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Archive for March, 2010

A group effort

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010
At the end of the day, the decision belonged to Gary Barta but former Iowa basketball player Bobby Hansen, a member of the five-member search committee that led the Hawkeyes to Fran McCaffery, found the hiring process a group effort and an interesting experience. "In retrospect, it was a worthwhile endeavor and I was glad to help in whatever small way I could,'' Hansen said. Search committee members took their roles seriously and assisted Barta in his search in every way possible. Hansen saw that play out when the group assembled last Friday to discuss the status of the search with Barta, who had been crisscrossing the country looking for Iowa's next basketball coach. "Everybody came into the meeting with a lot of ideas, a lot of notes,'' Hansen said. "Several members had done extensive research on names that they had heard and at the end of the day, a lot of names were put on the table.'' Hansen said the group did discuss the possibility of hiring a former player such as B.J. Armstrong to head the program. He said the group also talked about Tennessee assistant Steve Forbes, a Lone Tree, Iowa native who Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl lobbied for. "People talked about the plusses and minuses of those situations. Ideas that fans came up with and were talking about were kicked around a bit,'' Hansen said. "I think at the end of the day, we collectively came up with the right path to take and I think Gary has made a very good hire.'' Barta acknowledged the work of the committee during his remarks at the news conference when McCaffery was welcomed to Iowa. He also acknowledged the contribution made of the former Hawkeye and NBA player who has been behind the microphone on Iowa radio broadcasts for many years now. "Bobby, we know he knows Hawkeye athletics. He knows Hawkeye basketball, but we know and I learned to appreciate how much basketball he knows around the country and he was an invaluable resource,'' Barta said. Hansen said he appreciated the opportunity to help the program out. "It was a good experience for me,'' he said. "One of the professors on the committee has my daughter in one of her classes so I got to learn a little bit there, too.''

A mid-major statement

Sunday, March 28th, 2010
Iowa's new basketball coach just doesn't talk a good game. Fran McCaffery backs it up with his votes. The Siena coach who will be introduced as the Hawkeyes' new coach at news conference on Monday created a bit of a stir earlier this month when his final regular-season ballot in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll became public. McCaffery voted three teams outside of the power six conferences in the top 10 of his ballot, including penciling Final Four qualifier Butler in the No. 4 spot. He also voted Temple fifth and Northern Iowa eighth. Butler finished eighth, Temple was 13th and Sweet 16 qualifier Northern Iowa was 24th in the final coaches poll of the year. "I would not have voted them where I did if I had not played against them,'' McCaffery told USA Today. "I had good knowledge of their programs and know how good they are.'' McCaffery also accurately pegged Villanova's late-season fall on his ballot, voting them 20th in his last top 25 before its was released on March 15. "Villanova lost a bunch of games recently. If a team is losing, I don't keep them up there because I think they're good. I keep them. I just move them down,'' McCaffery said.

McCaffery to Iowa

Sunday, March 28th, 2010
Siena basketball coach Fran McCaffery, whose resume includes stops at Siena, North Carolina-Greensboro and Lehigh as well as a decade as an assistant under Digger Phelps and John MacLeod at Notre Dame, has reportedly told his team that he will become the next coach at Iowa. The Albany Times Union is reporting that McCaffery, 50, met with his assistants and players late this morning and informed them that he will be leaving for the Big Ten school. McCaffery has a 112-51 record in five seasons at Siena, which lost to Purdue 72-64 in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA tourney. He previously went 90-87 in eight seasons at Greensboro and was 49-39 in three seasons at Lehigh. McCaffery was involved in the recruitment of LaPhonso Ellis, Monty Williams, Ryan Humphrey, Troy Murphy and Pat Garrity during his time at Notre Dame. He also met his wife, former Irish women's basketball player Margaret, during his time in South Bend. Iowa has yet to confirm the hiring of McCaffery and no news conference is currently scheduled in Iowa City although reports in Albany indicate that McCaffery is expected to be introduced at a news conference there Monday.

