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Overreaction Monday: Details Will Drive Results for Fran McCaffery, Hawkeye Hoops

Fran McCaffery has a coach to replace for the first time in his tenure at Iowa. The details of his decision will have impacts down the road for Iowa basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Iowa
Andrew Francis has been with Fran McCaffery for more than a decade. The times they are a changin’.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In sports, tiny details have a way of making a big difference. By now, Hawkeye fans should be used that. There are countless examples of that in every season, but they often go unnoticed unless change the outcome of a game and happen to occur near the end.

The inches L.J. Scott was able to muscle for in the waning seconds of the Big Ten Championship game in 2015, people notice. They may even notice the inches Michigan State was able to extend their 22-play drive leading to that touchdown. But how many opportunities did Iowa have to crush any hopes of a Spartan comeback? One missed block here, an incomplete pass there and the door is left open.

That’s in one of the biggest games in recent memory for Hawkeye fans. Imagine the vast number of minute details that’s impacted the outcome of a game here or an opportunity there. It’s a wonder Kirk Ferentz has anywhere near enough room on his notecard for everything.

But those small details go far beyond what happens in any given game. Each week of each year, there are thousands, maybe millions of details that impact the outcomes of games far down the line. The work being done in the weight room and on the practice field, the film being studied, the recruits being targeted, it all has a bearing on games down the road.

With basketball season freshly ended and next year still months away, it’s important to remember all the details that will be worked out between now and the start of the first game in November. There will be thousands of hours spent in the film room, the weight room and in the practice facility preparing for the year. Beyond that, there will be numerous recruiting visits, open gyms and thousands of phone calls, text messages and DMs on social media as the coaching staff looks to build for the future.

That is, most of the staff. They’ll be shorthanded for the foreseeable future after the news last week that assistant coach Andrew Francis is leaving the program.

Francis had been a member of Fran McCaffery’s staff for 12 seasons, including all 9 during his tenure at Iowa and 3 years prior at Siena. By all accounts, he’s a tremendous person both on and off the court. He brought charisma, enthusiasm and a penchant for recruiting.

While a number of Iowa fans have been calling for changes, now that they’re at least partially getting their wish with some new blood for the first time in Fran’s tenure, it will be interesting to see if they’re truly happy with change. Francis was a well-liked coach according to players both past and present. And he fit well with the rest of the staff.

As the Hawkeyes look to replace a staple on the sidelines, they’ll be looking for a few details on the new coach’s resume. In particular, Fran is likely to look for someone who will also work well with the existing staff. It doesn’t matter how perfect of a coach the replacement is if the staff can’t work well together. Cohesion is a must.

High on the list is also likely to be some defensive prowess. Anyone who has watched the Hawkeyes under Fran McCaffery would be quick to tell you the offense has never been an issue. When Fran was hired, one of the key selling points was his emphasis on speeding the game up and putting the biscuit in the basket. He told us all we would see more excitement and higher scores. He wasn’t wrong.

But it hasn’t just been the Hawkeyes scoring more under Fran. His best teams have been able to be at least middle of the road on the defensive end, but his, uh, less than best teams have been much worse. This past season, for example, Iowa ranked 15th nationally in adjusted offense, but 111th in adjusted defense. For perspective, the lowest team in adjusted defense to make the Sweet Sixteen was LSU at 59th.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Florida
LSU was able to make a run with less than stellar defense. Was that because their coach paid for better players?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unlikely a third assistant coach in his first year at Iowa is going to be enough to dramatically improve the defense, but any sort of step in the right direction could impact a game or more. It would be a mistake by Fran to not seek out a skillset that compliments what the current staff does well already.

In addition to the need for a defensive mind, Fran should be looking for someone who is young and can resonate with recruits. Nobody else on the coaching staff is under the age of 60, so a youth perspective is critical in a world where increasingly the Jimmies and Joes mean more than the Xs and Os.

It’s a bit of a conundrum as well. You often hear the term “tireless recruiter” thrown around. We’ve heard it countless times since Fran was first introduced with regard to his staff. Yet we don’t have that coveted second weekend tournament run yet. The effort has gotten the Hawkeyes some talented players to be sure, just not enough to make an honest deep run.

