By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery participated in his 10th media day as the Iowa men’s basketball coach on Wednesday and that has significance beyond marking the start of another season.
It’s significant because it moves the 60-year old McCaffery into select company as one just three Iowa men’s basketball coaches to have the job for at least 10 seasons.
McCaffery will join Rollie Williams and Tom Davis as the only Iowa men’s basketball coaches to have coached for at least a decade.
Asked what it means to have stayed this long at one school, and to have lasted this long at one school, McCaffery said:
“I think it means something in the sense when I came here with the idea that I’m bringing my family here and it’s certainly a great community for that. It was the highest level, and I always hoped to coach at the highest level.
“So I didn’t come here with any expectation of going anywhere else. And I’m just thankful for the opportunity. We’ve recruited some really great players and great people and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be here ten years and hope to be here ten more.”
Williams coached at Iowa for 14 seasons overall, the first 13 from 1930-42, and then for one season in 1951, while Davis ran the program for 13 seasons from 1986-99.
Lute Olson coached for nine seasons, Steve Alford and Pops Harrison for eight, and, Bucky O’Connor for seven mostly wondferful seasons in the 1950s. Sam Barry also coached for seven seasons in the 1920s.
O’Connor was in the midst of an unprecedented run as head coach, leading Iowa to the national championship game in 1956, when he was killed in an automobile accident on April 22, 1958 at the age of 44.
In this age of big contracts and short leashes, McCaffery has withstood the test of time by rebuilding an Iowa program that was in disarray when he replaced Todd Lickliter as head coach in March 2010.
McCaffery hasn’t made Iowa elite, or even a Big Ten power, but he has made a once-struggling program respectable and competitive again, with seven postseason tournament appearances in his first nine seasons, including four NCAA Tournament appearances.
McCaffery also has a strong relationship with Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, who hired McCaffery and recently extended his contract, and with Iowa President Bruce Harreld.
“I think part of it is, Gary and I have been together that entire period of time,” McCaffery said. “We did change presidents but Bruce has been great. But I think it’s a culture that we’ve developed with the quality people and the way they represent us.
“It’s very difficult in a very competitive league, but we have a lot to sell here with our facilities and with our history and our fan base. So I’m excited.”
Fran McCaffery's temper has led to him being suspended twice while at Iowa, including for two games last season after he berated an official following a loss at Ohio State.
But his relationship with Barta has remained strong, and Fran McCaffery's success will go a long way in determining Barta's legacy.
The right place to live
Iowa City also has a lot to sell in addition to the basketball perks, and that’s why McCaffery feels so comfortable with living here.
His son Patrick McCaffery, who is a freshman forward on the current team, had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid in 2014, and both of McCaffery’s parents died from cancer.
“You never know, obviously, what might happen from a health standpoint with your family,” Fran McCaffery said. “But to be here where there is a comprehensive conference center and some of the best doctors in the world, and to know that no matter how much research that we may have done, there’s really no place better to go.
“And I think knowing that and the comfortability that he has and that our family has that he’s got the best possible care, there’s no reason to go anywhere else, but for him to right here. And for him to wear the jersey as well, and play for me with his brother is also pretty special.”
Patrick McCaffery feels fortunate to have lived half of his life in Iowa City. It’s his hometown, and now Patrick gets to play for his father, and with his older brother, Connor McCaffery, a sophomore point guard, in front of the home-town fans.
There are risks with playing for your father, especially if you struggle at the highest level of collegiate sports because fans can use that against you. But Fran McCaffery and his two sons seem to embrace the unique challenge and all the positives that come with it.
“Being able to play in the state that I grew up in is something that I’m going to take a lot of pride in and be able to play at the university on the campus that I grew up on is something that I think is going to be real cool,” Patrick McCaffery said at media day on Wednesday. “I grew up in the practice gym, so being able to be here with them is something that’s really cool.”
Patrick also appreciates the stability and continuity that comes with being in the same place for nearly a decade because he understand the nature of his father's profession where head coaches usually have about three or four seasons to make their mark or it's don't let the door hit you on your way out.
"In college coaching now these days their jobs are pretty touch and go, so being able to see his tenure and how long he's been here is a testament to him, and also Gary Barta as somebody who trusts him and that's a good relationship that they have," Patrick McCaffery said.
Inspired by a friend
Patrick McCaffery will proudly wear the jersey number 22 at Iowa as a tribute to his friend Austin “Flash” Schroeder” who died in 2015 after a long and courageous battle against cancer.
