If you take a quick look around the Big Ten you are certain to find a collection of head coaches among the most successful and recognizable in the entire country.
You’ll find program icons in Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, household names that have big-time programs at a national level in Tom Crean at Indiana and John Beilein at Michigan, and famous offspring in Richard Pitino at Minnesota and Chris Collins at Northwestern.
What you may skip over or not pay enough attention to is the head man that has set up shop in Iowa City, Iowa for the past four years.
If so, meet Fran McCaffery.
The current leader of the Iowa basketball program, McCaffery has gone largely unrecognized by the college hoops world throughout his coaching career. Short of a select few instances, most fans around the country may have never even heard of the 54 year-old coach until he took the job at Iowa. Even after his move to the Big Ten, he is still a relative unknown to the nationwide audience of college basketball.
Despite all of this, you might be surprised to find that McCaffery is exactly the kind of coach most schools would want standing at the helm of their basketball program.
That is, if they desire a passionate coach who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work to succeed. A coach that has proven time and again his unique ability to revive downtrodden programs. A coach that can accurately claim he has been successful at every single stop in his career.
When his playing days at Wake Forest and Penn had ended McCaffery took two brief assistant coaching stints at Penn and Lehigh University. In 1985 at the age of 26 he became the youngest head coach in Division 1 when he took over the Lehigh program. Just three years and a .557 win percentage later he had led the Mountain Hawks to a berth in the NCAA Tournament before leaving for an assistant position at Notre Dame.
After 11 years on the bench for the Irish, McCaffery accepted the head coaching position at UNC Greensboro. He would eventually leave the school for the same position at Siena, but not before taking the previously sinking program to the NCAA Tournament and a six year win percentage of .508.
At Siena, another program that had been a stranger to success, McCaffery really started gaining momentum and respect in the coaching community. In five seasons he guided the Saints to a .687 win percentage, three conference championships, and three trips to the Big Dance; including two first round upsets over high major programs Vanderbilt and Ohio State.
Following the 2009-10 season and the firing of Hawkeye coach Todd Lickliter, McCaffery received an offer for the head position at Iowa and accepted.
In a situation that was both familiar and different McCaffery was charged with reviving another struggling program. However, this time he would have to do so in a major conference with no shortage of nationally renowned coaches and NBA talent.
Despite an 11-20 record in his first year in Iowa City, a substantial boost in attendance occurred as well as a transformation from the previously slow-paced Hawkeyes into a team that emphasized an up-tempo style of play.
Year two showed both another increase in attendance as well as in production on the court. The Hawkeyes defeated four ranked opponents and ended the season 18-17 after a second round NIT exit.
The 2012-13 season proved to be by far the most successful in the McCaffery era at Iowa, culminating in a 25-13 record (tied for second most wins in school history), a sixth place regular season finish in Big Ten play, and a run to the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden. For the third year in a row a marked increase in attendance was seen at Carver Hawkeye Arena. In fact Iowa finished the year ranked 21st nationally in the category.
With the current season only a week away, fan anticipation and support are at their highest levels in years, much of that due to the job done the head coach. 2013-14 should certainly end in McCaffery leading his fourth program to the NCAA Tournament, and in doing so he may make his deepest run yet.
So if you aren’t too busy being enamored with the big name coaches across the country and in the Big ten, it just might serve you well to take a look at the 54 year old running the show in Iowa City. Known for his fiery demeanor and ever-present combover, Fran McCaffery is set to do one of the few things he hasn’t yet accomplished in his coaching career.
Become a household name.