Turn back the clock

Saturday, March 27th, 2010
As the search for Iowa's new basketball coach nears the end of its second week, ponder the possibility that the identity of the next Hawkeye coach has not even surfaced yet or is flying a bit under the radar. I spent some time today going through the archives here at the Quad-City Times, refreshing my memory and trying to learn from Gary Barta's last search for a head basketball coach about what might be taking place this time around. A couple of e-mailers have asked when Todd Lickliter's name first surfaced in the last search. His name did appear in the Times on March 23, 2007, the day after reporters chased a silent Steve Alford down the stairs at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and into the back parking lot, where he and assistant Craig Neal hopped into a waiting Escalade and drove off into Hawkeye history. Lickliter's name appeared that day on a list of potential possibilities that included Creighton's Dana Altman, Washington State's Tony Bennett, Jeff Bzdelik of Air Force, Lon Kruger of UNLV and Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois. It was mentioned in passing among a list of possibilities just once more before he was hired for the job 11 days later. Others were much more visible. Bruce Pearl and Lon Kruger both said publicly five days into the search that they were not interested in the Iowa job. The same day, Northwestern State's Mike McConathy said he had applied for the position. Mid-major coaches frequently find it advantageous to toot their own horn a bit, either to secure better financial arrangements at their current schools or simply to keep their name in the mix with one eye on the future. In 2007, Lowery used the interest to sign a heftier contract at Southern Illinois nine days after Alford left. Some of the names that have popped up out of leftfield this time around are among coaches with bright futures. Billy Kennedy of Murray State and Wright State's Brad Brownell fit that description, but probably are not ready for the challenges presented currently in the Big Ten. Barta, who was involved in the University of Washington's hiring of Lorenzo Romar from St. Louis in 2002, offered a few hints before his 2007 search began, saying "a successful past is important, but it's really all about the fit.'' He pointed out that Tom Davis had had just one winning season in four years at Stanford before he began his record-setting 13-year run at Iowa. Barta provided some perspective on what transpired after he had hired Lickliter in Atlanta during Final Four weekend, one of a handful of coaches Iowa met with at the site. "The coaches we talked with, they all very good situations where they were at and we mutually agreed on confidentiality. We didn't and won't talk about them. They didn't talk about us,'' Barta said at the time. Barta said when he spoke with other coaches and administrators, he talked only about multiple candidates in order not to tip his hand about the individuals he was truly interested in. Lickliter is one of three known candidates to speak with Barta in Atlanta. A Freedom of Information Act request later revealed that Iowa had contracts drawn up not only for Lickliter, but for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. Creighton's Altman did speak briefly with Iowa, but did not get deep into the process because he had already committed to what became a day-long stay at Arkansas. The search firm Iowa utilized contacted Lickliter just days before he arrived at the Final Four. Lickliter said one lengthy interview took place in Atlanta during Final Four weekend before he was offered the job on a Sunday night. The following day, he met with Barta on three occasions and the deal was finalized. That night, he was on a plane headed for Iowa City. In 2007, it took about 96 hours from interview to introduction, so while Barta probably has a gameplan put together for his current search -- something he is expected to discuss this weekend with Iowa's search committee -- it is entirely possible that Barta has not even met with Iowa's next coach yet.

