Assessing where a program is can be a difficult job at times. I suppose that, along with myriad other reasons, is why people like Gary Barta get paid the big bucks to run athletic departments. It may not always seem like a difficult task, but hindsight has a way of showing us how wrong we were if we’re honest about our prior opinions.
Back in 1998 when the University of Iowa decided not to renew the contract of Dr. Tom Davis, many a Hawkeye fan felt that was the right decision. At that time, Davis was entering his 13th season at Iowa. The Hawkeyes hadn’t made a Sweet Sixteen in more than a decade and had missed the NCAA Tournament altogether in three of the last five seasons. It was time for a change.
In hindsight, a few more years of simply winning in the first round of the tournament 6 of every 9 seasons with a couple of Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight thrown in during the other 4 years doesn’t sound so bad. Instead, Iowa went for the shiny new toy out of Missouri State. That ended with only 3 tournament appearances in 8 years.
If only it ended with the poor tournament ratio. REDACTED also managed to rub every Iowa fan from Dubuque to Sioux City wrong while dragging the program’s name through the mud with the Pierre Pierce situation. He was rightfully run out of town after the 2006-2007 season.
When he was, Iowa fans near and far were just as excited about the hiring of a national coach of the year from a program on the rise as they had been to bring in Alford. Todd Lickliter looked like the future. He was fresh off a second Sweet Sixteen in his 6th season at Butler and he brought with him a culture that was revered. Things were on the up-and-up.
He was a complete and utter disaster at Iowa. During his three seasons, he won fewer than 40% of his games and didn’t come close to sniffing a top-half conference finish, let alone the NCAA Tournament. He seemingly lost as many current players as he signed new recruits. The program was a tire fire.
Again, in 2010, Iowa fans were excited about a fresh start when they learned their new head coach had taken three different programs to the NCAA Tournament and played a style of basketball they hadn’t seen in years. Fran McCaffery promised to run and gun, changing defenses to keep opponents on their heels and scores in the 80s and 90s.
And again, we find the fanbase yearning for change.
Nine full seasons into the Fran McCaffery experience and the Iowa basketball program is essentially back where they started with Dr. Tom. No, there aren’t the two Sweet Sixteen appearances or the Elite Eight. There weren’t any George Raveling recruits on campus when Fran arrived either. Just a desolate wasteland of basketball left behind by Lickliter.
Under Fran, the Hawkeyes have made the NCAA Tournament 4 of the last 6 seasons and won their first round game in each of the last three. That’s 3 times as many tournament wins as REDACTED.
Yet, fans seem more concerned with the shortcomings than the successes - the same feelings the permeated the fanbase circa 1998. More important than the resurrection of the program is the fact we seem to be struggling to take that next step. Worse yet, we now seem to be taking steps backward.
After a year with yet another late-season collapse, things have not leveled off during the offseason. Instead, the Hawkeyes have lost an assistant coach for the first time in the Fran McCaffery era. When Andrew Francis walked out the door, so did Iowa’s chances at a truly special recruiting class in 2020. He was the lead recruiter on a number of the Hawkeyes’ top prospects in the class and a beloved member of the staff by all players on the roster.
It’s hard not to wonder if his departure for Cal contributed at all to the decision of Tyler Cook to forego his final season with the Hawkeyes for what is almost certainly going to be something other than the NBA or Isaiah Moss’s decision to depart the program with a year left. Both are major losses for a program which, like the football program, doesn’t have the ability to overcome unforeseen roster turnover.
Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss is now down to a final-four, per @DPiper247: Arkansas, Arizona State, Kansas, and Oregon. Was prioritized by teams all over the country, but now cuts to four.— Jake (@jakeweingarten) May 12, 2019
While Cook was expected to test the NBA waters again, his decisiveness in making it final, despite being a virtual lock to go undrafted raise some eyebrows. The decision of Moss to transfer lead to questions around tensions in the locker room. Is it possible there was something bubbling under the surface and Coach Francis was one of the mainstays holding things together?
It’s not outside the realm of possibility. This is a team, after all, that will have not one, but two of the head coach’s sons on roster when they tip off this November. That’s not to say either is unworthy of the scholarships - Connor was a borderline top-100 recruit and Pat wwas inside the top-50 at one point. But any time you add family ties, you open the door for ill-conceived perceptions.
Now, fresh off a season where the Hawkeyes were heart-breakingly close to the Sweet Sixteen and returning nearly all their production, Iowa is faced with some major turnover and major question marks. They find themselves entering the season without their leading scorer and rebounder, their best dribble-penetrator and their sixth man.
Worse yet, they’ll be taking on perhaps the most difficult schedule Iowa has had during Fran’s tenure. It includes a rematch with Cincinatti in Chicago, potential matchups with Texas Tech, San Diego State and Creighton, a trip to Ames and a solid opponent from both the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and the Gavitt Games. Things are not looking up for this coming season.
Iowa MBB non-con sked 2019-20:— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) March 26, 2019
Nov 6 SIU-Edwardsville
Nov 15-25 2 prelim LV Invite home games
Nov 28-29 LV Invite (2-Creighton/SD State/Texas Tech)
Dec 12 at Iowa State
Dec 15 Oral Roberts
Dec 21 Cincy (Chicago)
Dec 29 Kennesaw St
ACC Challenge (D2-4)
Gavitt Games (Big East-Nov)
However, this is not the same as the Tom Davis or Steve Alford eras. Fran McCaffery has the security of a long-term contract with a hefty buyout. While the fanbase may be again longing for a change, they aren’t getting one yet. The question now becomes whether hindsight will prove the fanbase right or the athletic director.
Only time will tell. But as it stands today, it’s not all gloom and doom. The aforementioned Patrick McCaffery is the third highest rated recruit the Hawkeyes have landed in the Rivals era, behind only future teammate Joe Wieskamp and former Hawkeye Tyler Smith. There are a couple bonafide stars already on the roster with Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza on the block.
Highest ranked Iowa Basketball commits in the Rivals era (2003-Present) pic.twitter.com/Bjp5UA28XO— Blair Sanderson (@BlairRIVALS) May 7, 2019
Behind them are a slew of really nice role players. Iowa gets their first look at C.J. Fredrick, who is rumored to be practicing really well (insert Josh Oglesby joke here), as well as Jack Nunge and Cordell Pemsl. The latter just received a hardship waiver for an extra year, which should help keep the foundation on solid footing for years to come.
The staff is also out on the trail building for the future. It’s doubtful fans will ever truly be happy there until the staff commits to playing the in the dark alleys with Bruce Pearl and Sean Miller, and the loss of Francis came at a dreadful time for recruiting. But video coordinator Courtney Eldridge, who is rumored to be taking the assistant role vacated by Francis, has been putting in some work on the east coast of late with a number of new offers this past week.
Will it be enough to get Fran and company through this skeptical time with the fanbase? It’s hard to say. Not much is likely to change from a perception standpoint until that Sweet Sixteen barrier is broken. Even then, it’s likely going to need to come with a couple of years where the team plays well in February and March with some Big Ten Tournament runs. Historically, those aren’t easy to come by for this program and this fanbase has always been on the skeptical side.
Regardless of where things end up, hindsight is sure to be 20/20 and there are sure to be plenty of Hawkeye fans who forget they were on the wrong side of history.
Happy Monday. Get out there and finish what you start this week. It’s what former Hawkeye James Daniels did this past weekend if a pretty cool way.
Be like James.