Fran McCaffery defends Woodbury, himself: 'I am who I am'

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Fran McCaffery prefers to be the target of criticism of his basketball program, rather than Adam Woodbury or eye-poking.

McCaffery got just that early this week after national media pounded the fifth-year Iowa coach for the way he handled a postgame press conference — including ESPN's Michael Wilbon calling him "a bully and a jerk."

"I'd much rather people be upset with me. I get paid," McCaffery said Wednesday in front of a room of beat reporters. "For the most part, I don't care what people think or what they say. I am who I am. You guys know me well. It's interesting that people could be upset about somebody that they don't know or have opinions about people they don't know.

"I won't give an opinion about somebody I don't know. But others get paid to run their mouth, and I guess that's what they have to do. But trust me, I didn't lose one wink of sleep about anything."

McCaffery was panned Sunday after his team beat Maryland for telling a TV reporter to "ask an intelligent question" after being asked about Woodbury's third eye-poking incident in a span of 20 days.

A day before Iowa's 6 p.m. Thursday home game against Minnesota, McCaffery defended Woodbury — and said if he thought the eye pokes were intentional, we would know it.

"Let me tell you this: If I thought he poked somebody in the eye on purpose, you wouldn't have to ask me if somebody was going to suspend him," McCaffery said. "I would suspend him immediately, and he knows that. There is no place for that. Who does that? Who encourages that? Nobody."

Woodbury knows he has faced his share of criticism, too – while at the same time playing some of the best basketball of his life. He scored a career-high-tying 16 points against Maryland, three days after dishing out a career-high six assists (to go with 11 points and seven rebounds) at Michigan.

But a Millenial who watches web-based TV, he says he's steered clear of the firestorm.

"I stay off all those ESPN shows and stuff like that," Woodbury said, "so I don't really watch me getting bashed on there."

The 7-foot-1 junior appreciates McCaffery having his back throughout the eye-poking outcries from those such as ESPN's Dan Dakich. Other Big Ten media have been tough on Woodbury, too.

"Coach has stuck to his word ever since I've been here," Woodbury said. "That's one of the reasons why we love him. He sticks up for his players no matter what happens."

Going forward, Woodbury said he's praying that he doesn't poke anyone in the eye again. He was issued a flagrant-1 (intentional) foul after a video review after catching Maryland's Melo Trimble in the eye.

Woodbury is even going as far to making some defensive adjustments to try to avoid future occurrences.

"Just try to go straight up, instead of out. I don't get up as high as some of those guys," said Woodbury, who despite his height calls himself a below-the-rim player. "I've got to try to use what's effective for me, and that's kind of digging at the ball when it's down low where I can reach. I've got to make some changes to my game. Hopefully it doesn't happen again."