DAYTON, Ohio – After putting his team through a public workout at Dayton Arena and taking part in a team meeting Tuesday evening, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was scheduled to fly back to Iowa City on a private plane at 8:30 p.m. to be with his family.
Patrick McCaffery, 13, one of Fran and Margaret McCaffery’s four children, will have surgery Wednesday morning to remove a tumor on his thyroid. McCaffery will miss a team meeting and shootaround Wednesday, but planned to be back to coach his team against Tennessee in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.
Instead of enjoying the biggest moment the Iowa basketball program has had since 2006, it has taken a secondary role in the lives of McCaffery and his family.
The McCafferys won’t know if Patrick’s tumor is benign or malignant for several days. But if there were complications during surgery, the coach may stay at home. That decision would have athletic director Gary Barta’s blessing.
Barta said that after learning of Patrick’s diagnosis, he told the McCafferys that “whatever we need to do, your priorities are your family and Patrick and getting him healthy.”
McCaffery said he and his family have been overwhelmed with the support and well wishes from people across the country.
“Hopefully I’ll be back before the last meeting (Wednesday), which is typically right before pregame meal or right after pregame meal, and be ready to coach the game, assuming all goes well,” McCaffery said.
Barta said one of the tough things about the profession is “finding that ability to find a balance between your family life and your professional life, and never letting your professional life take more control. And that’s really hard to do. Fran is really good at that. Really good at being passionate about his family and passionate about his job. This is testing that to the Nth degree.”
Barta said that fact that McCaffery has an experienced staff – there are 65 seasons of combined head coaching experience on the bench – makes situations like this more manageable.
“It gives (McCaffery) confidence that, ‘OK, these guys know what they’re doing,’ ” said assistant coach Kirk Speraw, who has been a head coach for 17 years and handled the scouting report for Tennessee. “It’s really a tough situation for any father to be in. Add to that your team at this stage of the season, it’s a very difficult time for him.”
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, a cancer survivor, said he’s been praying for McCaffery and his family, adding, “at the end of the day this is what we do for a living but it’s not who we are. First and foremost, he’s a father, and that’s the most important thing.”
Martin added, “Your players need you, but your family needs you more. So it’s a tough thing to deal with.”
Iowa guard Devyn Marble said the team has rallied behind their coach.
“Coach McCaffery is our guy,” Marble said. “We love him. We’re all like a family. Pat is a guy that basically practices with us every day. He’s like our little brother. Hopefully everything goes well for them. They’re in our prayers. (McCaffery) is in a tough spot, so we’re just trying to make this as simple and easy as possible for him.”