Breaking Down McCaffery Comments

March 29, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Some folks are going to write columns related to McCaffery’s introductory press conference…I look forward to reading those.

I felt like doing something a little differently…taking a look at several of Fran’s comments and offering up my commentary..I guess if you add up all of the comments I make on each of Fran’s quotes, that could be a column…semantics?  Perhaps.  Anyway, here we go..my comments will be in italics preceded by JON’S TAKE:

Let me start things off by referencing McCaffery’s opening statement…you can read that here.

I think he did a masterful job of showing how much he appreciates the opportunity, that it was a job he and his family wanted, that he understands the tradition because he has been in Carver Hawkeye before over a long span of years, that he has relationships here and that he has recruited former Iowa greats like Jess Settles and Kenyon Murray, who were both in the room.

That was some mastery of oration there today…straight out of Dale Carnegie’s best sellers…but I don’t say that as a negative.  There is a reason why Carnegie’s methods have been sought after and taught for decades; because they work.  Those are the types of skills that will play well on the I-Club circuit this spring and in the homes of prospective recruits through the years.  He knocked that out of the park, in my opinion.

Q.  Fran, you had a couple of opportunities your wife speculated about Seton Hall, I believe, was among them.  Why Iowa over another school from the Big Six conferences?

FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Well, I’ve done my homework, and I don’t want to in any way slight Seton Hall or St. John’s.  I appreciate the interest that they showed in me and both fabulous opportunities.  But as I went through the process and prioritized what I thought was best for my family and what I thought had the most potential and opportunity for growth and something that got me excited, it was Iowa.  We just kept coming back to Iowa.


I think because I’ve been here, because I’ve been in the Midwest, and I know that I have the ability to utilize my connections not only in the Midwest but nationally to help us continue to grow as a program.  I have tremendous respect for the Big Ten as I’ve already said.  It was for me, I thought, the best fit.

JON’S TAKEMidwestern recruiting will likely be the lifeblood for the McCaffery era.  None of the players on this year’s Siena teams comes from a state farther west than Pennsylvania, so he will have to reestablish connections in the Midwest.  Whom he hires to fill out the ranks of his staff will be a big deal here, but he certainly talked as though he didnt think that was going to be an issue.  I hope that proves to be true.  He will have a support group at Iowa that he can tap into that the previous coach did not, and I think McCaffery has already let it be known to those folks that he will listen to them…a great move.


Q.  Coach, what about the assistants?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  What about the assistants?  Obviously, Jerry will remain with us, Jerry Strom.  I’m happy about that.  I have some coaches on my staff presently that I would give strong consideration to that I know.  They know how to work, they know how to recruit.  They’re talented.  I’ve given strong consideration to having an Iowa presence on my staff, maybe a former player, for example.  So that will be determined over the next few days.

JON’S TAKE:  Strom has been around the Iowa basketball program for nearly 30 years.  He is not an assistant coach per se, but he knows all the ins and outs of the job, helps with logistics and a number of other things.  That will be one area that McCaffery will not have to worry about, and he has maintained a friendship with Strom through the years, dating back to the mid 1980’s when his Lehigh team played in the Amana Hawkeye Classic.


Q.  When you took over at Siena, the team won six games and you were picked for the last in your conference.  I think you went 15 and 13 and finished fourth.  Now you’re in a situation where the team is tied for 10th, won ten games.  What can you do similar as you try to take this program up?  What did you do at Siena that you can follow here?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Well, the first thing I did was thoroughly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of every player and made sure that I put them in situations where they could be successful.  I got them to believe in what we were doing, and I think you’ll see that I have the ability to make sure each and every player understands what his role is, but more importantly accepts that role and then executes that role.


Our preparation and game plans, I think, were instrumental in helping us be a good road team.  I think if you look at our record, certainly we haven’t lost a home game in two years at Siena, but we’ve shown that we can win on the road.  We’ve shown that we can win in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s supposed to be neutral, but when we played Ohio State in Dayton, it wasn’t very neutral.  A whole lot of red.  Maybe one half of one section in green.


