Schwartz: Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery Still a Mystery

January 24, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

Mondays make me glad for Fran McCaffery.

Tuesdays I wonder about his methods.

Wednesdays I’m impressed by his ability to adapt.

Thursdays leave me wondering why he’s never recruited a signature point guard.

Fridays get me riled up. I’ll defend him against any and all detractors.

Saturdays have me standing on my couch screaming at him through the TV, “Call a timeout already!”

Sundays I rest, because nine seasons into his tenure the only thing I’m certain about is that I have no idea what to think about McCaffery from one season to the next, one month to the next, one week. Hell, one day.

He’s brilliant. He’s funny. He’s pompous. His teams win. They lose. They inspire. They frustrate. I suppose that makes him like 90 percent of American college basketball coaches, but I don’t care about the others. I only care about McCaffery and how weird it feels that a decade in I’m still not sure what to think.

Clearly, he’s more than fit for the job. This isn’t some backhanded attempt to run him down. I like him. The Hawkeyes, who play Michigan State tonight at 6 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, are 16-3 overall and fifth place in the Big Ten at 5-3. He’s recruited the 2-5 spots well and—most years—fields competitive teams.

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But here’s where I get stuck. If an Iowa basketball fan went into a coma in 2009, woke up tomorrow, and asked me what the Hawkeyes have been like under McCaffery, I’m not sure I’d know where to begin.

If I described him through the lens of his best players—Devyn Marble, Jarrod Uthoff, Aaron White, Peter Jok, Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon, Luka Garza—the fan might express sadness because of all that he missed. If, however, I explained that the Hawkeyes won just two NCAA Tournament games in McCaffery’s first eight seasons, the fan might ask whether McCaffery is on the hot seat.

If I noted that McCaffery is funny, a huge hit at I-Club functions, supports his players, and is honest and direct, the fan might be excited to start following her team again. If, however, the fan learned that McCaffery throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, it’s hard to guess what the fan would even begin to know what to think.

McCaffery is tough to label, and that’s OK, but it’s also a little confusing because we like to be able to fit our coaches into spreadsheets. Usually all we need is three words to sum up a coach:

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Roy Williams: Calm, focused, humble.

Steve Alford: Arrogant, knowledgeable, entitled.

Pat Summitt: Indomitable; accountable; stubborn.

Mike Krzyzewski: Intense, pious, proud.

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John Chaney: Defiant, intellectual, honest.

Jerry Tarkanian: Pessimistic, crooked, rebellious.

If we could assign just three words to McCaffery, what would they be? Is it even possible? I feel if you put 100 Hawkeye fans in a room and asked each to come up with three words to describe McCaffery, there’s a decent chance we’d get 300 unique words. It’d be the world’s least helpful word cloud.

Which brings us back to the beginning. This column is neither an indictment nor an endorsement of McCaffery; it’s an observation that there hasn’t been anything the last nine years to truly define the coach or his administration.

He’s ethical. He knows how to win. He represents the university, his players, and fans with honor and respect. But who is he? What is he? Years from now, what will we say when we look back on the McCaffery era?

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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