The silent search

Thursday, March 25th, 2010
Although Gary Barta's silent search for a new basketball coach at Iowa continues, we are getting some sense of an idea of the type of coach that the Iowa director of athletics is seeking as a replacement for Todd Lickliter. Iowa is now interviewing potential candidates for the job and as much as Barta and the search firm employed by Iowa tries to keep those names under wraps, the names of some coaches who have either interviewed or have been sought out for an interview tend to leak out. Wichita State's Gregg Marshall has publicly stated he was approached by Iowa last week. Utah's Jim Boylen may be declining comment, but isn't denying reports that he has had disccusions about the Hawkeye job. What can we learn from those two individuals? Both have shown ability to build successful programs in small-population states, places where recruiting beyond the border is every bit as important as being able to X and O with the best. Both are currently making $750,000-850,000 per year at their current institutions. That provides a hint of the type of coach Iowa seeks. There haven't been any million-dollar names thrown around to this point, a sign that Barta's search is mainly focused at this juncture on veteran coaches working in solid, upper-tier mid-major conferences. That's not to say coaches currently earning bigger paychecks are not on Iowa's list, but Iowa has not been the type of school to simply throw a checkbook at a prospective coach.  The collection of mid-major coaches mentioned may not be a good sign for currently-employed assistants whose names have been tossed around frequently in recent weeks. One, Tennessee assistant Steve Forbes, has not been shy about his interest in the position but the Lone Tree, Iowa, native told reporters in St. Louis on Thursday that he has not been contacted about the position. I do think we can deduct from the pace of Iowa's search that some potential candidates are still coaching teams in postseason play. That's a good thing. It makes perfect sense for the Brian Gregorys and Scott Drews of the world to be on Iowa's radar. It also makes perfect sense for them to focused on their current jobs. Gregory, like Boylen and Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik, all share ties to Michigan State's highly-successful program and its blue-collar, Midwestern approach to the game. Gregory and another Dayton-based coach, Brad Brownell of Wright State, are examples of two coaches with solid resumes who appear ready for a challenge at the next level. Gregory has spent seven years at Dayton while Brownell, who interviewed Thursday with Barta and associate athletics director Fred Mims, hasn't had a losing season since 1999 in stops at NC-Wilmington and Wright State. I still believe that at this point in time, Iowa needs an experienced head coach to get its ship sailing in the right direction again. A Lon Kruger of UNLV or Stew Morrill of Utah State would be good, solid hires who can only coach the game but are more than capable as recruiters and in building a staff that will help Iowa restore a roster that currently lacks the physical and athletic traits of its Big Ten peers. Gregory and Brownell would bring youthful enthusiasm to the job. Anyone who watched Gregory's team win at Illinois in Wednesday's NIT quarterfinals probably came away 1) feeling exhausted from the pace of the game and 2) impressed with the Flyers and a coach who doesn't seem content to enjoy a seat on the bench. This isn't the time to hand the keys over to someone working as an assistant coach. It's one thing to make suggestions, it's completely another to make decisions. Iowa needs an experienced decisionmaker who will surround himself with assistants who are capable and experienced of landing Big Ten-level talent. I do believe there is room for a former Hawkeye on the coaching staff, preferrably one who has worked as a successful coach at the high school or college level. Again, I don't believe Iowa is in a position where it can provide on-the-job training for a rookie coach. Barta talked during his news conference following Lickliter's firing about a need for all hands on deck, something that extends throughout the department if it hopes to make what has traditionally been one of its two money-making programs profitable again. That includes the way the program is marketed and the way its needs are addressed, but its base must be built on a solid foundation and that begins with a coach who is ready to not only lead a team, but a program and is eager and willing to embrace a fan base that has gotten a little seasick as it traversed bumpy waters in recent years.

