IOWA CITY, Ia. — I asked Fran McCaffery Tuesday if he was humbled by the one-game suspension he received from the Big Ten Conference earlier in the day.
It was not an insinuation the Iowa’s men’s basketball coach is arrogant. But humbled, in the sense that some things in life bring pause and reflection. His answer was as genuine as the man I’ve gotten to know during the last four seasons.
“I have tried to be the same guy who was the JV coach at the University of Pennsylvania in 1982,” McCaffery said. “I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m not happy about it. I’m not proud of it. Every one of us is never too old to learn, especially from your mistakes. Again, that’s what we ask our players to do every day. Every day I try to become a better coach, a better person, a better father, better husband. So it’s just part of it. I don’t feel any differently.”
And that sums up the McCaffery I know. He’s an intelligent, introspective, insightful family man who has a burning passion for the game of basketball. Sometimes, that passion gets white-hot. Like it did Sunday in the second half of a 75-71 loss at Wisconsin.
“Clearly he is passionate about his student-athletes, passionate about the game of basketball, passionate about the University of Iowa,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Tuesday. “That’s one of the things I loved about him when I hired him. There have been occasions where he’s come close to that line … against Wisconsin he went over that line and he acknowledged that. Maybe there’s a fine line. But I don’t want him to lose his passion, because that’s one of the things that makes him great at what he does.”
The Big Ten informed Barta Monday night that McCaffery would be suspended from Thursday’s game against Northwestern for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy. The suspension was made public Tuesday. McCaffery was ejected after receiving technical fouls from officials Tim Clougherty and John Gaffney.
The university was also fined $10,000. McCaffery told Barta he would cover the fine. A charity will likely be involved. Barta said he discussed the suspension with Iowa President Sally Mason.
“She’s been very supportive of how this has unfolded,” Barta said. “It was a mistake. The discipline is in place. And she’s 100 percent behind it.”
McCaffery said immediately after the game he didn’t expect discipline.
“I got two technicals,” McCaffery said. “Why would I be disciplined?”
A day later, he issued an apology, and was remorseful again Tuesday. But did the punishment fit the crime? Imagine former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight in today’s social media world, where every moment is magnified and debated instantly. The line has changed, Barta said, not just in sports but society in general.
“It would not have been as big a story 15 years ago … I don’t think as many people would have cared about it,” McCaffery said. “But we live in a different world.”
I wonder if McCaffery’s chair slam at Michigan State in 2012 — an attempt by the coach to instill toughness in his team — had something to do with his suspension. Video of that moment went viral, as did Sunday’s ejection. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany discussed that moment with Barta after it happened, voicing concern over the coach’s actions.
Maybe the Big Ten believes McCaffery made contact with Gaffney. While Barta wouldn’t give details of the discussions he had with the league in recent days, he did hint that contact might have been part of the conversation.
McCaffery will have to channel his passion in the future, because he’s clearly under the microscope now. But that doesn’t change the fact his players love him for that passion.
“He just cares so much about us, and the program, and turning the culture around,” junior forward Aaron White said. “We love him for his passion and fire, and we’re with him no matter what.”
Said senior guard Devyn Marble: “He’s just a very emotional guy who loves basketball and loves us.”
Asked if he was concerned about McCaffery developing a negative reputation, Barta instead talked about a coach who is trying to take a fourth program from a losing record to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’d argue his reputation is that he’s a great coach,” Barta said. “He’s very good at what he does. He’s passionate. He loves his players. He’s a great guy. I think that’s his reputation.”
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Head man: Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw will assume head coaching responsibilities for Thursday’s game against Northwestern.
Speraw, who played basketball at Iowa under Lute Olson, is no rookie. He was a Division I head coach for 17 seasons at Central Florida before joining McCaffery’s staff in 2010. He took the Knights to four NCAA Tournaments.
“Equally important is how he’s respected by the players,” McCaffery said. “Clearly he has the most experience being in that first chair. Sherm (Dillard) has been there. Andrew (Francis) has been there, not at the Division I level. But I feel comfortable with any of those guys.”
McCaffery will be allowed to take part in game-day preparation, including the shootaround Thursday afternoon and the team meal. He plans to watch the game on television from his office.
Bobbled: Thursday was scheduled to be Fran McCaffery Bobblehead Night. Oops.
But after the Big Ten suspended Iowa’s men’s basketball coach for Thursday’s game against Northwestern, the university’s marketing department hastily changed plans.
McCaffery bobbleheads will now be given away at a Jan. 19 game against Minnesota.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball