Siena v Purdue

Are you ready for a little White Magic?  I know I sure am!  I know, it's crazy.  It's taken the guy all of a day and a half to completely convince me that Gary Barta may deserve to keep his job for a while. 

Now, I must admit, I was a little skeptical at first.  I mean, who is this Fran guy anyway?  He wasn't one of the myriad of names thrown around as possibilities.  I had heard big names like Bruce Pearl and Billy Gillespie.  I had heard assistant names like Steve Forbes (Tennessee assistant and my personal favorite) and Chris Collins (Duke assistant).  I had heard names of guys who had been recently fired (Ernie Kent of Oregon) and guys in the midst of NCAA runs (Scott Drew of Baylor).  I had heard names of guys whose father's coached here (Keno Davis, son of former Hawkeye head coach Dr. Tom Davis).  I had heard names of guys who coach mid-majors (Ben Jacobsen of UNI) and guys who coach high-majors (Josh Pastner of Memphis).  But the one name I had NEVER heard thrown in the mix was Fran McCaffery. 

Maybe that was just the way Gary Barta wanted it?  Maybe that was best?  All I really know is that the more I learn about this guy, the more I begin to like the hire.  When the announcement was first made, my reaction was, "Sienna, huh?  Well, they've been pretty decent for a mid-major school.  But, jeez, are we really going with another mid-major success who hasn't done it at a big school?"  The long and short of that is yes, and no. 

McCaffery is a VERY successful mid-major coach, but also has some experience at a high-major.  He spent 11 years at Notre Dame, including some time under then coach and now ESPN analyst Digger Phelps (he also managed to find time to meet his wife, who was on the women's basketball squad at the time).  After the long tenure, he took on a head coaching role for the second time in his career in 1999, when he joined the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. 

Previously, he had been a head coach at Lehigh University.  That came back in 1985, when he was the youngest to EVER be named head coach of a Division I program.  In 1986, McCaffery got his first taste of Carver and that game left a good taste in his mouth.

In his introductory press conference yesterday morning, Fran described the feeling he got when Hawkeye fans gave his star player a standing ovation following a 29-point performance in a loss to the Hawkeyes in Carver.  Since that moment, he had done his best to get a game scheduled in Carver whenever possible.  It seems that won't be a problem now. 

After his stint at UNC-Greesnboro, McCaffery took over an abysmal Siena team.  They were 6-24 the previous year and were picked to finish last in the conference (hmmm, sounds eerily familiar).  In his first season, Fran led the Saints to a 15-13 record and a 4th place finish in the MAAC.  Not too bad for a last-place team. 

From there, the magic started to happen.  Every season after his first at Siena, the Saints won at least 20 games.  The last three seasons they have won the conference championship and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament (something we certainly haven't done in the last three seasons).  During those three trips, the Saints boasted wins over Vanderbilt and Ohio State in the first round.  This season, they were an upset favorite, but were knocked out by Purdue in the first round (just as a note, the Hawkeyes were also knocked out in the first round, just in the Big Ten Tournament).  In total, Fran "The Man" (that will serve only as a secondary nickname) posted a 112-51 record at Siena - a record I think most Hawk fans would be pretty damn happy to even sniff. 

But it's not just the wins and losses that have me excited about this guy.  In addition, he brings with him a 100% graduation rate.  That's right EVERY SINGLE PLAYER graduates.  Now, don't get me wrong, I would rather see us win basketball games than graduate everybody, but don't kid yourselves, those numbers are important to important people. People like Gary Barta, Sally Mason and all those donors that write the checks. 

And write those checks they shall (or so I think).  At the top of his to-do list, McCaffery mentioned filling up Carver-Hawkeye and making the place "rock again."  I don't know about you, but I like the sound of that.  I can't remember the last time that place was rockin'.  Fran promised an exciting style that plays the game the right way. He said we should expect to see some things that have been missing for a while, some things that most Hawk fans have been yearning for.  He said, "We're going to push the ball. We're going to run. We're going to press. We're going to change defenses. We're going to disrupt rhythm, and I think that's how you have to play." 

One thing he didn't promise was instant success.  It's important to understand what we have, where we've been and what it will take to get us where we want to be.  But I also think he understands that if we aren't going to win the Big Ten next season, we should at the very least make significant improvements and put a team on the court that will compete, win some games, and make it enjoyable for Hawk fans to be in the stadium again. 

He mentioned the need to re-recruit our current players and recruits to ensure we have a solid foundation.  Then he turned to the future.  He said we need to be building strong relationships with players, their families, their coaches.  This, to me, is the biggest difference between he and Lickliter (that and the style of play, oh and the whole turning around programs thing).  Lick didn't seem to care a whole lot about developing long-lasting relationships with families and coaches.  He had some connections in Indiana and those didn't quite pan out here. 

McCaffery, on the other hand, has recruiting connections throughout the east coast (coaching in New York and North Carolina no doubt helps build connections in some basketball Meccas) as well as the midwest (don't forget about those years at ND).  He has already mentioned bringing some old staff with him and adding to it with former Hawkeyes.  He also mentioned getting together with some of the best AAU coaches to develop those relationships.  These all seem be things that Lickliter preferred not to do, but will lead to success. 

Maybe it's a little too early and maybe I'm buying too much into the first couple of public appearances.  Maybe the pundits are right and this guy will be just like the last guy.  Perhaps we spend the next three years just like the last three, trying to climb to mediocrity, only to fall back to the bottom of the Big Ten.  But for now, I am buying the Fran Man.  I'm all in on this one.  I'm turning into a Franatic.  Can you smell that folks?  It's White Magic!