Leistikow: Sizing up Gary Dolphin's radio comments from all angles
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the comments that Iowa basketball radio broadcasters Gary Dolphin and Bobby Hansen made Tuesday night while thinking they were off the air.
No big deal, some say. They were saying what a lot of fans were already thinking.
Real big deal, others contend. Don’t ever attack a college athlete, whether it was meant to be heard or not.
University of Iowa officials were involved in meetings over the issue Wednesday — with Dolphin and his employer, Learfield Communications — with obvious urgency to determine whether any disciplinary action should take place. No. 15 Iowa (6-0) opens its Big Ten Conference season Friday against Wisconsin.
Let’s start with the perspective of Dolphin and Hansen.
The pair is in its 22nd consecutive season of calling Hawkeye basketball games together. They’ve worked with Tom Davis, Steve Alford, Todd Lickliter and are now in Year 9 with Fran McCaffery as head coach.
Dolphin made the majority of Tuesday's "hot mic" comments, which drew a university statement shortly after the conclusion of Iowa’s 69-68 win against Pittsburgh.
“How do we not get anybody like that?” Dolphin said, pointing out Pittsburgh guards who had been making Iowa’s defense look silly in the first half. “It's just year after year after year. Go get a quality piece like that. Just get one! They've got three or four.”
Hansen essentially responded in agreement. "Go get a key piece like that."
The comment that has drawn the most attention was Dolphin later saying, “We get (guard) Maishe Dailey. … Dribbles into a double-team with his head down. God.”
Both thought they were off the air. Somebody at Learfield in Jefferson City, Missouri, failed to turn off their mics. It was meant to be a private conversation, not one heard among tens of thousands.
Dolphin feels terrible about it. He apologized on air. He apologized when I interviewed him later, saying it was a moment of frustration. For 22 years, he has bled black and gold from behind the microphone. For 22 years, he’s been fair. Sure, he’s been critical — but what fan or observer hasn't been, over the course of some 700 games since Dolphin replaced Jim Zabel in the mid-1990s?
He tirelessly crisscrosses the state annually to host I-Club functions that feature Iowa’s top, highly paid coaches — not to mention weekly in-season radio shows with McCaffery and football coach Kirk Ferentz. Dolphin told me he is well aware that some blast his play-by-play style, but he presses past the criticism.
He has a long track record of representing Hawkeye athletics with professionalism.
Does he deserve anything more than a slap on the wrist?
Now, let’s look at it from the perspective of the university.
This is ultimately McCaffery’s program. The ninth-year coach rigorously defends his players against anyone who he perceives is attacking them. He came out swinging after ESPN’s Dan Dakich outwardly criticized Adam Woodbury’s eye-poking incidents in January 2015. He told his team not to shake hands with North Dakota players after a December 2016 game, saying he was worried about his players’ safety after things got chippy in the late moments.
So, if he sees someone taking a swipe at one of his players — even if it wasn’t meant to be heard — you’d better believe he’ll defend them. That extends to McCaffery's staff, too. On Wednesday, assistant coach Sherman Dillard tweeted support of Dailey, saying "he is one fine young man and a more than serviceable player" — an obvious acknowledgment that Dolphin's comments struck a nerve.
The radio broadcast team travels on the team plane and conducts interviews behind the scenes. If there are any lingering ill feelings, it’s McCaffery’s job to make sure that doesn’t spill into the productivity and performance of his team.
The university has the final say in who it chooses to broadcast its games. It is well within its rights to make a change, if it so desires.
One last thought: How many of us have accidentally sent a text message or e-mail to the wrong person?
Imperfect humans make mistakes. We all make them; some are more consequential than others. And we apologize from the bottom of our hearts.
And then it comes down to one last thing: forgiveness.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.