Fran's freak-out fallout
Everyone loves a villain, and last week that villain proved to be head Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery.
The fourth-year coach was ejected from the Hawkeyes' Jan. 5 match-up against Wisconsin when he received back-to-back technicals after completely blowing up on the game's officials. His first came after he screamed at a referee, and the next came seconds later when he bumped into another official during his prolonged tirade. The incident led to a one-game suspension for the coach and a $10,000 fine for the University of Iowa.
The meltdown created a lot of fodder for blog websites, sports shows and the fan base. As an Iowa fan, I can't say I was too proud of Fran's toddler-like fit. It cast a negative light on the program, and his ejection played a huge role in the outcome of that game. Wisconsin made five of the six free-throw attempts they received from the two technicals, and Iowa wound up losing 75-71.
Fran's freak-out was unwarranted, aggravating and simply embarrassing. I got more than my fair share of comments from Iowa State fans throughout the week ribbing me about the incident. However, I was quick to remind them that their criticisms were like the pot calling the kettle black.
"Yeah, Fran looked sort of like Paul Rhoads out there spazzing out," I'd respond, referencing ISU's animated head football coach.
It's a different sport, but whatever – I needed a comeback.
I won't defend McCaffery's Jan. 4 antics, but his suspension and subsequent one-game absence got me thinking about how far Iowa's basketball program has come under his direction. He's brash and hated by the opposition, but his tenure with the Hawkeyes has given the team a shot in the arm and revived a once dormant program.
The difference between McCaffery and his predecessor, Todd Lickliter, are light-years apart. First foremost, Fran actually wins games. Lickliter only compiled 38 victories during his three-year stint at Iowa. Second, even in defeat, McCaffery's teams are fun to watch and keep things competitive. Lickliter's teams were typically out of it 5 minutes after tipoff, and his sluggish offense made the game even more unbearable – it was like watching grass grow even when the Hawks won.
I think McCaffery's fiery passion are what make him so endearing to us Hawkeye fans. It's such a contrast from Lickliter, and it's just nice to see somebody who visibly cares about what's going on out there on the court. I understand that his antics might be grating and annoying to other fan bases – I feel the exact same way about many other rival coaches (cough, cough, Paul Rhoads, cough). I guess it's sort of an "eye of the beholder" type thing.
As made obvious by the Jan. 5 incident, passion (or, rage) can get the best of Fran. I hate to admit it, but I really do admire ISU's head basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. I respect what he's done in Ames as both a coach and player, and he definitely brings an added measure of class to that program. He wins, and he keeps a cool head doing it.
Cyclones fans might not mirror that same mentality towards McCaffery, but at the very least you've got to respect him for bringing the Hawkeyes back from the doldrums. The annual match-up between Iowa and ISU is competitive again, which couldn't be said for a long while while. It's just good to see the programs excelling on the national stage at the same time – it brings pride to the state and gives fans a chance to rib each other throughout the season, not just when they play each other.
I won't condone Fran's spaz-outs, but I'm not going to completely chide them either. Iowa reeled of a two-straight wins following his ejection including a huge road victory against No. 3 Ohio State on Sunday. If that's going to be the case, I'll let Fran rant, rave, and scream all he wants no matter how much grief I get from you Cyclone fans out there.
Nick Pedley is the editor of the Hampton Chronicle.