Commentary: Calm down, give Lickliter a chance

BY SCOTT MILLER | MARCH 30, 2009 7:30 AM

Everyone just needs to calm down, stop trying to buy the domain firecoachlick.com, and think reasonably.

Yes, four Iowa basketball players announced their decisions to transfer last week. Yes, it’s the third-consecutive year head coach Todd Lickliter has lost his best player from the prior season — Jake Kelly (2009), Tony Freeman (2008), and Tyler Smith (2007). And yes, today — with only seven players currently on the roster — the future of Iowa basketball looks bleak.

But let’s put this all into perspective.

The loss of Kelly and point guard Jeff Peterson is big. Throughout last season, they were the two players, outside of freshman Matt Gatens, whom Lickliter implicitly trusted. You could make a case that Kelly and Peterson, when healthy, were the Hawkeyes’ two most important players last season.
On the other hand, David Palmer’s and Jermain Davis’ decisions to transfer really aren’t that big of a deal. The two were both wildly inconsistent on the floor. After Palmer dropped 21 points on Wisconsin on Jan. 21, he put up that same number in the remaining 13 games combined. Let’s face it, Davis and Palmer will only be missed from a depth perspective.

So why exactly are some fans so eager to dump Lickliter only two years into his reign?

Sure, losing four players in a matter of a week looks bad anywhere, especially at a Big Ten program such as Iowa’s, but it’s not the end of the world or any reason to get rid of Lickliter.

For starters, the second-year head coach has yet to have a chance to bring in a lineup solely featuring his players, not ones left over from the Steve Alford era. Last season was a good start by snagging Gatens and guard Anthony Tucker, among others. This year, Lickliter has inked Eric May and Brennan Cougill, with more surely to come.

My point is that firing a coach before you even give him a chance to truly try his system with his players is the wrong way to go about things.

Really, this situation is no different than head football coach Kirk Ferentz’s first two years in Iowa City. The now-11-year head coach was 4-19 in his first two years on campus, and it took time for Ferentz to make the program what it is today. Lickliter is going through a similar process right now.

He’s trying to find the right players, not necessarily the best ones.

Additionally, of the four transferees, only Davis was heavily recruited by Lickliter, though Peterson signed after the head coach arrived at Iowa.

When Athletics Director Gary Barta hired Lickliter on April 2, 2007, it was clear this was going to a rebuilding process as the players transitioned from Alford’s philosophies to Lickliter’s. Perhaps no one thought the process would be this painful, but don’t kid yourself and think that firing the head coach would fix everything.

It’s OK for fans to be angry, but don’t be irrational. Lickliter and his $1.2 million annual salary aren’t going anywhere — Barta said as much at a March 27 press conference.

Rather than buying that domain name, look to the future. Yes, next year is going to be rough. And yes, the more I look at the roster, the less excited I get about watching Andrew Brommer getting significant minutes.

But Lickliter’s philosophy works. He proved that at Butler, where he went 131-61 and was in the Sweet 16 twice. He’s trying to do the same thing in Iowa City — just give him a chance.

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