What Would it Mean?

April 5, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

One week ago today, Fran McCaffery was ‘sworn in’ if you will as Iowa’s basketball coach.  He had an impressive showing at his introductory press conference, and he went on a media blitz the following days with both state of Iowa and national media outlets.  He might have done more non-Learfield post game radio interviews in one week than Todd Lickliter did in his entire three years at Iowa.

OK, that might be stretching it…just a bit.  That wasn’t one of Todd’s strengths and after interviewing him a few times for my radio show early on, and while I liked listening to some of teaching aspects the first year or so, when the wins didn’t follow, the words sounded a bit hollow.  It was tough to focus just on the basketball acumen he displayed when players were leaving left and right and constant speculation persisted related to his not relating well with his players.

McCaffery is, in many aspects, the anti-Lickliter.  We’ll see how that plays out on the court the next several years, but I just cannot possibly imagine that things won’t be more close knit in the Iowa basketball program having heard the man give several interviews in addition to reading as much as I can about how his former players loved him and felt like he was a part of their family and vice versa.

So McCaffery is already out there selling Iowa basketball to the state, region and nation and he has only been ‘on the job’ for one week.  I really don’t know what more he could have done on this front.

Not only has he just been talking, but he sounds pretty convincing.  Sure, the honeymoon period that accompanies a new coach being hired is about as optimistic and lovey dovey as you can get.  I admit that I am hardly a skeptic when it comes to these things and can be taken in…I guess I am just an optimist and believe in the best of outcomes, even if that has been in the face of the worst three year period in the history of Iowa basketball.

McCaffery just seems different…or maybe I just want to believe that so much, that the results for his teams will be different than what we have seen for the better part of the last 11 years.

The ‘Let’s Be Mad Again‘ campaign that Iowa has launched, even if you don’t care for what they have called it, has stirred some of the old school in me and in other fans.  I don’t know if Iowa’s marketing department came up with that on the fly last week, or if it’s been something that has been in place since Todd Lickliter was fired and was going to be rolled out no matter whom the Hawks hired.  I tend to believe the latter, but that doesn’t really matter.  I don’t believe that was in the offing prior to Lickliter’s ouster; it would have seemed a bit hollow to roll that one out after the least successful season in school history, when the NCAA tournament has never looked so far away.

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I have watched the video intro on that site about five times, and seeing the glimpses of the old school days when Iowa basketball was not some punch line, or worse yet, not even a punch line because of how irrelevant it has become, it has me fired up.

It has led my mind to wander to places where emotion cannot be held out, which can lead to a bit of vulnerability of the heart.  I just don’t care; I want to believe things are going to get better, objectivity gets tossed to the back seat…plus, I am not looking to win any writing awards for what I do.

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What if the Iowa basketball program began to make it to the NCAA tournament more often than it missed it?  That’s the way it was from when I was about 8 years old until I was 29; Iowa made it to the big dance 16 of 21 years from Tom Davis’ last team back to the late 1970’s.

What if that happens with an uptempo brand of play? What if that happens and people start to show up for the games again and Carver Hawkeye Arena indeed starts to rock again?

My gosh, I think I could get through these Iowa winters!  Don’t discount that aspect of things…a winter like the one we just came out of, and the one from two years ago, those suckers are brutal.  They were brutal when I was a kid, too…but I knew every time the Hawkeyes were scheduled to play…I’d watch the pregame basketball shows (remember ‘Reading with Raveling?’) and I’d keep the box score of every game.  I’d skip school dances as a young teenager if they happened to fall on an Iowa basketball Saturday night, and it wasn’t even an option.  I’d shovel the snow off the drive and shoot baskets at halftime of the games with the floodlights on our court.  We’d have a grainy black and white TV at the Hoover Elementary gym in West Branch for the Saturday afternoon’s where we’d have our pee-wee basketball leagues so we could watch the Hawks if they were playing at the same time our tournaments were taking place.

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I’ve shared some of those things before…but the hiring of Fran McCaffery, the things he has said and the things he has done in his career have me thinking about the old glory days a bit more this week.

I don’t expect McCaffery to start beating Tom Izzo for recruits, and he doesn’t have to; he just needs his classes to be anywhere from the 4th best to the 7th best in the league, consistently, and to be able to get the type of players to Iowa that will fit his system.  That’s what Tom Davis did, and while Davis was just two games over .500 in Big Ten play during the final 10 years of his career (the years without BJ, Roy and Ed), they made it to the tournament six of those tens years and they never lost a first round game.  They made it to the Sweet 16.  Iowa basketball was relevant and we gave back to it what it gave to us; support.

Even though there is a lot of work to do, and next year will have plenty of pot holes and challenges, I hope the program is on the road to recovery.

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