So I understand what the passion is.  And I think when you see us play, you’ll understand what I was able to do.  That team in particular for me was one of my favorite teams that I ever coached because they really battled for me, and we overcame deficits, we keep coming back, and as I said, right at the end, we will compete.


And when you compete, there’s differences between I always say there’s a difference between hustle and the ability to compete.  I expect you to hustle.  But competing means understanding and carrying out the game plan and understanding where you fit on the team and understanding what’s necessary to win, whether we’re behind or we’re ahead or whether we’re at home or whether we’re on the road.  And I can assure you we’ll fully understand that.

JON’S TAKE:  McCaffery says a mouthful here…some of it is coachspeak, but he has a theme of sticking to the plan and giving a team clear and easy to digest objectives when they go on the road…so when the bullets start to fly, the team has a familiar and comfortable plan to fall back on in their minds…drilling that into the heads of the players before they leave town for the road is key, and that falls on the staff to put together a solid scout.  This was fun to read and see how much importance he placed on it.

Q.  What did you take away from your meeting with the players last night and just seeing what’s here already?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  They’re hungry.  They’re ready to get back to work.  They’re focused.  They want to improve and there’s no doubt in my mind that we will.


Q.  How important is that new practice facility out there for recruiting?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Phenomenally important.  Again, it’s just another thing that gets me excited to know all the hard work that went into making that come to fruition and to see it.  I’m so excited about what it’s going to look like when it’s done, but it’s something we can talk about during the process as we move forward.

JON’S TAKE:  There is no doubt that this new practice facility will be a big deal for this program.  It would have helped Alford and it would have helped Lickliter, but that is water under the bridge at this point.  It will help McCaffery, and there will not be any excuses going forward about how basketball is not supported.  That hole in the ground behind Carver Hawkeye is a clear sign of support; better late than never.


Q.  What’s a reasonable amount of time do you think to turn a program around?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  My expectation would be to show improvement immediately.  I think that’s what I was hired to do.  You know, how much improvement, we’ll have to see.  We’ll have to see where we get our roster in terms of improving our depth.  But I think you should expect to see immediate improvement, and I’m sure that’s what Gary expects to see.  He didn’t give me any demands.  He’s just given me support, and I appreciate that.

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JON’S TAKE:  If the NCAA expands the tournament to 96 teams or any ridiculously high number like that, then qualifying for that tournament in 2011-2012 should not be out of the picture.  That will be Gatens’ senior year; that team should be very experienced and I think it should challenge for 18+ wins, which would likely get you into the NIT if you are from a power conference…if they go to 96, the NIT goes away and that should get you in the NCAA tournament as long as you play a good schedule.  Next year, I think we need to see improvement in all areas and I think that team should be able to be .500; UNI loses a lot, as does ISU and hopefully Iowa can beat Drake in Des Moines…the UNI and ISU games are in Carver.


Q.  You talked about getting Carver rocking again.  Anything specific that you do to get students and fans back into the arena?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  We’re going to have meetings tonight directly addressing that.  I’ve been active in doing those kinds of things before, but I think we all know, to really energize the fan base, you’ve got to play the game the right way, and we’re going to do that.

JON’S TAKE:  I used to be against putting the students in the best seats until they consistently showed up and proved they deserved that real estate.  I have changed my mind..I think if you ring the court, or at least one side, with the students, that would be a good thing.  I think Iowa is close to reseating CHA, and I suspect they want to try and get the big donors down on the floor opposite the benches.


Q.  Does it worry you at all that your predecessor was also highly successful at a smaller school, came here, and for whatever reason wasn’t able to get it done?  Was that a red flag at all?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  None whatsoever.  I’ve done it at multiple institutions in different parts of the country.  So my experience level I think is a little bit different, and I’ve been successful everywhere I’ve been and fully intending to be successful here.

JON’S TAKE:  I thought this was an interesting three sentence answer…he doesn’t see similarities between his past and Lickliter’s past.  Todd was the head coach at Butler..and that’s it.  Lickliter took over a program that started to make a name for itself under Barry Collier, and then Thad Matta moved the bar higher before Lickliter took over and moved it even higher.  McCaffery has been a head coach at three different schools, and has put forth a rebuilding job at three different schools.  The only thing I see in common between the two men is that they both got to Iowa without any high-major head coaching experience, but McCaffery also spent time as an assistant at a high major program.  So on the experience front, I agree with McCaffery that his experience and resume is quite a bit different than Lickliter’s was when he got the Iowa job.


