Brown: McCaffery contract extension another step forward

Rick Brown

When Iowa athletic director Gary Barta went looking for a men's basketball coach in March of 2010, one thing struck him about Siena's Fran McCaffery.

The coach had successfully rebuilt programs three times. First Lehigh, then North Carolina-Greensboro, then Siena. You can do it once and get lucky, Barta thought, or do it twice because everything magically falls into place.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery oversees the Hawkeyes' season-opening win against Hampton, hours after his contract extension was announced.

But to do it three times, it was clear to me he had a process, he had a passion and a way of doing things," Barta said. "I expected him to have that kind of success here."

Last season was the fourth time McCaffery had taken over a program with a losing record and coached it into the NCAA Tournament. Iowa's first bid in eight seasons earned McCaffery a $200,000 bonus. He makes $1.8 million to coach the Hawkeyes this season.

And Barta is intent on keeping the program moving forward. Iowa announced Friday it had extended McCaffery's contract another year, through the 2019-20 season. McCaffery will get a $50,000 raise each season for the life of the contract. And he'll get another bonus, in the $200,000 range, plus two more years added to that contract with Iowa's next NCAA bid.

"The more success he has, the more he keeps moving up," Barta said. "Our goal is to be the most successful program in the country. We have a long way to go. But as he does that, we'll continue to move him up with the contract."

McCaffery was Barta's second basketball hire. The first, Todd Lickliter, signed a seven-year deal to leave Butler and replace Steve Alford in the spring of 2007. He was fired three years later. Lickliter, a very nice man, was the wrong fit.

"When I set out to hire Todd, I felt like he was an incredible hire," Barta said. "Not only for me, but for us. I believed he was the right guy, the right hire, the right fit. It didn't turn out that way. And much sooner than I expected, I was looking to hire someone. But I wasn't feeling any additional pressure on that hire. Because I absolutely want to get it right every time."

When Barta settled on McCaffery, he gave him a six-year contract. Six years was a bit of a gamble, considering that Lickliter returned to his native Indiana with a $2.4 million buyout — $800,000 a year for three years.

But Iowa basketball was at one of its lowest points ever when the baton was passed to McCaffery. A fourth straight losing season followed. Iowa went 11-20 in McCaffery's first season.

Now, the Hawkeyes enter this season trying to win at least 20 games three seasons in a row for the first time since the final five seasons of the Tom Davis era (1994-95 through 1998-99). Average attendance has increased from 9,550 the year before McCaffery arrived to 14,976 last season.

It hasn't always been a smooth ride. Seven losses in the final eight games last season, when the Hawkeyes decided not to play defense, was a crushing finish to a very promising season.

That collapse hasn't hurt projections for another good Hawkeye season. Iowa was 25th in the first USA TODAY coaches' poll, and missed the AP Top 25 by two spots. Sports Illustrated picks the Hawkeyes 20th nationally and third in the Big Ten. John Gasaway of ESPN Insider calls Iowa a lock for a second straight NCAA Tournament. Those projections seem a little rich to me, but it's an indication that the national perception of the program has changed.

McCaffery said his contract extension will be most beneficial on the recruiting trail, where he can now tell recruits in the Class of 2016 that he'll coach them their entire careers. He'll be able to tell recruits in the Class of 2018 the same thing with Iowa's next NCAA appearance.

That could all change if McCaffery leaves for another job, but Barta is confident he can keep his coach around.

"He and (wife) Margaret and their family have embraced Iowa, and the Hawkeye fans have embraced them," Barta said. "The momentum and the feel of the program is positive."

Davis won 13 NCAA Tournament games in his 13 seasons as Iowa coach. The Hawkeyes have won one in the 15 seasons since Dr. Tom's contract wasn't renewed, and he cleaned out his office. That is a sobering statistic.

If McCaffery can change recent history, his latest contract and the perks for becoming NCAA Tournament relevant again will be worth every penny.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.