The Iowa coach explains his decision to not shake hands after Tuesday's win over North Dakota. Mark Emmert
I was at home Tuesday night, hanging out with my sniffling, 4-year-old daughter in the man cave. I watched every minute of Iowa’s 84-73 win against North Dakota. (She, on the other hand, conked out at halftime.)
I watched Fran McCaffery motion to his players to leave the court without going through the traditional postgame handshake.
I watched the press-conference clips, read the quotes.
I saw websites like Deadspin.com quick to pounce on McCaffery.
And I understand McCaffery's decision.
The Hawkeye basketball coach is intense. We’ve known for seven years that he’s intense. Gary Barta knew what he was getting in 2010 when he hired McCaffery.
And, frankly, McCaffery was exactly what the Hawkeye basketball program needed after the lifeless Todd Lickliter years.
If you’re watching Iowa basketball and want a perfect coach – one that wins all the time and behaves exactly how you’d like them to – you’re going to be disappointed.
McCaffery is a players’ coach. He has always, always had his players’ backs.
That even goes for when Iowa plays a non-conference game against a former Hawkeye assistant (North Dakota head coach Brian Jones) and the school’s all-time leader in assists (UND assistant Jeff Horner).
I’ve been in hundreds of press conferences with McCaffery. I’ve asked questions that rubbed him the wrong way. And he’s been short with me.
Could I be petulant about that? Sure.
Am I? Nope.
I understand the big picture. This is who McCaffery is. He will go to the wall for his players. And, to me, that’s something to be respected.
I would go to the wall for my wife and my family – the people I care about the most. I’m sure a lot of people reading this feel the same way.
McCaffery works his butt off for this program. So do his assistant coaches.
Is he too stubborn to use his timeouts? Probably.
Have his talented teams peaked too soon in recent seasons? Maybe.
But to expect absolute perfection out of anybody – your boss, your spouse or your favorite team’s coach – is no way to live.
If Iowa basketball was pushing out 10-21 seasons like it did in the last of the passion-less Lickliter years, it’d be a different story. But McCaffery came to Iowa when it was at a low point – the rock-bottom kind of low point. And with his intensity, he brought the Hawkeyes out of it.
McCaffery has given a new direction to the Iowa program, one that has generated three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since the early 1990s. And now in a rebuilding year, there's growing optimism around a young team.
Brian Jones chalks up postgame hard feelings to "frustration."
It's not been perfect. As humans, none of us are.
I have one son. He’s 6. It’s my job, as his father, to teach him proper sportsmanship. His first basketball practice is coming soon; I’ll coach him to shake hands with opposing players.
His mother and I teach him to forgive those who make decisions we don't agree with. We also teach him to apologize when he does something he regrets – as McCaffery reportedly did in a text message to Jones after the game.
None of us are capable of doing the perfect thing for everybody, every time, especially in the heat of the moment.
There’s a line. There’s always a line. In my opinion, McCaffery didn’t come close to crossing it Tuesday night.
McCaffery said afterward he was worried about what would happen in a postgame handshake.
“We don't need Pete (Jok) getting knocked to the floor,” McCaffery said. “We don't need guys getting up in Jordan (Bohannon)'s face. We don't need Nicholas Baer's head getting chopped off. We don't need it. We won.
“I was disappointed in what happened. Like I said, I'm sure that Brian does not teach that. The kid – when it happens three times, that's disappointing.”
I don’t think McCaffery was right, nor do I think he was totally wrong.
McCaffery defended his players Tuesday night. It’s what he does.
At worst, the only injury was to somebody’s feelings.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.