Contentious” was the word used to describe Doyle’s tenure at Iowa. While it won’t be in Jacksonville, Pryor hopes that, wherever Doyle ends up, the word “accountability” is a constant refrain.
“Just like football players would do to someone to slacking off or anything of that nature. I just hope that that same brotherhood of coaches holds Coach Doyle accountable. Hold Chris Doyle accountable for [the allegations] a lot of people came out and expressed. Only time will tell going forward.”
Meyer told reporters Thursday that he had already met with his staff about Doyle’s hire and pledged to be “very transparent with all the players” on the subject. A former Iowa player told First Coast News that such a meeting did take place and Meyer singled out Doyle at that meeting, saying he “had his back.” Following Doyle’s resignation, we’ll never know if such a meeting would have taken place with Jaguars players in attendance. We will never know how or if Meyer, his staff, and the players would have held Doyle accountable.
What we do know is if there is any uncertainty whether Urban Meyer is coming to town with baggage, doubters can now look no further than the Doyle situation or how the team fumbled its press release – one sent “inadvertently” without the name of its new general manager Friday night. A second press release of the same statement was then sent out less than 12 hours later with Trent Baalke’s name on it.
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First Coast News would like to thank the former Iowa football players that shared their story both in June through social media and with FCN this week.
Terrance Pryor, a graduate of the University of Iowa, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia State College of Law, was inspired by his college experiences to become a lawyer with a focus on sports law. His experiences also led him to form the nonprofit The Coalition of Black America. More information can be found on their website here.
First Coast News Sports Reporter Mia O'Brien worked in Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, Iowa, from 2015-2018 covering the Iowa Hawkeyes and local prep sports before coming to Jacksonville.