Q.  Did you get a sense from all the players that they were leaning towards staying here from your meeting last night?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Well, what we’re going to do, as soon as we’re through here, I’m going to have individual meetings with them.  I’ll get a better sense at that time.


Q.  When do you plan on reaching out to the four kids that aren’t signed?

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FRAN MCCAFFERY:  I’ve already done that, and we’ll have more phone conversations tonight, and then I’ll go see them personally.

JON’S TAKEHaving the one on one’s with the players the day he is hired is a good idea, and it’s great that he has already placed calls to the players that have signed letters of intent. Those are no brainer decisions, but you have to make those in addition to the more creative decisions.  It’s very important that the players we expect to be here next year, are here and the same with the recruiting class.


Q.  You have a line of former players over here on the wall including Jess.  There’s been talk that they really want to get involved in this program and be instrumental in helping you turn it around.  How would that help you to have former players on your side like that?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Well, it’s something that would be one of the first orders of business for me.  I want them involved.  I will reach out to them.  I want them coming back.  I want them at games.  I want them calling me on the phone, Hey, I heard about a player you might be interested in.  It’s that kind of relationship to me that makes a program special, and that’s what we’re going to build here.

JON’S TAKE:  It’s refreshing to see that the former Iowa players are going to be embraced by this new coach.  The Butler Way was not the Iowa Way.  Lickliter did not do a good job of embracing the former Iowa players or many of the other support mechanisms that are all too eager to chip in and help make the program successful.  Lickliter felt he would do things his way, and he was pretty bull headed on that front until it was too late.  This may sound like piling on a guy after he is gone, but it doesn’t change the facts of the question at hand.  I don’t say that Lick’s assistants were always this way…I think some of them wanted to do things a little differently, but you can only go so far if your boss doesn’t feel the same way.


Q. Gary, do you think that this hire may define your tenure here at Iowa?


GARY BARTA:  I think I answered that last time, but I’ll answer it again.  What I do every day when I come to work is I take 20some years of experience, and I give everything I have to Iowa, and my goal is to make every team we have, every sport we have better, to create an environment for student athletes that they have such a great experience that some day they want their kids to come here, those types of things, leave with a degree.


At the end of the day, I want to be defined some day, hopefully a long time from now, Sally Mason, I want to be defined by a total breadth of what Iowa was before I got here, and then hopefully I leave and they say I made it better.  I don’t intend to be defined by one hire.  That’s the long answer to the answer is no, but it’s because I come to work every day wanting to make the whole program better, not just one team, not just one hire, but everything involved.

JON’S TAKE:  I do think this hire will define Barta’s legacy at Iowa.  If it works, it will be a good chapter along with his fundraising efforts and continuing facilities upgrades.  If it doesn’t work, not many AD’s get to hire a third basketball coach if the first two didn’t work out.


Q.  Coach, I see that your teams don’t commit very many fouls, and you shoot a lot more free throws than the other team.  There’s a huge discrepancy there.  Is that part of your philosophy, fouling and getting to the line so much?


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FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Well, it is, but it would depend on a few factors.  Number one, our depth.  When I first got to Siena, our depth was virtually nonexistent, so we couldn’t foul.  We had to stay out of foul trouble so we could get to the wire and have a chance.  But I just don’t believe in excessive fouling.  I don’t believe in putting teams in the bonus.  I don’t believe in putting teams in the double bonus early.  If you are behind, it’s almost impossible to come back if the other team is in a double bonus.  You have to be able to foul.


I understand how physical the Big Ten is.  We just played Purdue, and I know what that game was like.  We were ready for that.  I thought we competed well.  We got behind, they went on a run on us.  We came back, went on a run back on them.  But I think I have a pretty good feel for what this league is.


My hope is that we shoot excuse me, make more free throws than our opponents attempt.  Is that going to be possible?  Maybe not, but I believe in position defense and changing defenses and limiting teams to one shot, which will keep people off the freethrow line.

