Should He Stay or Should He Go? There is only one story this morning: NEW KEYBOARD CAT!
Oh, you say there's something happening with the basketball program?
At noon yesterday, the Todd Lickliter termination/resignation rumors were the sort of "friend of a friend of a cousin of a friend" blather that message boards are built upon. By game time, it had made local radio. Two hours after Iowa's season ended with a 59-52 loss to Michigan, and in the wake of a cryptic three-sentence statement by Gary Barta, the overwhelming majority of people in the know assumed Lickliter's ouster was inevitable. We haven't seen a hint of smoke grow to a towering inferno this fast since, well, the last coach left.
At yesterday's postgame press conference, Lickliter was asked the question, and by that I mean he was pretty much assaulted by an Indiana-based radio reporter:
Q. Coach, three seasons ago, take me through this: If I had sat there and told you that by this point almost the entire team would have transferred out, most of them would have been guys that could start and Iowa basketball would be in the state it's in now, would you have said I'm crazy or would you have said that's part of the plan to begin with in the sense that you have freshmen coming in that are your guys?
COACH LICKLITER: I'm not sure I follow the question.
Q. The question is, this is the worst Iowa basketball I've seen in probably 35 years as far as the amount of wins. What I'm asking you is because of the style of play that you had at Butler, you knew you'd have to come in and shape this over the course of time. Has that went like you thought it would or is this beyond what you thought it would be as far as a bad season?
COACH LICKLITER: Well, I didn't anticipate -- you don't look and project wins and losses, you prepare daily and try to put the best players out. I think the hardest thing coming in here has been that the recruits that we've been -- that we have targeted, that we feel like are going to be able to compete have got to go through some tough times. We're not recruiting All-Big Ten players to Iowa their freshman year. If we do, great, if we can find them. But realistically what we've had to do is recruit players that will develop into that, and that has been hard for players to go through the frustration, the grind, the hard work. So we've had to continue to fight through some of that. Of the players that have left, I had recruited one of them to-date if I'm not mistaken. It's not -- if you look back, players have left the University of Iowa before I came. If you look at Butler, I had very few players leave. I had a few. I didn't have a plan for -- as a matter of fact, I take it very seriously your commitment to student-athletes. I want them to progress and graduate, and that's been my commitment to them. I think that because student-athletes can leave, there's probably some of you sitting out here right now that if you could leave your job and go to another job that was very similar without any repercussions, you might do it. And there might be some days you'd do it more readily than others. But that's the state we're in right now, and so we've had to do a little fighting through that. We do have a foundation. I don't know what's going to happen. People have to make those decisions. But we've invested; players have gotten better, and this team is better than the first two teams that won more games.
Q. There has been a lot of speculation today about your future, and it's unavoidable. Are you confident you're going to be the coach of this team next year?
COACH LICKLITER: You know, my future is that I'm healthy, I have a great family. I love what I do. I've done it well, and that's not in my hands.
The fact that he mentions his health above all else isn't an accident. This is not a man who is going to resign, for health reasons or otherwise. If Lickliter is leaving, it's with a pink slip and a check for about $2M in hand. And we can think of about 2 million things that $2M of athletics money can be spent on.
That is not to say that Gary Barta won't spend it if he has to. Until yesterday, Barta unequivocally supported his coach; yesterday's statement, which did not mention Lickliter or the coaching staff and set off the current round of speculation, was the first time I can recall Barta not specifically confirming he was tied to Lick for the long haul. Realistically, only two scenarios could cause such a significant -- and such a public -- reversal: Either a big-money donor made a phone call, or Barta caught wind of another wave of transfers that would include at least one of the young triumvirate of Gatens, Fuller, and May (we would throw Cully Payne in there, but he's actually more likely to transfer if Lickliter leaves, if yesterday's statements are to be believed). If Barta has to pony up a couple million clams to prevent the epic implosion of next year's team or solidify his fundraising base, then he really has no choice. If Robespierre is to keep his head, others will need to roll.
The vacuum has been filled with speculation: Hlas and a now-beardless Morehouse went on KCRG to talk about the firestorm with John Sears (absolutely worth the 12 minutes to hear the entire thing). John Bohnenkamp blogged that Lickliter is done "unless something happens in the next few days that we don't know about." ESPN's Eamonn Brennan (an Iowa native, though a dirty Indiana graduate) doesn't get it and is promoting Larry Eustachy as a replacement. Others, like Steve Batterson and the DI's Scott Miller, are left to report on the rumors. Pat Harty probably ate a sandwich and took a nap. On the other hand, I've heard from other sources that this is just a radio rumor blown entirely out of proportion, which is certainly plausible given KCJJ's track record.
Word is that Barta is scheduled to remain in Indianapolis for Big Ten meetings through the day on Saturday. So long as he stays at Conseco Fieldhouse, Lickliter will have a job. If he cuts his plans short (as John Bohnenkamp suggested this morning on Twitter), expect news soon after he lands. Until then, we're going to avoid the speculation (though we agree with Morehouse's sentiments). We're going to avoid the short lists that are inevitably wish lists. We're just going to wait.