Leistikow: Cooler heads finally prevail in 'tensions' between Gary Dolphin, Fran McCaffery
IOWA CITY, Ia. — On Friday night, as Iowa was about to begin its Big Ten Conference men's basketball season, the main story surrounding this unbeaten and nationally ranked team was still centered on the Hawkeyes’ suspended radio broadcaster.
Unforunate? Yes. As were Gary Dolphin’s comments that accidentally made it onto the air during halftime of Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh.
Still a valid story? Yes again.
By Friday, the story was centered on "ongoing tensions” — a two-word phrase athletics director Gary Barta curiously put into a Wednesday-night press release announcing Dolphin’s two-game suspension — between the 22nd-year Iowa play-by-play man and head basketball coach Fran McCaffery.
But finally, about one hour before tip-off between Iowa and Wisconsin … cooler heads seemed to be prevailing.
First, Dolphin tweeted a statement that opened with an apology to Iowa backup guard Maishe Dailey — who became a target of Dolphin's remarks that insinuated Iowa’s recruiting under McCaffery had been insufficient.
Then, Barta met the media — and spent most of his seven minutes with reporters to assure us that Dolphin would indeed return to his microphone, and that the infamous "tensions” were being addressed to his satisfaction.
“He’s ready to move on,” Barta said of Dolphin. “And so is everybody else.”
When Barta included the phrase “ongoing tensions,” many fans and media — me included — thought it was unnecessarily stoking the situation. Fans saw that and began to rally to one side or another.
Barta saw those feelings reflected in his inbox — the majority of which, he said, were in support of Dolphin.
“The fact that Gary made the comments and people started picking sides, that’s not good,” Barta said. “That’s not healthy.”
And that’s why this story lingered for a fourth consecutive day. People were digging in their heels. Some saw an administration being over-the-top in attacking a longtime radio voice who has conducted his career with professionalism. A minority thought Barta wasn't being strong enough.
McCaffery’s comments at a Thursday press conference stated that Dolphin's words were “inexcusable.”
One day later, Barta declared both parties were resolving their differences (which McCaffery told media were "pretty well-known") and were ready to move on.
Should we believe everyone?
Maybe two men who both are prone to having hard heads — we know about McCaffery being combative at times, and Dolphin admitted Tuesday he has an “Irish temper” — needed an unfortunate moment like this to air their “ongoing tensions."
And hopefully move on.
That, Barta said, is why he included the phrase in the press release.
“Once this occurred, it was really difficult to keep all of that behind closed doors,” Barta said. “The comments on Tuesday kind of opened the box."
Unfortunately, Dailey is the one who got caught in the crossfire. He's a good kid. This won't define his basketball career.
Barta, McCaffery and Dolphin have a plan, going forward. Barta wouldn’t share that plan. But he did assure media that after the two games — Friday against Wisconsin, Monday at Michigan State — Dolphin will be alongside analyst Bobby Hansen again. His return will come Thursday against Iowa State.
And Barta plans for Dolphin to stay there long-term.
That news was good to hear.
The way this situation was being mishandled — a story that should’ve had a news cycle of 1½ days turned into four — there was speculation mounting that Dolphin might not be retained at all as the basketball voice of the Hawkeyes.
Maybe seeing a positive path forward should have been a moment that arrived sooner, but good for Barta, and good for McCaffery for finding it.
In his Friday apology, Dolphin sounded heartfelt in saying he was “fully on the same page” as Barta and McCaffery.
“What I said was unacceptable,” Dolphin said. “I know how hard Maishe works and what a talented player he is. Bobby and I also know how hard recruiting is, and our coaches work tirelessly doing it the right way. I’m in complete agreement with the two-game suspension. This is on me and nobody else.”
Hopefully, when he’s back on the air, Dolphin will continue to tell it like it is, as he has for 22 years. It’s not like he ever was a critical broadcaster. As he said in an interview Tuesday night, he’s more of a fan than anything.
If he’s overly censored going forward, it will be obvious, and a disservice to the fans he’s paid to reach.
Here’s hoping all parties can practice forgiveness and humility going forward — and be respectful with their words, both in public and private.
“He’s been out there a long time, and people think highly of him, which is great," Barta said of Dolphin. "So do I. He made a mistake, and fortunately we worked through it.”
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.