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A TASTE OF FRAN

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Fran steals the show while other coaches slurp soup.

If you watched BTN at all over the last few weeks you probably saw ads for a new show, A Taste of Coaching, hosted by SI.com's Seth Davis.  The show is nominally an opportunity to bring together a group of head coaches and pick their brains about various aspects of the coaching profession and the state of modern college basketball, all while they eat dinner at an unnamed restaurant.

In practice, the show (or at least the first episode) amounted to an extended interview between Seth Davis and Fran McCaffery, with Fran providing long, thoughtful answers on a number of points.  There were other coaches there -- Oklahoma's Lon Kruger, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, and Baylor's Scott Drew -- and while they opined on several points, the unquestioned star of the show was Fran.  Maybe this shouldn't have been too surprising, given that Fran was the only Big Ten coach there and the show was being broadcast on BTN.

The show debuted on Sunday night and there are encore presentations of the debut episode airing on BTN throughout the week; just check your local cable guide.  (You can also probably watch it via BTN2Go.)  The second episode debuts at 10 PM Central on Sunday.

Again, Fran talked about a number of topics during the episode and I'd absolutely encourage you to watch the full episode if you're interested in hearing more about what he thinks (or if you just want to watch Scott Drew murder a bowl of soup). Here were some of the highlights, though:

On transfers:

"That whole fifth-year transfer rule has to change.  It did not turn out the way it was intended.  You're seeing guys now, they put up numbers... they're shopping themselves."

We know another coach in the state of Iowa that feels rather differently about that rule, of course.  To his credit, Fran's actions back up his words on this point -- to the best of my knowledge, he's never pursued one of the fifth-year senior transfer recruits.  That said, I do wonder if that's the smartest course of action.  To an extent, it reminds me of Ferentz's stubbornness to adopt to the current rules regarding punts and punt returns; whether you personally like the rules or not, you cannot let that make it more difficult for your team to win games.  This is a much less cut-and-dried issue than the punt return rules because there are many ways to assemble a roster in college basketball.  But I question the logic of completely turning your back on an approach that has been proven to help add difference-making talent (in some, but not all, cases), particularly at a school that isn't a recruiting hotbed.

More on transfers, specially releases:

"When you know for a fact there's been tampering... no release.  I've done it.  I did it once.  I know exactly what happened, who did it, how they did it, and I never released the kid.  Bottom line is, he went to where he wanted to go anyway.  But the guy who was behind the release, he had to pay his tuition at that school.

What about not releasing someone to a school because they're on your schedule next year?

"Uh-uh.  That's wrong.  That's wrong.  You can't pick and choose where that kid's gonna go."

What if it's inside the league?

"I have no problem with it.  No tampering?  I don't have a problem with it."

This was one of the meatier -- and more interesting -- responses Fran provided during the discussion.  I don't know which player Fran was referring to in the first part of his answer -- the player that Fran refused to give a release to because he felt there had been tampering -- but it seems likely that it happened at one of his pre-Iowa gigs.  Since he took over at Iowa, there have been very few transfers -- the only ones that come to mind are Ben Brust and Kyle Meyer and I'm fairly certain that both of them received full releases.

The second part of his response is a not-so-thinly-veiled shot at Bo Ryan and the brouhaha that surrounded Jarrod Uthoff's decision to transfer away from the Badgers three years ago.  Shots fired, Bo.  SHOTS. FIRED.

On Twitter and social media:

"I stopped [players on Twitter] this year.  I put a ban on it. They were hammering a couple of my guys  One of my guys went back. The difficulty with that is you don't know exactly who tweeted at you. It might not be who they said they were. You gotta be careful what you tweet back.  I started looking at some of the things people were tweet at my players... it's disgraceful.

"I don't tweet.  I don't have a Facebook account. I just don't believe in it. And I'm sure my marketing guy feels the same way as yours {points at Mike Brey], like you should, you should do more, it's the way of the world. But I don't see the sense in it.

"I don't think people realize how bad it is.  How despicable some of the things that come up on their phone, that are said to them, about them, about their girlfriend, about their parents.  Cruel, to the point where if someone said that to you, you'd fight.

"It appears to be a great thing, but in actuality, it's not."

Hoo boy, there's a lot in this response.

1) It's true that Fran did tell his players to stop posting to Twitter last season after the ugly incident surrounding Zach McCabe after Iowa lost to Wisconsin in January.  (I don't recall if that social media ban also extended to things like Instagram and Facebook or not.)  However, it seems like he's since relaxed it -- Aaron WhiteGabe Olaseni, and Trey Dickerson, among others, have been tweeting during this season. And, honestly, that seems like a healthier approach to take with players than a straight ban.  The football program has operated under a strict "no Twitter" policy for years and it's became almost comical to see the seniors emerge from the darkness and turn up on Twitter at the end of the season.  Fran embraced that approach briefly after the McCabe incident, but overall he seems to favor educating players and teaching them to be responsible about what they post and who they communicate with; that seems like a far more sensible approach to take.

