DI Coach of the Year: Fran McCaffery
Fran McCaffery screamed. He received technical fouls. He even slammed a chair on the hardwood.
His passionate antics drew admonishment from some, including the Big Ten office. But it also drew equally passionate play from his players.
The Hawkeyes finished 18-17 overall, 8-10 in Big Ten play, earning four more conference wins than last season for Iowa's best league improvement since 1995.
"When he starts to yell and throw things, it gets us going," junior-to-be guard Devyn Marble told The Daily Iowan. "Some people don't think of it as a good thing, but I think he knows how to get to us and what works.
"… When he does get mad, you'll see an immediate impact on the floor and a change in the momentum."
What fans see might see McCaffery shouting in the face of Marble or another Hawkeye during a time-out. What they don't see is the deep bond between McCaffery and his players, a bond predicated on accountability.
"I have to truly understand what each individual is capable of and never ask for more than that, because that's when you get in trouble," McCaffery told the DI. "I know what I can get out of each one of my players, and I demand that. I want to get them to the point where they demand it from themselves, and I don't have to do it as much. That's when it's more fun for all of us."
But before McCaffery's style paid dividends and Iowa notched four wins against top-20 opponents, the Hawkeyes struggled to an 8-5 nonconference record. The squad suffered deflating losses to Campbell, Clemson, and Northern Iowa. Its best win — an 81-72 home result over Boise State — was still lackluster.
Marble called the experience "tough" for the team, but the Hawkeyes kept listening to McCaffery.
"He just told us that we weren't playing like the team we were capable of being," Marble said. "… In practice, he was real supportive. He didn't really get on us too much, as far as yelling. He just told us what we needed to know."
A breakthrough came in the form of a 72-65 win at No. 11 Wisconsin, Iowa's first win at the Kohl Center since 2000.
The triumph prompted an ecstatic McCaffery to join in the middle of his team's celebration.
"To see how happy he was for us, and to see that we were finally finding success, it was just a great feeling," Marble said.
But maybe even more important than McCaffery's on-court success this year was his recruiting success away from it. The second-year coach signed five incoming recruits — including consensus Top-100 players Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell — and earned the class a No. 23 ranking from ESPN.com.
McCaffery is reluctant to name a tangible goal for next season. "If we improve from this year, then that's what I want to see and that's what I expect," he said.
Considering the combination of talented newcomers and four of the team's top five scorers returning, the program's first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006 appears in reach.
Iowa would be the fourth different school to reach the Big Dance under McCaffery.
"It is hard enough to get one team in the NCAA Tournament in your lifetime," ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi said in a release. "But to get three is just a sign that the man has a gift to be a head coach. He's taking Iowa in that direction."
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