Familiar tale

Monday, March 22nd, 2010
A starting guard is transferring. A back-up center is leaving. Two other reserves are headed out the door as well. This isn't heaven. It's not even Iowa -- although the exact same thing played out at Iowa one year ago this week. It's Penn State, where former Hawkeye recruit and sophomore starter Chris Babb is among four players who have told coach Ed DeChellis that they will not be returning next season. Babb, the Nittany Lion's third-leading scorer at 9.3 points per game, is joining back-up center Andrew Ott, reserve forward Bill Edwards and reserve guard Adam Highberger in leaving the PSU program. Babb - an Arlington, Texas, native who visited Iowa as a recruit the same weekend as Aaron Fuller - and Edwards are citing a desire to transfer to programs closer to home, while Ott and Highberger will not use available years as fifth-year seniors. The Nittany Lions endured an 11-20 season this winter and finished 11th in the Big Ten with a 3-15 mark. None of the departing players have said much, but Babb's father Mike, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that his son is in the exploratory stages of where he will continue his career. Mike Babb pointed out to the publication that the family was originally from Topeka, Kan., and considers the Midwest to be home. "If Chris is going to do this, he has to do it at this point,'' Mike Babb told the Patriot-News. "He'll have two years left. It's nothing personal, but you don't want to wait until it's too late.'' The moves come as Iowa continues its search for a new basketball coach, one year after Todd Lickliter took a verbal flogging following the departure of four Hawkeyes for other programs. Iowa AD Gary Barta and associate AD Fred Mims did fly out of the Quad-City International Airport this AM on a flight to Atlanta. That's the location of search firm Iowa has used to screen potential candidates for jobs in the past. One week into the search, the pieces for the actual process are starting to come together. The search committee has been formed, the search firm is doing its job of putting together a field of potential candidates. Once that is done, the speed of things will pick up a bit. It took 11 days in 2007 from the time Steve Alford left for New Mexico until Lickliter was introduced. Expect this search to be on a similar or slightly-extended timeline, given that it started earlier in the NCAA tourney at a time when many potential candidates were still on the job.

Sunday thoughts

Sunday, March 21st, 2010
It's natural for names with ties to a program to quickly surface when a coaching vacancy occurs. Bruce Pearl and Keno Davis quickly found themselves tied to the opening at Iowa because of their previous connections to the Hawkeye program. That makes sense, but at the end of the day those people typically are not the ones being introduced at a press conference. Pearl has sidestepped questions about the Iowa job in recent days, as you would expect. First and foremost, he has a Tennessee team to prepare for its continued run in the NCAA tourney. A sitting head coach isn't going step up and say that he's looking elsewhere and in this case, I don't think that's happening. Pearl's current contract at Tennessee is a generous one, paying him $1.9 million this year with annual $200,000 raises through its duration. He has been treated well there, as you would hope he would be after leading a program to the NCAA tourney in each of the past five years. Tennessee has the resources to match any offer Iowa would put on the table for the fan favorite in a number of polls as to who should replace Todd Lickliter. Pearl's interest in the Iowa opening may revolve more about promoting assistant Steve Forbes as a candidate for the job. The Lone Tree, Iowa, native has a solid resume, but no head coaching experience at the Division I level. That might be an issue for Gary Barta, who needs a solid hire to turn the program around. Cross Davis off the list of possibilities as well. He has told the Providence Journal that he will remain with the Big East program he led to a 12-19 record this season. "I'm not interested in that job and I've let everybody know it,'' the son of former Hawkeye coach Tom Davis told the publication. Davis isn't the only talking. Prior to his team's NCAA tourney games at San Jose last week, Butler coach Brad Stevens was asked if Lickliter's dismissal at Iowa illustrated that the grass isn't always greener at a major program than it is for those who work at the mid-major level. "I don't even look at it as a cautionary tale, per se, but rather a friend,'' Stevens said. "I think, obviously, people talk about the coaching carousel, and it's easily discussed and talked about. To me and to people that are in it and to people that are affected by it with friends and their families and associates and everybody else, it really hits home. There is no question about it. "I feel bad for all those guys. I've talked to 'em, and they'll end up in great shape. They're all great people and like I said earlier, the guys at Iowa, the kids at Butler, everybody that's played for coach Lickliter is better because of it and that's a great way to be valued and judged as a coach and it's not always the case. It's not always the way decisions are made.''