The number is retired in honor of former Hawkeye great Bill Logan, but he gave Patrick permission to wear it at Iowa.
Patrick also has two tattoos that have special meaning, one is on his right lower arm and is a quote on how to fight cancer from former ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott, who died from the disease in 2015. The other tattoo, which is located on Patrick's upper chest near his left shoulder, is dedicated to Austin Schroeder, whose memory now serves as inspiration for Patrick.
Patrick has a picture with Schroeder's signature that hangs in his bedroom.
Schroeder was also a talented athlete who loved playing sports, especially baseball.
"It's pretty much everything because he was an athlete, and so anything I get that has to do with athletics is something that I'll never take it for granted anymore just because he doesn't get that opportunity again," Patrick said of Schroeder's influence. "So I've just being able to keep making the most out of every opportunity I get and this is pretty much my motivation."
Fran McCaffery is proud to see Patrick addressing the adversity and sadness that has impacted his life because Patrick's words could help to inspire now that he is on a much bigger stage as a Hawkeye.
“He’s never wanted to, but I think he recognizes he has a platform now that can be effective and might help other people,” Fran McCaffery said. “So that’s what he should do and he’s happy to do it.”
Schroeder has been dead for over four years, but Fran McCaffery said the devastation from losing a friend still is fresh in Patrick's mind.
"It seems like it was a while ago now, but it seems like yesterday to him,” Fran McCaffery said. "They were going through this thing together and to have him pass away, that was really hard on Patrick.
“I was there in the hospital after Flash passed away and he took it really hard. And he really wants to remember him in a very special way and certainly with the number, and with the tattoos, one on his arm and one on his chest, any he talks about it all the time, and he’s talking about more about it now.”
You really can't tell Fran McCaffery's story without mentioning how Austin Schroeder's has touched his life, and, of course, Patrick's life and the entire McCaffery family, which also includes wife Margaret and daughter Marit and son Jack.
Fran and Margaret have dedicated much of their time to raising money for cancer research. They have actively been involved in Coaches vs. Cancer and have raised more than $2 million since since Fran was hired at Iowa.
State of the program
Fran McCaffery enters his 10th season under circumstances that are similar to when Davis coached at Iowa, at least on the court.
They couldn’t be more different from a personality and from physical appearance standpoint, but their programs are similar in some ways, from the uptempo offenses to the success on the court.
Davis led Iowa to nine NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 seasons, while McCaffery has led Iowa to four NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons, and to three appearances in the National Invitation Tournament.
McCafffery deserves some slack, though, because the program was in shambles when he took over, whereas Davis inherited a roster rich that was rich in talent from the masterful recruiting of previous head coach George Raveling.
McCaffery has shown that he can lead Iowa to the NCAA Tournament on a somewhat regular basis, and even win a game, and that’s pretty much where Davis had the program.
Davis did lead Iowa to one Elite Eight and to two Sweet 16 appearances, but his teams usually lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa barely missed advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999 this past March, losing to Tennessee in overtime.
However, three key players from that team are gone, including second-team All-Big Ten forward Tyler Cook, who led Iowa in scoring and rebounding in each of the last two seasons.
Cook declared for the 2019 NBA Draft as a junior and is now competing for a spot on the Denver Nuggets roster.
Also gone are 6-5 shooting guard Isaiah Moss, who transferred to Kansas as a graduate student, and 6-7 forward Nicholas Baer, who exhausted his eligibility.
Reserve guard Maishe Dailey also transferred to Akron after last season, so there will be a different look to the current team, especially if senior point guard Jordan Bohannon chooses not to play this season.
Bohannon had hip surgery in late May and still is recovering.
Whatever Bohannon decides will have a huge impact on Fran McCaffery’s 10th season as head coach
But either way, Fran McCaffery showed no hesitation or reluctance when asked on Wednesday if Iowa had what it takes to contend for a conference title and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
"Yeah, absolutely," McCaffery said. "The thing that you look at in terms of that is the quality of our league top to bottom, and I said this before, and I'll say it again, it's without question the best this league has been, and this is my tenth year. Not even close. We had some great teams, some great players, but our league expanded in the time that I've been here, and everybody is really good.
"And so can you stay healthy? Can you win some close games? Can you develop some confidence early? But we have the makeup of a team that can contend in this league and contend on a national level."