Howe: Thoughts & Observations from an Unfortunate Day in Iowa Athletics

February 27, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Barta, Dolphin Press Conference

Barta, McCaffery Press Conference

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ah, where to start?

We wanted somebody from the University of Iowa athletics department to say something, anything for the last five days, and didn’t hear a peep. Wednesday, we were bombarded.

Athletics director Gary Barta held two different press conferences here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. During the first one, he joined football and basketball radio play-by-play voice Gary Dolphin to discuss Dolphin’s suspension. It was followed by a joint media session with basketball coach Fran McCaffery about his suspension.

What a mess.

Especially when you consider the men’s basketball team sits a 21-7, a remarkable turnaround from last year’s disastrous 14-19 campaign. Instead of the focus being on the players, it’s been on Dolphin, who was suspended for two games earlier this season, and McCaffery.

You know, the grownups.

Both are good men. They’ve just lost their way a few times this season and it came to a head on Wednesday. For almost an hour, they and Barta talked about mistakes. And the AD’s silence the last five days put him right there with Dolphin and McCaffery. The damage was done.

The stories have been picked up by national media outlets. Iowa athletics suffered a black eye. It sustained one a few years ago when Barta cost the university $6 million in sexual discrimination lawsuit.

It’s fair to say Barta might not even have an approval rating. At least in the court of public opinion, he receives little support. His boss, UI president Bruce Harreld, and respected football coach Kirk Ferentz have his back, however, and that matters more.

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None of these actions deserved termination. People make mistakes. You hope they not only learn from them, And in this case, the university takes steps to handle public relations better. You can’t wait five days to say something in a world where information moves very fast.

A lot was said during almost an hour of discussion here Wednesday. Plenty of ground was covered.

Here are some thoughts and observations about what we heard:

-Dolphin came across as remorseful and sincere. He talked about conversations with his African-American friends since the incident, a few of them explaining why his words could be offensive. He would be seeking sensitivity training and learning more about unconscious bias.

-Barta indicated that the length of Dolphin’s current suspension was impacted by his suspension earlier this season. That said, the rest of the season is too long, especially considering his offense was unintentional.

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It also seems harsh considering McCaffery received a two-game suspension and he also had a prior. He was suspended for a game in 2014 for losing it on an official during a game at Wisconsin.

-Dolphin really did say all the right things Wednesday. He was truly sorry. He asked to be reinstated before season’s end to no avail. He expressed his love for the Hawkeyes and their fans. He said he would reach out to Bruno Fernando at some point now that this case has been settled.

-Dolphin is confident that he has a good working relationship with McCaffery despite the two bumping heads before. He and Barta shot down the rumor that the basketball coach and his family were involved with his current suspension. Dolphin said he called McCaffery last week to talk to him about what was going on.

-McCaffery looked worn down. His eyes were red. He, too, knew he screwed up. That said, while he did publicly apologize, he qualified a few of his statements.

-When asked if he regretted accusing the official of cheating, he said yes and no. That question was followed up with one asking the coach how the referee might have been cheating, to which he said he didn’t know.

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McCaffery did add in that the official in question usually does a good job.

-McCaffery worked out with Barta being able take part in Saturday’s pregame senior day ceremony honoring Nicholas Baer. He then will leave the court and his assistants will coach the game, and also the one next week at Wisconsin.

It was a good move by Barta. The coach should be out there with Baer and his family.

-Barta was asked how many suspensions does a head coach deserve before more has to be done. The AD sidestepped it at first, saying the Big Ten suspended McCaffery back in ’14, but then he followed that up with saying he supports his coach and that he is the right guy for the job. He really didn’t answer the question, which isn’t surprising, considering he might paint himself in a corner.

-A reporter asked McCaffery and Barta if the coach needed any anger management training. Barta said discussions like that would be handled in private. McCaffery said he did not and normally is calm other than in the heat of the game.

-McCaffery said his anger at the official Tuesday was not impacted or didn’t escalate because his son, freshman guard Connor Mccaffery, picked up a technical foul. Fran said he was backing up a player not a son.

I’m not sure I’d be able to separate the two but McCaffery has more practice at it than me.

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