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Rick Brown: Gary Barta hit home run with hiring of Fran McCaffery

[ 0 ] April 4, 2013 |

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The pressure was squarely on the shoulders of Iowa athletic director Gary Barta when he set out to hire a new men’s basketball coach in March of 2010.

He had just divorced himself of Todd Lickliter, his hire, three years into a disastrous marriage. The Hawkeyes’ once-proud program had lost its way. Apathy was in full bloom. Barta’s back was to the wall. He had to find the right guy.

In walked Fran McCaffery, with a master’s degree in rebuilding programs. His revisions at Lehigh, North Carolina-Greensboro and Siena, turning losing programs to NCAA Tournament teams in short order, caught Barta’s eye. But there was something else. Something Barta remembers, clear as a bell, more than three years later.

Iowa basketball has come out of hibernation with Fran McCaffery in charge. (Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Iowa basketball has come out of hibernation with Fran McCaffery in charge. (Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

“The thing that intrigued me was that Fran was so excited to be our coach,” Barta said this week.

Iowa basketball has come out of hibernation with McCaffery in charge. Thursday’s appearance in the NIT Championship game against Baylor, by an Iowa team with just one scholarship senior in uniform, is a long jump from 10 wins in Lickliter’s last season and 11 wins in McCaffery’s first.

“The person that I got excited about in the very beginning is on a course that we talked about, and everything is going extraordinarly well,” Barta said.

The wins have returned. So have the fans. Iowa averaged 13,625 fans at home, a real spike from the 9,550 that came in Lickliter’s final season and the most since 2001-02.

“What I see is that fans are genuinely excited to watch this team,” Barta said. “And yes, it does matter if you win. But it’s more than just winning. They love to watch the excitement of the team, the pace of the team, you can tell they like each other. They play together. So there’s a lot of factors involved.”

By all indications, Barta hit a home run with his hiring of McCaffery. And he’s comfortable that McCaffery will be his coach for some time. There are no talks of a revised contract in the works after this season’s success. McCaffery signed a new seven-year deal last July that runs through June of 2019.

Asked if he was still comfortable with the contract at hand, Barta said, “Yea, we both are. That’s why we signed it.”

Photos: The many faces of Fran McCaffery

McCaffery was paid $1.3 million in 2012-13, and will receive $1.5 million in 2013-14. If Iowa makes the NCAA Tournament next season, McCaffery will make $1.8 million in 2014-15. That figure will escalate to $2 million in 2018-19, the final year of the deal. If Iowa doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament during the length of the contract, McCaffery will make $1.8 million in 2018-19.

McCaffery also has a series of incentive clauses, related to achievement by his team in the classroom and the basketball court, that could increase his take-home pay.

“Going back to when we hired Fran, Fran and I sat down and said, “I want to build this thing to the very top together,’ ” Barta said. “And we’ll do it one step at a time. Both with the program, the facilities, the budgets, his contract, and we’re on pace. We just continue to move along. As you can imagine, we haven’t thought or talked about anything different with his contract. But I do know he and I are both on the same page at growing this thing together. We both feel real excited about the contract that we put together last year. We don’t have any discussions going on. But together, we’re just going to keep growing this thing.”

If the wins continue to come, and Iowa returns to NCAA Tournament with the frequency it did under Tom Davis, Barta might be forced to escalate McCaffery’s deal to keep him in Iowa City. But for now, coach and athletic director seem on the same page moving forward.

“It’s not about just what’s happening today, it’s about building this program to where we both want it to go,” Barta said. “And we talked about it at the very beginning. It’s a partnership. And we’re going to do it together. He’s been unbelievable to work with. And I love where we’re headed.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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