JON’S TAKE:  Limiting teams to one shot is also a commitment to rebounding, which is about position on defense. Tom Davis’ teams enjoyed large rebounding margin differentials, therefore they enjoyed the ‘we make more free throws than the opponents shoot’ category.


Q.  How important have your AAU ties been in your recruiting?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  They’re important to a certain extent.  They don’t define me, nor should they.  There are some AAU coaches who are fabulous and truly in it for their student athletes’ best interests.  Others are not.  I think I’ve been pretty good at identifying those who are not and those who are.


I think in this state we certainly have had some really good ones, Mac McCausland certainly to name one, but there are different AAU people that are in it for the right reason.  We’ll deal with those folks.  My intention is to interact directly with the student athlete, his parents or his legal guardian.  And I think that is what my priority should be.  And if I tell those folks the truth and then make sure that happens when they get here, we’ll be successful.

JON’S TAKE:  You can’t deal with the scumballs…any Iowa coach that does won’t last long because that won’t be tolerated here.  That being said, you have to play the game as far as the rules will allow, and it sounds like McCaffery will utilize AAU programs, something his predecessor did not do until it was too late.  There are some good AAU people in the state of Iowa.


Q.  It seems like you’re going to be changing the style of play from what the current players are used to.  Do you think that will be a problem for the players that are used to more of a slowed down style, expecting them to change that?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Not at all, and it certainly didn’t come across that way at our meeting.  They seemed to be excited about it.  I think we can play faster because we do have players that are able to make good decisions.  They can make plays off the dribble.  They can make plays in transition.  I have no doubt that we can play faster because we’re going to play intelligently, as well.

JON’S TAKEI would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to see the reaction from the current Iowa players when Fran told them they were going to play uptempo basketball.


Q.  What would it take for Iowa to become a regular contender for the Big Ten title and go deep in the NCAA Tournament?  How do you get from here to there?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Well, we have to continue to recruit well.  We have to coach the right way.  And we have to make this building exciting again so the teams come in here and they have no chance.  We all know what it’s like to win on the road in the Big Ten.  It’s not easy.


So you need talent.  You need cerebral players, and I think my best gift over the years has been wherever I’ve been, we’ve been able to evaluate talent and get them to come and play for me.


And those who play for me will tell you they love playing for me.  Am I demanding?  Yes.  Am I reasonable?  Yes.  Do I communicate?  Do I make sure they have fun?  Absolutely.  Do we have a plan?  Do we have a goal?  Absolutely.  Do we ever lose sight of it?  Absolutely not.  Will we do it with integrity?  Absolutely.


And when you do it that way, I think ultimately that’s what student athletes want to be a part of when they’re making this critical choice in their lives.

JON’S TAKE:  This probably sums up what Fran wants his program at Iowa to be about better than anything else.  It’s all here in this answer…


Q.  How important is having an offthecourt relationship with your players?


FRAN MCCAFFERY:  Extremely.  And that’s, again, where my family comes in.  My players are at my house all the time for a variety of different reasons, whether it be we have a recruit in, whether it be we have the freshmen over, whether we have the captains over, whether we have the whole team over.  In the summertime to watch the NBA draft, just over Christmas break when all the students are gone.  It’s important that I think when parents drop their children off and turn them over to you, they have to know and understand there’s going to be a family atmosphere that they can feel comfortable about, and they can sleep well at night knowing that their son is in good hands, and they will know that full and well when they meet my family.

JON’S TAKEThe Anti-Lickliter answer.  One of the biggest complaints during the Lickliter era, complaints that came from his players when they would speak privately on the matter, was that they felt like they didn’t have any relationship with Lickliter after they got to Iowa, or at least anything that resembled a relationship once they stepped off the court.  McCaffery provided an answer here that has to make the current players feel good.  Now, you can go the wrong way with this philosophy if you play favorites, like Alford did with Luke Recker.  That causes dissention.

All in all, I think McCaffery got off to a great start with this press conference.  I think he hit on the things he needed to hit on, and many of the questions he was asked were directly related to criticisms of the Lickliter era, so his approach and answers were mostly the opposite of what we witnessed the last three years.  That is always going to go down easy.  So it was a good first impression.

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