So you’d like to see someone with even more of a reputation as a recruiter than we have currently. But in this day and age, are we to believe someone with that type of reputation will A) be available B) be within our price range and C) not come with sanctions or an FBI investigation in the near future? It’s not a well-kept secret that the best recruiters are the ones willing to toe (or cross) the line. Hawkeye fans want to win with top-notch recruits, but do we want to pay to get them?

And if Fran looks for someone with that national reputation, does that come at the expense of a coach with deep ties within the state? Iowa is producing more and more national-level talent. There are players headed to other programs the Hawkeyes would love to have for the future. Would it be better to look for a recruiter who can lock down the state’s borders?

Or should Fran be looking for someone who can play the free agency market? College hoops has become much more driven by the top transfers over the past several years and Iowa is one of the few programs not taking 1-2 a year. Playing that market is a strategy that worked very well for Fred Hoiberg when he was at Iowa State (and it looks like the playbook is unchanged as he’s already landed his first at Nebraska). It could be incredibly helpful to bring in an assistant with some prowess in this area to complement what the staff already does on the recruiting trail.

Whatever Fran decides he wants in Francis’ replacement, he needs to make up his mind relatively quickly. The live recruiting period has already opened up and every day the Hawkeyes spend without an assistant coach is not only a day they don’t have him (or her?) out on the trail, it’s a day recruits are left wonder who that assistant will be and how they’ll get along with them.

This is a critical recruiting class for Fran and his tenure at Iowa. We saw this past season the crossroads he appears to be going through with the fanbase. He’s pulled us back from the ledge and out of the abyss, but now fans want more. We’re nearing a decade in and the fanbase in clamoring for the next step.

That next step starts with building on the success we had this past season and converting it into a talented recruiting class in 2020. It’s one rich with in-state talent like 5-star center Xavier Foster. It’s one where the Hawkeyes have built major inroads with top-notch national recruits like Jalen Suggs (for whom Andrew Francis was the lead recruiter). And it’s one that will need to replace stars like Jordan Bohannon. Fran has to get this class right or it will be the beginning of the end.

That’s difficult to do with an empty seat on the bench. The void needs to be filled and quickly. Beyond the lost ground on the recruiting trail, the Hawkeyes are already facing other headwinds for the 2019-2020 season. We’ve seen Tyler Cook announce he’s hiring an agent to enter the NBA Draft.

While he could still technically come back (thanks to a rule change this year, players may still return after hiring an agent if they go undrafted), the announcement doesn’t sound like it’s from someone who intends to be back. Those will be big shoes to fill. As would the shoes of Joe Wieskamp if he were to be selected, now that he’s announced he’ll go through the process (as he should).

They also, of course, lose Nicholas Baer who was the heart and soul of this Iowa team. He will go down as a lot of fans’ favorite Hawkeyes and was the perfect recipient of the Chris Street Award this season. That’s in addition to Maishe Dailey, who will be joining the Akron Zips.

They’ll also face the uphill battle of losing one of their key contributors and point guards for a good portion of the offseason. Connor McCaffery, as has been well documented, is a tremendous baseball player. He’s a contributor on Rick Heller’s squad that just won a weekend series over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but he’s also a legit MLB prospect. We found out this week he’ll be spending his summer with the Albany Dutchmen of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (the Google machine tells me it’s a 12-team summer league comprised only of players with college eligibility remaining)

I’ll leave the debate over the exact impact of Connor focusing on baseball rather than his jumpshot for the comment section, but suffice it to say it’s not the same workout regiment the rest of the team will be on. It’s just one more hurdle this staff will face come fall.

All the details are likely to have an impact. We don’t know exactly what or when, but there will be a game decided next year by the things happening this offseason. There will be many more decided by the impact the next assistant coach does or does not have on the Hawkeyes’ defense and the players they’re able to recruit.

It’s critical Fran makes the perfect hire to replace Andrew Francis, both for his future and for that of the Hawkeye hoops program.

Happy Monday. Get the details right this week, ya’ll. Enjoy the sweet taste of Husker tears!

Go Hawks