Alford reflects on Iowa job

Saturday, March 20th, 2010
Steve Alford has led the New Mexico basketball team to an impressive record this season, but a return to the San Jose area where he made a stop during his NBA tenure has people talking about the former Iowa coach's past. Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the San Jose Mercury-News wrote pieces on Alford from the San Jose NCAA site following his team's opening-round win over Montana. Alford told the Sun-Times that "if all the ingredients were in place (at Iowa), odds are, I wouldn't have left. I had five years on the contract.'' Alford said a commitment to the sport from New Mexico president Dr. David Schmidly -- who was at Texas Tech when that institution hired Alford's college coach, Bob Knight -- and athletics director Paul Krebs made all the difference. "I saw something in Paul Krebs and Dr. Schmidly that was committed to basketball at the highest level. We had a practice facility, we had our own strength coach, our own marketing director. We have things that weren't in place at my last stop, and that's important.'' The Mercury-News story talked with former Iowa athletics director Bob Bowlsby as well. "I'm not surprised at all by his success, because Steve is just terrific,'' said Bowlsby, now at Stanford. "He's just an exceptional basketball mind, and his best coaching years are ahead of him.'' The handling of Pierre Pierce situation -- rounds one and two -- did impact Alford's situation at Iowa, Bowlsby told the Mercury-News. "Some thought Steve was a little too outspoken in defending his athlete,'' he said. "It quite honestly was difficult for us to work through at times, too. It was one of those things that just seemed to go on and on.'' That is the rear view mirror for Alford, who now says, "I'm having a blast because of the commitment here. I just think the way I'm wired, I have to be someplace where the top priority is basketball.''

