Leistikow: Fran McCaffery's temper becomes top story in Iowa's blowout loss to Ohio State
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just when you thought you could escape for a few hours to watch a basketball game … another log gets thrown on this week’s public-relations fire for Iowa athletics.
Two McCafferys — Iowa coach Fran and freshman guard Connor — were slapped with technical fouls toward the end of the Hawkeyes’ ugly 90-70 loss to Ohio State Tuesday night at Value City Arena.
But what happened after the game even had national talking heads, well, talking.
According to Toledo Blade reporter Kyle Rowland, who covers the Buckeyes, McCaffery was following one of the officials down an arena hallway and repeatedly shouting expletives and calling him a "cheating (expletive)" and a "(expletive) disgrace."
To be absolutely clear, I personally didn’t witness the incident. But I spoke with Rowland afterward, and he walked me through everything he heard and saw. He was 100 percent certain of the words used. He said he was working in the media room and turned around upon hearing shouting in the hallway that connects the locker rooms of the teams and officials.
It’s a hallway tucked away from the public, so it’s unlikely more than a handful of people heard the alleged rant.
Rowland was the only reporter in the room (I was still in the arena media seating, with most others); another Ohio State employee was there, too, and confirmed the shouting, as did a Columbus Dispatch photographer. Rowland got out of his seat and followed the commotion. He saw McCaffery walking briskly and closely behind the official while yelling at him before turning left into the Iowa locker room. The official never turned around.
The story was certainly believable. With only Rowland's tweet available at the time of McCaffery’s postgame press conference, the coach was asked if he said anything to an official after the game.
With a hoarse voice, McCaffery responded, “I can’t talk about that” — a typical response the ninth-year Hawkeye coach uses because he is aware he could get fined for publicly criticizing officials.
So that’s what went down in Columbus.
The question: What to make of it?
Well, again, this was not a great time for another off-court story for what’s been a 21-win Hawkeye team on track for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
For nearly five days, Hawkeye fans far and wide have been weighing in on the suspension of radio announcer Gary Dolphin, who used an inappropriate comparison of a black Maryland player to King Kong. The continued silence of athletics director Gary Barta has been especially notable, considering there are so many Dolphin supporters shouting their opinions.
And now this incident, which was completely self-inflicted and unnecessary.
It gets a bad timing award, for sure. Does it warrant something more?
The Big Ten Conference office certainly could weigh in. It might not look kindly on a head coach accusing a referee of cheating. An initial request for comment from the Big Ten was not answered.
But let’s also be clear: College coaches yelling at referees goes on for six straight hours every night on ESPN.
What's interesting was this came after McCaffery’s first technical foul of the year.
Since players can’t be fined, the only two Iowa-based reporters to make the trip — myself and The Gazette’s Mike Hlas — asked them about officials and, more importantly, their coach.
Their takeaways: The officiating was bad, but not an excuse. And to them, their coach did the right thing.
“He always has our back. He does that to protect us and fight for us,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. “As a player, you always appreciate that. Whatever he does, I’m 100 percent with him. And the rest of the guys are, as well.”
I asked Cook about the tweet that had national pundits talking.
“I don’t think (McCaffery) cares much about what people are saying, as long as he’s doing his job,” Cook said. “And he does a damn good job.”
Connor McCaffery said on his technical foul with 4:08 to play that he never swore. He said the official told him a hand-flip gesture got him the T.
Then Fran got rung up with 3:10 to go in what was already a blowout.
“I don’t think anyone expects a great whistle on the road in the Big Ten. That’s just a part of the game,” Connor said. “I think moving forward, my Dad getting a ‘T’ in the end, that was probably just a little frustration.”
Frustration boiled over.
Fran McCaffery's team had just given up 54 points in the second half to a team that hadn't scored that many in two entire Big Ten games. This was a bad night for the Hawkeyes all around.
The closest the coach got to weighing in on the officials was after being asked about his son's technical.
"I’d love to (talk)," he said. "Trust me. I can’t."
Given what happened with Dolphin last week, the lesson is the same. Words matter. And people are always listening.
There was a better way for McCaffery to handle his anger. The unfortunate timing made it worse.
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.