The video of Iowa Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery receiving a double technical in Sunday night’s loss at No. 4 Wisconsin has already made its rounds. It’s the early frontrunner for “Best Coaching Meltdown of 2014” even though the year is not even one week old. The diatribe and subsequent bro-tastic chest bump caused the Big Ten Conference to fine McCaffery $10,000 and suspend him for the team’s next game, which is Thursday against the Northwestern Wildcats.
The popular Iowa Hawkeyes blog Black Heart Gold Pants has coined the term ‘Franimation’ to describe the sideline antics of coach McCaffery. The blog also regularly tosses substitute words when describing McCaffery or his actions — Frantrum and Franimal are the two most common replacements — so it seems like Hawkeyes fans are no longer fazed by McCaffery’s operating procedure. That is a revelation in and of itself, for it tells the casual observer that there have been repeated episodes of spontaneous combustion in Iowa City, where McCaffery has been the coach for just over three years.
So… who is Fran McCaffery, and what makes him tick?
He is 54 years old and was the head coach at Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena before being hired to coach the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2010. McCaffrey has brought an exciting and aggressive style to Iowa City. He has helped the conference become the nation’s premier league by running an offense that is more finesse-based than the Big Ten had seen in years.
His style is predicated on having a hiccup-quick point guard that will both find holes in a defense and pester an opposing point guard into committing turnovers. McCaffery slows the game down defensively with long-armed, athletic wings; those players often disrupt passing and driving lanes, which leads to quick sprint-outs and easy transition baskets.
In short, he is inadvertently preparing other Big Ten teams for NCAA Tournament play by forcing other teams to play at a faster, more frenetic pace. As a result, McCaffery may have more to do with the Big Ten’s resurgence than any other coach in the conference.
While his overall record at Iowa is only 66-53 — including a Big Ten Conference record of 22-34 in just over three seasons — he took over a team that was in shambles and only suffered through one losing season. Since then, he has led the Hawkeyes to two NIT appearances – including a runner-up finish in the NIT last year – which was a drastic improvement over Todd Lickliter, who went 38-57 in three seasons, including a 15-37 mark in the Big Ten Conference.
There is something disconcerting about how McCaffery conducts his business, despite his success on and off the court. During games, he is almost always red-faced from shouting instructions and needling the officials. He seems to enjoy getting technical fouls — believing that they will fire up his players — but what he does once he is assessed the technical foul raises eyebrows.
His comments on Sunday night suggested that he purposely attempted to be “T-ed up” against Wisconsin, but he didn’t mean to go so far as to earn an ejection: “I think the first one, I think it’s safe to say that I kind of went after that one a little bit.”
Point guard Mike Gesell echoed his sentiments, saying that the team “trusts what he’s doing. And we know that everything he does is for the best.”
This hasn’t been the only time that McCaffery has taken such a stance regarding technical fouls. Two years ago, McCaffery picked up a folding chair and slammed it on the ground in front of his players after getting a technical foul while his team trained Michigan State by 28. The chair slam came after McCaffery stormed onto the court and berated the officials upon earning his technical foul. After the game, he admitted that he purposely tried to get a technical foul “…to motivate a team that he felt wasn’t playing with the kind of toughness necessary” to win in the Big Ten.
McCaffery wasn’t suspended for his rampage in East Lansing, but he was banished for one game — his own bobblehead night, no less — this time around. Will it change anything? Do Iowa fans care, as long as the Hawkeyes win?