McCaffery earns DI Coach of the Year

Fran McCaffery battled through adversity all season to win the DI’s Coach of the Year award.


Emily Wangen

Iowa Men’s Basketball head coach Fran McCaffery gives high fives to young Hawkeye fans as he exits the tunnel to the court before a basketball game against Kennesaw State University on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 at Carver Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Owls, 93-51. McCaffery was named the 22nd head coach for the team in 2010.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

Perhaps no head coach in Big Ten men’s basketball did more with less this season than Iowa’s Fran McCaffery.

That’s why McCaffery earned The Daily Iowan’s Coach of the Year.

Despite suffering a 15-point loss to DePaul in the Hawkeyes’ third game of the season and contending with injuries to Jack Nunge, Jordan Bohannon, and CJ Fredrick, McCaffery led his team to a slot in the AP top-25 for the majority of the season with a clear spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The season picked up when the Hawkeyes traveled to Las Vegas for their first tournament of the new year in November.

That’s when Iowa’s confidence grew.

The Hawkeyes rolled through defending national runner-up Texas Tech, 72-61, before falling to San Diego State by 10 after getting out to a solid lead.

Then came a win at Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

All of that came without Nunge in the lineup. Things got much more difficult for the Hawkeyes in the middle of December.

After a momentum-building 84-68 win over Iowa State in Ames, Bohannon announced that he would elect to redshirt, ending his season before the heart of the conference schedule came along.

When it was time to pick Big Ten play back up, Iowa had lost three of its first four games against conference foes.

Luckily for Iowa, McCaffery had a plan. It included Luka Garza and grit.

For the rest of the season, Garza became an All-American and national player of the year candidate by averaging 26.2 points per game against Big Ten opponents, while the Hawkeyes closed the season going 10-6 in their final 16 games. Iowa also finished 14-2 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I think this team has [grit] because individually our guys have it,” McCaffery said in March. “I don’t know that I can take credit for it, other than maybe I saw it or my staff saw it in the recruiting process.”

McCaffery also found a way to manage Iowa’s lineup toward the end of the season when CJ Fredrick suffered multiple injuries and Cordell Pemsl sat out with a suspension.

Related: Garza named DI’s Male Athlete of the Year

Iowa ended up earning a No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and was set to take on No. 12 seed Minnesota the day the event was canceled.

The Hawkeyes also would have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament, likely earning a seed anywhere from No. 5 to No. 8.

McCaffery ultimately lost out on Big Ten Coach of the Year to Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, who earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament after finishing with a 14-6 Big Ten record by winning his final eight games.

McCaffery also proved to be a deserving candidate. After losing key players, maintaining a lineup without much depth, and winning close games, McCaffery recorded a season to remember.

Next year, Iowa could be even better if everyone decides to come back. If Garza returns for his senior season, the Hawkeyes would retain their entire starting lineup as they look to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.