2) That said, he's absolutely right that the things that people tweet (or comment about on Facebook posts) to players and their friends and family members are quite often disgusting and reprehensible.  It's easy to say something truly terrible to someone when you're separated from them by hundreds of miles and you can hide behind an anonymous username.  And yet there's more to Twitter and social media than just providing a convenient anonymous outlet for trolls to sling mud at you; social media can also be a useful and positive way to help people get to know you (or aspects of you) a little better and to feel more connected to you; knowing that Devyn Marble was a huge sneakerhead made him seem more human, just like learning about Melsahn Basabe's "$lime" slang humanized him.  Learning more about players and their lives, interests, and personalities can make it harder to see them as just a basketball-playing robot and it's generally harder to spew hate at someone who seems like a person than a robot. Then again, this may be an overly sunny view of life on the interwebs, especially if you're a celebrity (even a celebrity of the level of "Iowa athlete").

3) Fran's overall thoughts on Twitter and his own personal approach to social media appear to be in virtual lockstep with Kirk Ferentz; Iowa must have two of the most social media-averse coaches in the Power 5 conferences.  (Not that they're alone among Power 5 coaches in their views on Twitter and social media; Tom Izzo has expressed on more than one occasion that he thinks that Twitter is basically the devil.)  Is that a bad thing?  I don't know.  As I said above, I think it's a mistake to unilaterally ban players from participating in social media; most 18-22 year olds today are going to want to use social media, so educating them on the do's and don'ts, the costs and benefits, and the consequences of what you say seems like a more prudent approach than sticking your head in the sand and ignoring it altogether.  But what about coaches not participating in social media?  For virtually every coach, social media is not an outlet for connection or humanization, but another marketing tool.  Does it matter if Ferentz and Fran aren't tweeting the world at large if they're texting and calling actual recruits and staying engaged in other ways?  Maybe not.

More on Twitter:

Lon Krueger: "I don't think years ago.... I don't think coaches would have anticipated, the nature of our business, just like our kids, you try to anticipate what potential problems there are and alert them to them before they happen. We're talking today about things that coaches 20 years ago would have never even imagined... you know, like tweeting at halftime"

/everyone laughs

LOL Tim Miles.

H/T on the image to @Chad_BSD

On "working the refs" and modern officiating:

How much does it really work when you work the refs?

"It doesn't really work with the good [refs]. If I'm going against an experienced [coach], guy's been around, and he's working them, then you gotta work [the refs[.  If you're going against a guy who doesn't say much, then you don't have to say much. You're looking down there and seeing, what's he got going on?  Is he influencing the game at all? Well now I gotta say something, I gotta do something.  But [the ref] makes a call, you don't yell at him, that's not gonna help."

Is there a problem with officiating today?

"There's not a problem with officiating; it could always be better. I think the fact that they are all independent contractors makes it difficult. Because if they do make a mistake or they have a bad game, what are the ramifications? Are they studying? Are they watching that stuff?  Are they getting better? Are they getting on a plane and reffing a game in the Big 12 the next day?  Are they really studying to get better? Are they reffing six days a week? Do they have time to be rested and do a better job? I think that's the concern we all have. We have outstanding officials and they're all really good guys.... except Ted Valentine, who's an asshole.*"

* Fran did not actually say this, but I feel like he was probably thinking it.  Or maybe that was just me.

I've always wondered about that "work the refs" point, so it's interesting to see a coach actually weigh in on it.  It's interesting to hear him say that he doesn't think it works on the "good" referees, but that coaches feel pressured to talk to referees because other coaches are talking to referees; that seems like a bit of a vicious cycle there.

His other points about officiating seem dead-on, though.  The accountability (or lack thereof) with officials is troubling, especially given the impact they can have on a game.  If an official has a bad game, what are the ramifications?  Are there any ramifications?  I suppose if they're bad enough at their job then the people who hire officials will simply stop hiring them, but that's a pretty last-ditch response.  And the workload issue is concerning; most referees are not as fit as players, but they're expected to travel more and work more games?  That doesn't make much sense and likely makes it harder for them to be good at their job.

And in case you were wondering, Fran appeared to order (and eat) a Caprese salad in this episode.  We didn't get to see what he ordered for his entrée; I guess we'll have to tune in to the second episode for that.

BONUS! There was a shot of "White Magic"-era Fran during the episode and I can never get enough of those.

fran white magic