By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For some in the Iowa fan base, this column will go over like a turd in a hot tub.
And that’s because I refuse to even consider this silly argument that Fran McCaffery should be relieved of his duties as the Iowa men’s basketball coach, or should even be on the hot seat.
Some will immediately dismiss me as a McCaffery apologist and as somebody who embraces mediocrity and who is afraid of change and of taking a tough stand.
My response to that is fine. Whatever.
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and it’s my opinion that McCaffery's job should be safe and secure under the current circumstances. His job status shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion, but the discussion won’t go away, so that’s why I’m addressing it.
Why I feel this way about McCaffery’s job status is pretty simple.
His body of work says he shouldn’t be fired.
Iowa is preparing to face Cincinnati in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
This marks the fourth time in the last six seasons that the 59-year old McCaffery has led Iowa to the NCAA Tournament, and his current team also has 22 wins.
Since when did that level of performance demand a coaching change at Iowa, or at most places not named Duke, Kansas or Kentucky, for that matter?
It would’ve been close to impossible before the season to find an Iowa fan, or a member of the media, who would’ve considered 22 wins and a spot the NCAA Tournament as under-achieving, especially after what happened last season when Iowa finished 14-19 overall.
Fans told me over and over this past spring, summer and fall that they’d be satisfied if Iowa made the NCAA Tournament this season.
There weren’t many who thought it would happen, but that was the highest expectation.
Nobody said anything about winning a Big Ten title or about making a deep run in postseason.
All they said was get Iowa back into the NCAA Tournament and the rest would be gravy.
But now the standard has changed for some due to how this season has played out with Iowa losing five of its last six games and with McCaffery having been suspended for two critical conference games down the stretch for berating an official.
Iowa lost both games to Rutgers and Wisconsin without McCaffery on the bench, and that didn’t sit well with some fans who are tired of his emotional meltdowns, and rightfully so.
Some fans also didn't like how Iowa radio play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin was treated as part of his punishment for calling Maryland forward Bruno Fernando King Kong near the end of his broadcast. Dolphin was suspended for the rest of the season, and there were some who assumed that McCaffery had encouraged the suspension because he still was upset about what Dolphin said on the air during what Dolphin thought was the start of a commercial break in the Pittsburgh game on Nov. 27th.
Dolphin criticized Iowa's recruiting and the performance of junior guard Maishe Dailey, and McCaffery called the criticism inexcusable. Dolphin was suspended for two games for his comments, and for what Iowa said was "ongoing tensions" in a release.
That just fueled speculation there was tension between McCaffery and Dolphin, but they have both tried to downplay that belief.
McCaffery certainly has his flaws and he hasn't made Iowa a Big Ten power or advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. His teams also have a tendency to struggle down the stretch, as is the case with his current team.
Some fans now refer to the late-season struggles as the Fran Fade.
But that still doesn't change the fact that McCaffery has led Iowa to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six seasons, and won two games in the tournament, and yet, some dismiss that like it's nothing.
McCaffery also recruits players with high character. It's hard to even think of the last time that one of McCaffery's players at Iowa had a legal issue.
Some players have transferred under McCaffery's watch, but in most of the cases, it came down to a lack of playing time.
McCaffery's temper is an issue and the bar was set so low heading into this season to where Iowa’s 10-10 record in conference play looks better than it probably should for a coach in his ninth season.
But Iowa still has won enough games to make the NCAA Tournament, and that should be enough to keep McCaffery secure for now.
Some fans resented how Iowa handled McCaffery's most recent contract extension by initially keeping it a secret during the early stages of last season. A member of the media finally broke the story by filing a freedom of information document.
But I would blame Gary Barta for how that was handled because he is the Iowa Athletic Director, and is McCaffery's boss.
The next step for McCaffery is to challenge for a Big Ten title and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. At some point, he will have to deliver on that or risk losing some fan support.
I'm confused by those who still criticize former Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby for forcing Tom Davis to resign in 1999, but who also criticize Barta for not doing the same with McCaffery right now.
That seems like a double standard.
But if you feel that way partly due to McCaffery’s behavior, then that’s an entirely different issue.
My reason for still supporting McCaffery is based solely on wins and losses and on tournament appearances and on how miserable the program was when he replaced Todd Lickliter as head coach in 2010.
Some are tired of hearing about Lickliter and feel that nine seasons is long enough to create separation and for McCaffery to be judged on his own successes and failures.
Okay, that’s fine, but some also want to hold it against McCaffery for failing to make the NCAA Tournament in five out of nine seasons, even though it would have taken a miracle to have accomplished that in his first two seasons at Iowa.
To compare McCaffery with Tom Davis is hard because the circumstances when they both took over at Iowa were dramatically different.
Davis inherited a roster full of future All-Big Ten and NBA players, while McCaffery inherited a roster with hardly any talent or depth.
Players were transferring from Iowa at an alarming rate when McCaffery took over, so he had to create some stability before he could get real serious about winning.
McCaffery has since lifted the program to a level that is similar to what Davis achieved at Iowa.
The biggest difference is that Davis was always a gentleman and was better at hiding his frustration and anger with the media compared to McCaffery, who can be terse at times.
I wouldn’t be defending McCaffery if Iowa had failed to make the NCAA Tournament this season because that would’ve been three seasons in a row that he failed to deliver.
I might have gone as far as to suggest making a coaching change under that circumstance, especially if it included a suspension.
But Iowa did make the NCAA Tournament and was ranked for most of the season, so advantage to McCaffery.
However, he loses part of that advantage because of his behavior.
Fans are getting fed up with the emotional outbursts and some say that it’s getting more difficult to like McCaffery.
And that’s a shame because there is a side of McCaffery that is easy to like, a side that is way more laid back, funny and engaging.
But as I said before, my opinion is based solely on achievement and circumstance, and the good still outweighs the bad with McCaffery.