By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery is an easy target right now.
He just lost 5-star point guard and Bettendorf native D.J. Carton, who announced on Sunday that he will choose between Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State.
McCaffery’s team also lost 19 games last season, including 14 in conference play, which ties for the most in program history.
And his son, Connor McCaffery, is about to play a significant role as a redshirt freshman guard this coming season.
Mix all of that together and you have a delicate situation that causes some fans to over-react in the wake of adversity.
That has been apparent since Carton eliminated the Hawkeyes.
Some have used it as a chance to say that Iowa should consider moving on from Fran McCaffery, or at least make it known that his seat is extremely warm.
I’ve had plenty of feedback saying that, but I strongly disagree with the narrative because McCaffery’s body of work has earned him more time to coach without carrying the burden of possibly losing his job.
Last season was a disaster that nobody saw coming. You learn from it and move on.
Should this coming season be a repeat of last season, then yes, McCaffery would be on the hot seat, or even worse, and even he probably would admit it.
But for now, last season appears to be an outlier or a fluke based on what happened in the previous seven seasons under McCaffery.
Iowa has played in a postseason tournament in six of the eight seasons under McCaffery, including three appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and has won at least 20 games in four seasons under McCaffery.
McCaffery’s accomplishments weren’t enough to entice Carton to be a Hawkeye, but they are enough to buy him more time.
It shouldn’t even be a topic at this point. I’m only addressing it because of the reaction to Carton’s decision.
Iowa certainly has problems on the court that need fixed in a hurry.
McCaffery’s team performed woefully on defense last season and had some games where the players didn’t bring much fight.
Iowa also has failed to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons after having made it for three seasons in a row.
The program is without question trending in the wrong direction, but it isn’t to the point where McCaffery’s job should be in jeopardy.
It is easy to forget nearly a decade later that the Iowa program was in shambles when McCaffery replaced Todd Lickliter in 2010.
Three consecutive losing seasons and a disturbing number of player defections under Lickliter had gutted the Iowa program.
McCaffery faced a major rebuilding job, and up until last season, he mostly had met the challenge.
It also is easy to forget in the wake of Carton eliminating Iowa that incoming freshman and Muscatine native Joe Wieskamp could have easily been a major recruit with multiple scholarship offers, much like Carton, but Wieskamp committed early to the Hawkeyes.
Fran McCaffery deserves much of the credit for signing Wieskamp, especially if you insist on blaming him for losing Carton.
It also is worth noting that Carton has only lived in Iowa for three years, so he wasn't necessarily born and raised to be a Hawkeye. His grandfather played basketball for Iowa, but that was in the 1950s and a lot has changed since then.
Iowa hasn’t achieved elite status under McCaffery, but rarely has Iowa been elite in men’s basketball.
That isn’t an excuse for McCaffery, just a fact.
McCaffery does have an unusual, and a potentially awkward situation, with his son on the team, and some believe that Carton didn’t want to deal with the family dynamic at Iowa, especially with 6-foot-5 Connor McCaffery also being a guard.
That could be true, but I don’t believe it.
Connor McCaffery is a pass-first guard who could’ve easily played in the same backcourt with the 6-2 Carton.
And it’s ridiculous, and unfair, to think that Fran McCaffery would have held Carton back in order to benefit his son. Fran McCaffery has too much integrity to play games like that.
Iowa’s performance last season probably had more to do with Carton eliminating the Hawkeyes than anything else.
Fran McCaffery deserves blame for that and will be under some pressure to steer the ship back in the right direction this coming season.
But there is a difference between being under pressure and being on the hot seat, especially when you factor in McCaffery's recent contract extension.
Fran McCaffery has accomplished too much to be on the hot seat at this stage, and that shouldn’t change based on the decision of one recruit.