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Overreaction Monday: B.J. Armstrong Should Be Iowa’s Next Head Coach

Fran McCaffery is probably locked in until his kids graduate but Iowa should call Armstrong before anyone else when the head coaching job comes up

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Readers of the blog will know I stan for Fran McCaffery as much as anyone so this is hardly a case to put McCaffery on the hot seat for the 2019-20 basketball season. Also given Pat McCaffery will be a freshman on the team, it’s difficult to imagine Fran jumping ship before he graduates in 2023. Simply put, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Fran is no longer Iowa’s coach before then, barring multiple replays of 2017-18.

Whenever he’s done manning the sidelines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the first call Iowa’s athletic director should make needs to be B.J. Armstrong.

This might feel like a take way out of left field, but Armstrong was on The Ringer’s college basketball podcast, “One Shining Podcast with [Mark] Titus and Tate [Frazier],” about a month ago and the topic was broached by cohost Mark Titus (1:00:50):

Titus: “This is a trend in college basketball, guys who are legends at their schools coming back to their alma maters. Iowa basketball been floundering a little bit, B.J., is this the answer: bring B.J. Armstrong home to save the Hawkeyes?

“I had this thought: Iowa basketball is like the Big Ten of the Big Ten. The Big Ten is always good enough to be competitive but we never win national titles any more. Iowa basketball is like good enough to be in the mix of everything. Iowa hasn’t won the Big Ten since 1979, Tate.

“This could be the man to get it done.”

Armstrong: “That was with Ronnie and those guys. Lute Olsen, that group.”

Titus: “Of the original teams in the Big Ten, Northwestern is the only one with a longer drought.”

Armstrong: “Listen, look, I love Iowa. Those four years at Iowa were perhaps the four greatest years I’ve had. My four years at Iowa were just incredible. I had an incredible run. From the moment I stepped on campus to the moment I left, it’s nothing but positive vibes.

Titus: “You don’t want to spoil it by going back and getting fired?”

Armstrong: It’s just you go back and it’s just great. From what we achieved as a group. What we did - Chuck Long was runner up in football for the Heisman Trophy to Bo Jackson - it was a great four years there.

I don’t know how I could top that. But you know what, if the University did call back and ask me, that’s one place I know I don’t have the ability to say, ‘no.’

So I try to keep my distance cause I don’t want to have to say, ‘yes.’”

Frazier: “There you have it: B.J. Armstrong does not say ‘no’ to Iowa.”

Armstrong: “If they ask me to do anything for the University - anything - I would have to do it.”

Frazier: “Drop the bag.” [pay recruits]

Armstrong: “I don’t know about that.”

At a later point, Armstrong did go on to compliment McCaffery to clear up he any misconception he was gunning for the job, not that anyone would take his quotes on an irreverent (and very good) college basketball pod as interest to take over the role as soon as possible. It’s why I prefaced the quotes through the lens of “when the job becomes available” and not “let’s start the ‘B.J.-to-Iowa’ movement now.”

But the thought of Armstrong on the sidelines is intriguing as hell and his resume stacks up with recent hires of former players outside the normal college coaching progression (i.e. Matt Painter):

  • Armstrong: 11-year NBA career, Bulls front office (2003-05), agent (2006-present)
  • Fred Hoiberg: 10-year NBA career, Timberwolves front office (2005-10)
  • Chris Mullin: 16-year NBA career, Warriors front office (2004-09), Kings front office (2013-15)
  • Patrick Ewing: 17-year NBA career, various assistant coaching jobs (2002-17)
  • Penny Hardaway: 14 year NBA career, middle/high school coach (2011-18)
  • Juwan Howard: 19-year NBA career, Heat assistant (2013-19)

Feel free to share others in the comments.

Obviously the record of these former players is basically 50/50 between Hoiberg/Mullin and the jury is still out on Ewing, Hardaway, and Howard, but there is no doubt the energy each one of these hires has brought to their respective programs. Given the state of college hoops, the case can be made that Armstrong would be well-positioned to vault Iowa basketball to another level.

An article earlier this year really put into focus just what college basketball means. Of course, it was a retrospective of embattled Will Wade’s career, but the point of college basketball was never clearer for me than after that: talent acquisition.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Iowa’s current model of the best in-state players, marginally rated national guys (75-100ish), and family connections to fill in the gaps. He’s taken some hits on flyers, but it’s kept Iowa on the right side of the bubble for the bulk of his time here.

But is there a better way?

The obvious “better” way is to get the best players is simply “drop bags” though it’s distinctly outside of Iowa’s third pillar of “doing it right.” Even Armstrong knows that and said as such in the interview. But hiring guys from a school’s heyday - and with the success each had post-college - offers recruits an easy example of what they could be by going to each school.

Further, it builds significant momentum at each place in a unique way by getting everyone moving in a single direction. People were JACKED to watch Juwan Howard wax poetic about his time at Michigan and I’d be lying if I didn’t get a semblance of that listening to Armstrong talk about his time as a Hawkeye.

There are obvious questions one would about Armstrong should he actually be put in a position to say “no.”

  • Would he rather be negotiating NBA player endorsement deals/contracts with NBA teams or recruiting 14- to 17-year olds?
  • Are there concerns about his transition from being a former agent?
  • What would his system even look like?
  • Is he too old (just eight years younger than 59-year-old Fran)?

And probably plenty of others.

But he’s got plenty of connections as an agent, a successful basketball career including three Rings, and a direct line to Iowa’s most successful time in recent memory. Whenever Fran is done at Iowa, the first phone number the Athletic Director should dial is Armstrong’s.

One Shining Podcast is easily my favorite sports podcast and the whole interview (starting at 31:50) linked above is well worth your time. There’s a tremendous anecdote about Armstrong’s visit to Michigan State where Scott Skiles is heavily involved.