That’s the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the Iowa men’s head basketball coach Fran McCaffery. McCaffery’s fiery coaching style has jolted life into what was once a dead Iowa basketball program after the disaster that was the Todd Lickliter era. In his seven years at the helm of Iowa basketball Fran’s record is 129-93 with .581 winning percentage. Todd Lickliter was fired in March of 2010 after turning Iowa into what felt like the least fun basketball team to watch in the history of college basketball. He was the head coach in Iowa City for three years, and posted a forgettable 38-57 record with a .400 winning percentage. In my lifetime, the end of the 2010 season was the lowest point I’ve ever seen the Iowa basketball program. What McCaffery has been able to do in the past seven years since taking over for Lickliter has been impressive, and I’m not sure how many Iowa fans give him the credit he deserves for bringing to life a program that had completely flat lined.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Fran’s success at Iowa thus far is the fact his accomplishments have come without any “elite” recruits. In fact, several of McCaffery’s best players have been guys who were once under the radar recruits and were considered fall backs at the time of their commitment. Aaron White, Roy Devyn Marble, and Melsahn Basabe were all two and three star recruits. Jarrod Uthoff, a highly coveted transfer from Wisconsin, is arguably the best all-around player that Fran has had at Iowa. He was just a three star recruit out of high school. Actually, the two highest profile recruits that McCaffery has landed in his Iowa tenure were four stars Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell, and when you consider the fact that they were both highly touted recruits one could make a legitimate argument that their collegiate production was a little disappointing.
The point here is that Fran has done quite a lot with very little. In my opinion, he has overachieved with the players he has had at his disposal. That started in his very first season at Iowa. It was apparent from the get go that he expected his players to compete. His coaching style is one that refuses to accept a lack of effort. He holds them to a high standard, and even when he could make excuses, he doesn’t. He is an intense coach, but he’s also a player’s coach. While it may look to many like he’s a jerk on the sidelines I guarantee you the majority of his players would tell you that they love their coach because he will go to war with them. He’s that kind of guy. He’s damn sure that kind of coach. He wears his emotions on his sleeve because he loves his players and he expects a lot out of them. He expects the same out of himself.
Fran has slowly turned the ship around at Iowa, and even when his teams were bad he quickly had them competing with foes in the Big Ten Conference. Better yet, he had them running up and down the court playing a brand of basketball that’s exciting to watch. That was a welcome site for Hawk fans that had become used to the low scoring snoozefest games that became a hallmark of the Lickliter era.
We’ll look at the present, and the future in the final two parts of this series. Fran has an exciting group of young players on his team and the future is looking brighter than ever. The work he has put in thus far appears to be paying dividends. His eye for scoping out and offering under-the-radar talent continues with guys like Jordan Bohannon, and Hawk fans everywhere will have high hopes for the 2017 – 2018 season and beyond.