Brown: Why was McCaffery so agitated by reporter's question?
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery's postgame news conference Sunday started with heartfelt emotion, and it ended with some wrath that was instantly magnified under a national microscope.
McCaffery got choked up talking about the University of Iowa's Dance Marathon, which raised over $2 million for the fight against cancer. His son, Patrick, is a cancer survivor. Fran, wife Margaret and Patrick stopped by the event on Saturday.
But minutes later, when asked about Adam Woodbury's third eye-poking incident in the last five games, McCaffery gently shook his head and said, "Next question. Ask an intelligent question."
Why was that not an intelligent question?
"Because I said so," McCaffery said.
A transcript of McCaffery's postgame news conference took on a life of its own on social media. And the coach came out of this looking worse than Woodbury, who caught Maryland's Melo Trimble with a finger to the eye.
Other than an intelligent discussion of the matter by the Big Ten Network's threesome of Dave Revsine, Jimmy Jackson and Mike DeCourcy, the national media's rush to judgment was much more negative. Just check Deadspin. Or Twitter. Or this, one of the top headlines on ESPN's website Monday morning: McCaffery: Eye-pokes query not "intelligent."
I've always felt that McCaffery has navigated the media maze better than most. His brother, Jack, is a Philadelphia sports columnist. Fran doesn't have the kind of tunnel vision some coaches do when it comes to the media.
Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and I still chuckle over last season's game at Penn State, when we were late to McCaffery's postgame news conference. When we arrived, McCaffery sat in front of a silent room.
"It's about time," he joked. "Can we start now?"
And that's why I was puzzled with his terse response to the Woodbury question from a WHO-TV reporter. Puzzled that he had no time for a similar line of questioning from radio play-by-play voice Gary Dolphin on his postgame show. So I reached out Monday to try to get an answer.
"Here's the thing," McCaffery explained. "The reason I was angry is that everybody keeps wanting me to comment on officiating when I can't. Now if my player's getting attacked for something, I can discuss that. But after a game I'm not going to get into officiating. I can't. It's against the rules. It's a major fine."
McCaffery said he's not concerned about being portrayed as a bully.
"I don't treat the media with disrespect," McCaffery said. "My brother's a member of the media. But when you keep asking me to comment on something that you know I can't comment on, I'm going to react that way. The reality is, you've got to know what you're asking me. I'll give you an honest answer."
On Sunday, McCaffery's words — or lack of them — overshadowed Woodbury and the day's real story, Iowa's dominating 71-55 victory over No. 17 Maryland.
McCaffery was in Woodbury's corner, just as he was after two eye-poking incidents at Wisconsin.
"I said, 'What happened?' " McCaffery asked his center in the huddle Sunday. "He said, 'Coach, I went for the ball. I didn't mean to.' He felt awful. There's no way he's going to do that to that kid on purpose."
McCaffery will always defend his player. But criticize officials? There are 10,000 good reasons why he won't do that.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.