The e-mail bag

Thursday, March 18th, 2010
I've received a flurry of e-mails the past few days, many with a common theme concerning Iowa's search for a new basketball coach. I'll share them and add a response or two along the way... From Jose Ponce, Davenport: "I was born in Iowa City and have been a huge Iowa fan all my life. I've followed their sports programs for as long as I can remember. I have a couple of questions that maybe you can answer. My first question of course is about the coaching vacancy for our basketball team. Bruce Pearl has always been on the minds of hopefuls but does that seem very realistic? He seems to be very happy where he's at and with a weak SEC conference, he will always be able to compete for recruits and championships in the South. Another SEC school, Vanderbilt, is a strong team and funny, as I'm writing this, they lost at the buzzer to Murray State but their coach Kevin Stallings has been rumored to be a candidate. How realistic is that?'' Only Pearl and Stallings probably know how realistic their interest in an opening at Iowa would be. I can tell you that Iowa spoke with both in 2007 after Steve Alford left for New Mexico. Pearl quickly expressed no interest at that time and Stallings did interview for the position and turned down a $1.4 million offer from Iowa. Would either be interested now? It's hard to say but neither would come cheaply and that will likely be a factor. Times and situations do change and that may have an impact on how interested they are in the Iowa job this time around. With a young group of returning players, a solid recruiting class and a $43 million practice facility under construction, it's an attractive job. -- Steve From Jim Turnbough, Iowa City: "Your poll for who should be the next Hawkeye coach doesn't have B.J. Armstrong. He would get my vote if on the list.'' B.J. Would be an interesting candidate. He was a part of the search committee when Todd Lickliter was hired and has expressed an interest to help out in that capacity again. With his ties at the professional level and in scouting talent, he is a valuable asset to have onboard. My guess is that Iowa will be seeking someone with coaching experience at this point, something B.J. does not have. -- Steve From Eduardo Ricaurte, Bettendorf: "What about Stan Joplin as a head coach for Iowa. He was an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State and was the head coach at Toledo University. I think he would be a good fit at Iowa.'' There's a name that I haven't heard bounced around yet. Stan has been out of coaching since he was fired after a 12-year run at Toledo in 2008. Given that Toledo is looking for a head coach again, maybe things weren't so bad for the Rockets when Stan was around. He does have Michigan State experience, spending five years as an assistant under Jud Heathcote and one under Tom Izzo before taking the Toledo job. Stan did interview for a few coaching jobs a year ago, but hasn't landed anything yet. Interesting suggestion. -- Steve From Linda Dudgeon, Bettendorf: "We've owned season football tickets since the '70s. The tickets are very pricey and the school forces us to give an additiional amount in the hundreds in order to keep those tickets. I want to know if some that money is going to Lickliter to satisfy his contract and since the AD picked Lickliter and has now fired him, maybe some of that dispersment should come out of the ADs pocket. I liked Lickliter and I don't think he was given ample time especially with the unfortunate leaving of many team members not related to coach. Thanks.'' I doubt that any of those $2.4 million dollars are coming out of Gary Barta's pocket. The Iowa athletic department is self supporting. It receives no state funds. Money to pay off Lickliter's contract will come from dollars generated by the department to operate its $63 million annual budget. Those dollars come from three primary sources and each provides the department with roughly one-third of its income. Ticket sales, fund-raising efforts and revenue from TV and radio rights each account for about one-third of the funds. The dollars to pay off Lickliter's contract, as well as whatever it takes to pay for a new coach, will come from a combination of those sources. -- Steve From C in Bettendorf: "Is Steve Lavin a possible candidate?" Lavin's name pops up from time to time when openings come up. He's a good, solid basketball coach. Former Keady assistant at Purdue and head coach at UCLA. A lot of times television commentators find it preferrable to coach everybody else's teams with their words and then move on to the next assignment than to commit to a return to the bench. -- Steve From Bruce D. Beasley from Clinton: "Like Whoopie Goldberg's character said in Sister Act, we need to put some "butts in the seats.'' Whoever they hire needs to run a Ralph Miller/Tom Davis up-tempo style of basketball. I would rather win, but if you lose no one wants to slow, boring basketball. Keno Davis isn't quite ready for the Iowa job. ... but how about his dad for an encore?'' With the weather starting to warm up a bit, I suspect Tom Davis is probably thinking more about a return to the golf course than he is a return to the bench. I'm not sure anybody is running a Ralph Miller-type system anymore. You don't see too many teams averaging 104 points in conference play these days. I do agree with your point that up-tempo basketball is entertaining to watch and both Miller and Davis had some teams that could really push the pace. I don't mind a half-court game, though, either and the Big Ten today is more in that style. When it's run well as it is at places like Wisconsin it's easy on the eyes. When the consistency in execution isn't there, as has been the case at Iowa, it isn't pretty. Those things tend to be cyclical and currently, the rules of the game may favor the defense more than the offense. -- Steve From Judy Patsch in Rock Island: "What about Scott Drew? He brought Baylor up from the ashes of scandal to a No. 3 seed this year. Since he grew up in the Midwest (dad Homer the longtime Valpo coach), maybe he'd like to return to the area.'' Scott would be an interesting candidate. He's done a lot at Baylor and while the dollars there don't compare to the resources available at a Texas or an Oklahoma, it is an institution with sufficient funding to keep him happy. A few Big 12 coaches have had some less than complimentary things to say about Scott's recruiting practices, but he's worth a big-picture look. I would think because of his Indiana roots that a Big Ten job would have some appeal. -- Steve Thanks for your e-mails and I'll share more as they come in. Steve

A question of style

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
There is a natural assumption that Todd Lickliter did not succeed at Iowa because of the style of play the Hawkeyes played during his tenure. Director of athletics Gary Barta isn't so sure. During his news conference on Monday, Barta was asked if he believed the half-court style of play favored by Lickliter needed to be addressed. The insinuation was that a preference for a more up-tempo brand of basketball would be an important component to any change taking place in the Hawkeye program. Barta said he did not agree with that assumption. "What I agree with is that we have not yet reached our potential,'' Barta said. "I have watched Todd's teams play very exciting basketball in the past in that system and I watch some teams in our own conference play that style of ball very successfully. I don't agree with the assumption that the style of basketball we have played is not exciting. We've had our moments, but we have not done it with the consistency needed. I am not willing to concede that Todd's style cannot work at this level because I see it working.''