When it comes to evaluating Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery as a recruiter, the person who hired him isn’t concerned about a few recent near-misses.
“If the expectation is that he’s going to hit 100 percent on every recruit, there is no coach in America that would succeed,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said Wednesday. “But he and his staff are doing a great job in recruiting and it’s transferred to more success on the court. At the end of the day, you judge recruiting by the product that ends up showing up on the floor.”
McCaffery has lifted Iowa from being a Big Ten bottom feeder when he arrived in 2010 to an NCAA Tournament squad this past season, his fourth season on the job.
However, the Hawkeyes lost seven of their last eight games, including a 78-65 overtime setback against Tennessee in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Combine the late-season collapse with the near-misses on the recruiting trail this spring and summer — the latest being Samford transfer and Chicago native Tim Williams picking New Mexico over Iowa and Dayton in June — and it becomes a recipe for frustration.
Barta addressed that frustration by pointing out where the Iowa program was before McCaffery arrived barely four years ago. McCaffery was hired to replace Todd Lickliter, who was fired after each of his three seasons as coach resulted in a losing record. Lickliter’s brief reign also was hampered by numerous player defections and declining attendance.
Iowa also hadn’t participated in the NCAA Tournament since 2006 when McCaffery took over. This past season’s team finally ended the drought after eight years.
“I think while there may be fans who are talking about are we recruiting the best we can, would those same fans agree that the product on the floor today versus four years ago is far superior than what it was before he arrived?” Barta said. “If they would, then that’s what I’d say to them. That’s what I judge recruiting by is are we bringing the student-athletes here who make us better and give us a chance to compete? And the answer is yes.
“If you break it down individual by individual, we’re not going to hit 100 percent, but neither does, pick any program in the country. There are some you miss on for whatever reason. It might be something that we can’t control that a student has a bias for some other reason.”
McCaffery gave a similar response during an interview with the Press-Citizen in May. He insisted that his recruiting was right where it needed to be and that near-misses are just part of the business.
“The reality is, we’re going to end up with a recruiting class of one, two, three or four players, occasionally five, and we’re going to recruit well over 100, maybe 200, players to get to that number,” McCaffery said. We’re going to miss on guys. We’re going to move away from guys. They’re going to move away from us. That’s the nature of the business.”
McCaffery has secured two commitments from members of the 2015 high school senior class. Brandon Hutton, a 6-5 small forward from Chicago, committed to Iowa in March, while Andrew Fleming, a 6-3 guard from Nashville, Tenn., picked the Hawkeyes in May. Fleming reportedly had scholarship offers from Florida, Ohio State and Vanderbilt.
“What I would say is Fran’s track record at Iowa and before Iowa and throughout a long career is he does a tremendous job in recruiting,” Barta said. “And he has done it since he has been at Iowa.”
Meanwhile, Barta also spoke highly of Larry Wieczorek, who retired as the Director of the Iowa Track and Field/Cross Country programs after this past season.
Wieczorek was a six-time Big Ten champion as a distance runner at Iowa in the 1960s who once held Big Ten records in the one, two, three, four and five-mile runs. He then joined his alma mater as an assistant coach in 1984 and worked his way up to head coach in 1997.
Wieczorek has the rare distinction of winning a Big Ten title at Iowa as a student-athlete and as a head coach. He was member of Iowa’s 1967 Big Ten champion track squad and was the head coach for the 2011 men’s team that captured the same outdoor title 44 years later.
“He does epitomize the win, graduate and do it right (philosophy),” Barta said. “He’s always been all in on all those things. In hindsight, we always want to win more than whatever we were able to accomplish. But he had some great teams.
“I was so excited that he decided to retire in a year when we had 11 all-Americans. The program is in great shape. We return so many of the point scorers from this year. So he leaves on a high note and he deserves to.”
Joey Woody was picked as Wieczorek’s successor after serving as a Hawkeye assistant coach since 2006. Woody graduated from City High in 1992 and was a star hurdler at Northern Iowa and professionally.
Wieczorek, who grew up near Chicago, said shortly after announcing his plans to retire that he and his wife, Jackie, would stay in the Iowa City area.
“He had great success as a student-athlete, and he just remained a part of the program as an assistant coach, earned his way to the part as head coach, and I have not met a person who doesn’t smile when they see Larry coming or hear somebody mention Larry’s name,” Barta said.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in February that there were no plans to add Friday night football games to the conference calendar any time soon. Exceptions only would be made around Thanksgiving and Labor Day weekends.
Iowa currently plays Nebraska on the Friday before Thanksgiving, but that game has an 11 a.m. starting time.
Barta is against playing football games on Friday, with exception to the two aforementioned holiday weekends, because it would distract from the high school football games and because it likely would cause a traffic nightmare.
“We have a major university running in Iowa City, and if we were to shut down and have a football game on a Friday, and it was a normal Friday business day, it literally would gridlock the campus,” Barta said. “And it’s not just our campus. Every campus in the Big Ten would experience similar challenges.
“So I like where we’re at. We play on Saturdays, and we consider special events on occasion.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or email@example.com.