By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Despite a horrendous season, Fran McCaffery is right to say that his job as the Iowa men’s basketball coach is secure for now due to his body of work.
His expensive buyout from a new contract that was signed in late November also gives McCaffery more security.
But more than anything, his job security comes down to being fair and reasonable under the circumstances.
As bad as this season has been with Iowa currently tied for last place in the Big Ten with records of 3-14 in conference play and 12-17 overall, McCaffery’s body of work, which includes three NCAA Tournament appearances in the previous four seasons, still should give him more time to right the ship.
But with all that being said, the reporter who asked McCaffery about his job security on Friday was well within his right to ask, even though McCaffery clearly didn’t like the question.
“You shouldn't even be bringing it up, to be honest with you, or anybody else,” McCaffery said.
<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zX5vluPHRLU" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>
That’s where McCaffery is wrong.
The reporter was well within his right to ask McCaffery if he felt any pressure or if he felt that he was on the hot seat.
And McCaffery was well within his right to defend himself.
It was basically one person doing his job and the other person protecting his job.
That line of questions was bound to happen at some point because this season has been a disaster any way you slice it.
Iowa has to defeat Northwestern in the regular-season finale on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena just to match Todd Lickliter’s worst record in conference play as the Iowa head coach.
The Hawkeyes have performed woefully on defense throughout the season and have been inconsistent on offense.
Nobody envisioned this kind of season happening three months ago because Iowa returned four starters from a team that won 19 games last season and barely missed making the NCAA Tournament. There were lots of reasons to think that Iowa would be better this season, and yet, it just hasn’t happened for lots of reasons.
“There is a lot of things to be evaluated,” McCaffery said. “Maybe you should look at that.”
McCaffery has built enough equity to survive one bad season. The program was in shambles when he replaced Lickliter in 2010, and up until this season, Iowa had shown progress under McCaffery.
However, another disaster like this season would put McCaffery’s job in jeapordy, and deservedly so. It might not be enough to fire him, but it’s depressing to think what another horrible season would do to fan support.
This season has just sucked the life out of everybody because it’s been so bad and because nobody saw it coming.
McCaffery has to get the program back on the winning track because every college head coach only has so long to struggle.
Lickliter only lasted three seasons at Iowa, all of which were losing seasons, before Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta pulled the plug.
Attrition was also a serious problem under Lickliter as numerous players transferred under his watch.
Barta had to make a change because the program was in disarray on and off the court.
But it hasn’t reached that point under McCaffery.
He had led Iowa to six consecutive winning seasons and to six consecutive postseason tournament appearances heading into this season.
Combine that with the condition of the program when McCaffery took over and it should be clear why his job is safe for now.
It is easy to become a prisoner of the moment when a team struggles to the degree in which Iowa has this season.
Iowa’s performance has been unacceptable and it’s up to McCaffery to fix the problems.
He was asked on Friday what kind of effect being in last place in the Big Ten has on his players, particularly sophomore forward Tyler Cook and sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon.
“I think for them what they have to do is evaluate everything, as we will do,” McCaffery said. “Obviously, we're going to evaluate how we recruit, strength and conditioning, how we travel, how we do skill development.
“When you have a bad season, that's what you do, you evaluate everything and you break it down. They've got to do the same thing.”
Iowa has shown flashes this season, but not enough to translate into anything positive. The Hawkeyes lost at Minnesota on Wednesday despite scoring 63 points in the second half, but they also trailed 22-2 in the game and only scored 19 points in the first half.
“It’s really frustrating knowing the expectations we put on ourselves at the beginning of the season because we thought we’d be in a lot different place than we are right now,” said Bohannon, who was held scoreless against Minnesota. “But you can’t really hand your head too much because there is still season going, and obviously, there is still a chance for us to get to the tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament.
“So that’s our goal right now. Take whatever steps are needed to be able to get to that point. Obviously, winning five games in five days is going to be tough, but you can’t have the can’t-mindset in your mind. You have to keep saying you can do things. Anything is possible at this point.”
Some Iowa fans might laugh or roll their eyes in response to what Bohannon said.
But what’s he supposed to say under the circumstances?
Part of the challenge is to stay positive and to ignore the outside noise.
The odds of Iowa winning five games in five days at the conference tournament are slim to none, but a team still has to set goals, even if they seem unrealistic.
Iowa has to get back to the NCAA Tournament next season or McCaffery probably will be coaching for his job during the 2019-20 season. The program has reached the point in McCaffery’s eighth season where making the NCAA Tournament should be the standard.
Nothing against the National Invitation Tournament, which Iowa has played in three times under McCaffery, including last season, but fans now expect more.
The hope is that this season is an aberration or a fluke or whatever you want to call it.
But if it happens again, the same questions about McCaffery’s job security will be asked a year from now, but it won’t be as easy for McCaffery to dismiss them.