During a pregame discussion with Fran McCaffery at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn., a few years back, I asked the Iowa basketball coach if he could handle having his son play for him some day.
“Oh, yeah,” McCaffery said, without hesitation. “No problem.”
That conversation came to mind Saturday evening when McCaffery’s 16-year-old son, Connor, told me he had accepted his dad’s scholarship offer. Connor, a 6-foot-5 sophomore at Iowa City West who started at point guard for a Class 4-A state championship team in March, won’t be able to sign a binding letter of intent until November of 2016.
This is not a rare occurrence, fathers coaching sons. Kirk Ferentz is coaching at third son, Steven, on Iowa’s current football team. Steven follows Brian, now the Hawkeyes’ offensive line coach, and James, now on the Houston Texans’ practice squad.
Creighton basketball coach Greg McDermott coached his all-America son and Chicago Bulls rookie Doug at Creighton.
“Most parents get to see their kids four or five times a year when they go to college,” McDermott told me Wednesday. “I had the opportunity to see Doug every day and witness his development as a player and a person.”
Iowa basketball assistant Kirk Speraw coached his son, Drew, at Central Florida. Former Iowa basketball coach Steve Alford coaches his sons, Kory and Bryce, at UCLA. Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads has his son Jake on the roster. That’s just a father-son sampling.
It is an interesting dynamic, and Ferentz could write a book about it. He laughed when I broached the subject on Tuesday.
“I’m only laughing because I think it’s a lot harder on the son than it is on the parent,” Ferentz said. “Because they have to prove themselves, basically, to the world.”
You only have to go back to the 2009-10 Iowa basketball season to see how cruel things can get. John Lickliter, the son of Iowa coach Todd Lickliter, was a walk-on guard. He ended up playing significant minutes in several games and became a lightning rod for snarky criticism. It is not a memory that resonates positively with the Lickliter family.
Sons of prominent fathers play with a target on their backs. Connor McCaffery, who will be the first scholarship basketball player to compete for his father at Iowa, knows that.
“I’ve been picked on just because of who my dad is,” Connor told me last week. “I’ve just had to deal with it. I’m used to it now.”
Football gives you a little more protection. And that goes beyond the helmet and uniform.
“At least in my case, there was some insulation,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I wasn’t in the room with those guys every day, critiquing their performance on practice tape and game tape. So there was a little buffer there, and that made it a little easier from that standpoint.”
So what advice would Ferentz give McCaffery about coaching his own son, if asked?
“The one thing I would tell him is it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Ferentz said. “There’s no substitute for having that opportunity, that experience. And I’m really happy for them in that regard.”
McDermott also has nothing but pleasant memories of the experience.
“There were many precious memories that will last a lifetime,” McDermott said.
McCaffery’s 14-year-old son, Patrick, also has a promising basketball future. Who knows, maybe he and Connor will be Hawkeye teammates someday.
The McCaffery family, already in the spotlight, will see that magnified when Connor puts on an Iowa uniform for the first time in the fall of 2017. There will be good moments and bad.
Ferentz knows this, three times over.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.