McCaffery Hopes to Emulate 5 Former Iowa Coaches
April 9, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Is it possible for an Iowa men's basketball coach to sustain success?
Most everyone agrees that Fran McCaffery has the Hawkeyes pointed in the right direction, but some doubt an Iowa coach can build a program that consistently is in the Big Ten's first division, has 20-win seasons and plays in the NCAA Tournament. Those doubters either have a bad memory or are still in their teens.
It is true that Iowa has been in the doldrums lately. Under three different coaches in the last 13 seasons, the Hawkeyes have cracked the Big Ten's first division only three times. Not good.
But cheer up, Hawkeye fans. History tells us it is possible for Iowa to sustain success on the hardwood. Here are five coaches who have done it since men's basketball became a revenue-producing spectator sport in the 1940s.
POPS HARRISON . . . Seven-plus seasons (1943-49 and part of 1950) . . . His teams attracted capacity crowds to the Fieldhouse at a time when a full house was uncommon in college basketball. In 1945, Iowa won the Big Ten championship and lost only one game. Harrison's teams twice finished second in the league, third once. He produced the Hawkeyes' first All-American, Murray Wier, who was called Iowa's most exciting player of the 20th century by Al Grady, the long-time sports editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Harrison had a 48-38 (56 percent) record in the Big Ten, and was 98-42 (70 percent) in all games.
RALPH MILLER . . . Six seasons (1965-70) . . . Attendance had fallen off at the Fieldhouse when Miller arrived, but it didn't take long before his entertaining style of play was attracting capacity crowds. His 1970 team was undefeated in the Big Ten, averaging 102.9 points a game, a record that still stands. The 1968 team won a share of the league title, and two other clubs finished in third place. Some of Miller's best players came out of junior college. Sam Williams was the Big Ten's 1968 MVP. John Johnson and Fred Brown were stars on the 1970 title team and went on to successful NBA careers. Miller had a 54-30 (64 percent) record in the Big Ten, and was 95-53 (64 percent) in all games.
LUTE OLSON . . . Nine seasons (1975-83) . . . He slowly built momentum for a run of five straight 20-win seasons that included a Big Ten championship, a Final Four appearance and three straight second-place league finishes. The 1980 team was perhaps Olson's most memorable. That club had a perfect nonconference record and was ranked in the top 10, but injuries took it out of the Big Ten race and the Hawkeyes barely made the NCAA Tournament. Then star point guard Ronnie Lester, playing on a bad knee, led Iowa to the Final Four, where his knee buckled again. Olson found a fertile recruiting field in Chicago, where he got Lester, Steve Krafcisin, Kenny Arnold and Kevin Boyle. Assistant coach Kirk Speraw was a member of the Big Ten championship team in 1979. Radio analyst Bobby Hansen was a key player on the 1980-83 teams. The '83 team was the first to play in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Olson had a 92-70 (57 percent) Big Ten record, and was 168-90 (65 percent) in all games.
TOM DAVIS . . . Thirteen seasons (1987-99) . . . He came roaring out of the gate with 18 straight wins and to the top of some national polls in his first season, which produced a school-record 30 victories. Four members of that 1987 team -- B.J. Armstrong, Kevin Gamble, Brad Lohaus and Roy Marble -- went on to play in the NBA. Davis had 77 wins in his first three seasons, won at least 20 games 10 times, and earned nine NCAA tournament berths. His NCAA record was 13-9, his '87 team reached the Elite Eight, and he never lost a first-round game. He has won more total games and more Big Ten games than any coach in Iowa history. Davis had a 125-105 (54 percent) record in the Big Ten, and was 269-140 (66 percent) in all games.
The fairest way to judge a coach is by his conference record. All five men listed above won well over half of their Big Ten games. Their combined league totals are 385 victories and 279 losses (58 percent).
McCaffery has sparked renewed interest in Iowa basketball. Hawkeye fans have embraced his style of play. Attendance is up and enthusiasm is back at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa's roster next season will have some talented sophomores and juniors, plus five promising freshmen. McCaffery seems to be building a strong program like those of his five successful predecessors. The future looks good for Iowa men's basketball.