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Bolander: I want in on the McCaffery Bandwagon

BY JOSH BOLANDER | MARCH 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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When Fran McCaffery became Division I basketball’s youngest head coach in 1985, I doubt the Philadelphia native thought his 28-year coaching career would include four postseason tournament appearances.

I cannot imagine McCaffery, known in his playing days as “White Magic,” thought things would get any better after watching Kenny Hasbrouck drop 30 for his Siena squad in a 21-point win over Vanderbilt in the 2008 tournament. That win amounted to the second-largest margin of victory for a No. 13 seed over a No. 4 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. That upset was especially impressive as McCaffery’s team was picked to finish last in the MAAC just a couple years earlier in the coach’s first season.

While McCaffery was busy reeling off three-straight NCAA tournament appearances, the Hawkeyes were suffering through the infamous “Lickliter years.” They hadn’t been relevant since winning the 2006 Big Ten Tournament.

A revolving door of player transfers, an apathetic fan base, and a coach whose game plan seemed to focus on single-handedly curing insomnia in eastern Iowa crippled a once-proud program. The talent on the floor was abysmal, to say the least. Lickliter’s teams failed to improve on their Big Ten records for three-straight years

After Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta mercifully ended Licklighter’s tortuous tenure and hired McCaffery in March 2010, he proclaimed his new coach would “take a group of student-athletes and re-energize them, reenergize all of us.”

He was right.

To put things in perspective, while Lickliter’s brand of ball saw his team’s top the 70-point mark a whopping seven times in Big Ten play in three years, this season’s squad equaled that mark with five games left on the conference schedule.

I’ll be the first to say I haven’t always been on the McCaffery bandwagon. I was probably more skeptical than anyone when it came to the hiring.

After the initial buzz of having a dude from Philly nicknamed “White Magic” taking over, the thoughts of missing out on former Iowa assistants Keno Davis and Bruce Pearl made my stomach churn. The thought of the program making the same mistake twice consumed me. I remembered the Siena magic, but I hadn’t forgotten the 29-win season and Sweet 16 appearance Lickliter had made just a year before bolting Butler for the Black and Gold.

Something that McCaffery said during his introductory press conference did stick with me, though.
When asked about other offers he had received, the new head coach assured fans that he had made it clear from minute one that he wanted to be their coach.

In the end, it didn’t matter if the Lickliter move was smart (it wasn’t). Iowa is still paying the former coach $800,000 for his spectacular 38-57 record in Iowa City.

But sometimes you have to go all in because, in reality, by telling the Iowa faithful to be patient while the program was in a free fall, the school was bluffing anyway.

When I first arrived on campus some time ago, I would read the sports section of this paper from cover to cover, but I skipped over anything to do with basketball.

Now I’m begging our editor for any chance to write about hoops. I want on this bandwagon if there is still room. Call me a fair-weather fan. That’s fine with me. I’ve suffered through this storm long enough.


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