High Porch Picnic 03/28/2010Posted by sportretort in Sports.
Tags: basketball, bump elliott, coaching change, Fran McCaffery, gary barta, hayden fry lute olson, iowa basketball, iowa hawkeyes, ncaa basketball, sienna
trackback An athletic director at a Big Ten institution was forced to fire his head coach after a short and unsuccessful stay. The coach in question was hired by the same AD who had hired him a few short years before. Though he had success at a lower level of the sport, he had never had a winning season, nor a winning conference record in the Big Ten. The AD now had a quandary. You see, his program was suffering through a terrible low point. The two previous coaches had been hired into the Big Ten from lower programs. They had suffered through short, unsuccessful terms at the institution. What to do now? You see the AD had found his candidate, again at a lower level. The new coach was hired, over the loud protestations of the fan base. Was the AD crazy? What the program needed was a name coach! Had we not just watched relative unknowns flounder? Surely, the AD must go. There is no way THIS guy was going to succeed where others had failed. Yep, that was the mood in Iowa City. The new head coach was from North Texas State. His name was Hayden Fry. The year was 1979. And the AD taking all the criticism was Bump Elliott. I know, because I was there. I first met coach Fry shortly after he was announced as Iowa’s new football coach. Say, Hawkeye fans. Turns out that bumbling AD knew what he was doing, after all. Things turned out pretty darn well for Iowa, coach Fry and Mr. Elliott. It was a leap of faith for Elliott. He had hired Fry after his first 2 coaches went down in flames. Remember Frank Lauterbur and Bob Commings? They were the Iowa coaches in the 8 seasons before Fry.
Fran McCaffery will be introduced Monday as Iowa’s next head basketball coach. Judging from the sports blogs and talk shows, a good portion of HawkeyeNation is up in arms at the hire. McCaffery comes to Iowa from Sienna. It is the 3rd straight ‘mid-major’ coach to be hired at Iowa. Fans are calling for the head of current AD Gary Barta for the hire. All I can say to Barta is hang in there, you are in good company. To Iowa fans I say chill out. While the program has fallen on hard times recently, it can be rebuilt. I had the good fortune to be in Iowa City during its last great sports rebirth. Having grown up bleeding Black and Gold during some very lean years, I got to watch Lute Olson take the hoopsters to the Final Four in 1980 and Hayden Fry end 19 years of frustration and reach the 1982 Rose Bowl. Dan Gable and his wrestlers had just won title number two of his 15 straight National Championships when I came to Iowa City as a freshman in 1977.
Most of the Iowa fans blogging today have never known lean times before. They are frustrated, and who can blame them? But, honestly, NONE of you know enough about the situation, or about Coach Fran yet. If you are Hawkeye fans, give him a chance! The best thing to be said about him is that he WANTS to be a Hawkeye. From all reports, he could have ended up at either St Johns or Seton Hall, but he pursued Iowa instead. He knows what Iowa can be. He was an assistant coach at Notre Dame during the 90’s when Iowa was going to the Big Dance and filling arenas with regularity. This is his chance, and he decided to come to the mid west rather than stay out east. Some say at 50 he is too old to under take the rebuilding process. Interestingly, when Fry took the job in ’79 he was, you guessed it, 50. Coach Fran seems to be a fiery, energetic leader and his teams play an uptempo brand of ball. In addition, he has taken 3 different small programs to the NCAA tourney.
Only time will tell if Coach Fran works out in Iowa City. But, hey, at least give the guy a chance. Iowa has a proud tradition. Hawkeye fans are fabled all around the nation for their support of the Black and Gold. Show that Hawkeye pride to the newest Hawkeye. Who knows, given time you may even come to regard Barta as the best AD since that other guy they wanted to run out of town. You know, the one who hired Fry and Olson and Gable. The one who made Iowa athletics relevent on the national stage.