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Harty: Lickliter left Iowa program in shambles

[ 0 ] January 18, 2014 |

After reading the most recent update about Todd Lickliter that appeared in The Indianapolis Star, he still seems to be in denial about why he failed miserably as the Iowa men’s basketball coach.

He still wants us to believe that he didn’t have enough time or enough support to get over the hump in just three seasons on the job.

Unfortunately for the Iowa fans, Lickliter had enough time to gut the program, to rip out whatever heart and soul had been present when he was hired. He took an already shaky foundation that had started to crumble under previous coach Steve Alford and tore it down, one lopsided loss and one player defection at a time.

Lickliter drove away a fan base that was eager to unite after the divisive Alford years. He had players defecting at a disturbing rate. And he never really embraced the Iowa job because he was too busy reliving his days coaching at Butler University.

The fact that coach Fran McCaffery has lifted Iowa back to Big Ten contender status in his fourth season is truly amazing because the program was in shambles when he replaced Lickliter in March 2010.

There was a serious disconnect under Lickliter that made him uncomfortable at Iowa. Combine that with the losing and players defecting and his boring, slow-it-down offense and it was a recipe for disaster.

And a disaster is what it proved to be, an expensive one, considering Lickliter’s $2.4 million buyout that Iowa paid just to get rid of him.

The final games under Lickliter in 2010 were hopeless causes as the players struggled just to go through the motions. It was sad watching Matt Gatens’ lifelong dream of being a hometown Hawkeye turn into a nightmare of discontent and humiliation.

The image of an overmatched Lickliter with his head buried in his hands came to symbolize his time at Iowa.

Lickliter, 58, mentioned in the Indianapolis Star article, which was published Wednesday, that current Big Ten senior standouts Ben Brust and Devyn Marble both were set to play for him at Iowa before he was fired. But Lickliter failed to mention all the players who didn’t want to play for him at Iowa. He conveniently overlooked the players who bolted under his watch, good and proven players like Tony Freeman, who transferred to Southern Illinois after his junior season despite leading Iowa in scoring.

Freeman’s departure was the first sign of trouble under Lickliter. It was the first case of Lickliter alienating a key player and it was the first step to chaos.

The fact that Freeman grew up in the Chicago area made it worse because word quickly spread that he was treated poorly by Lickliter.

Freeman’s case was strange, but not as strange as David Palmer’s sudden rise and fall under Lickliter. For those who don’t remember, Palmer was a 6-foot-9 forward who played two solid games back-to-back against Purdue and Wisconsin in 2009, but he barely played again after that before transferring out of the program.

I remember asking Lickliter why Palmer had disappeared from the rotation and Lickliter responded by saying he had explained himself a million times. It was an awkward moment to say the least because Lickliter never had explained himself.

Speaking of awkward moments, how about the time when Lickliter said his son — walk-on point guard John Lickliter — brought some dimensions to the point guard position that starter Cully Payne didn’t bring. I was stunned and almost embarrassed after hearing Lickliter promote the cause of his son who had no business being on a Big Ten roster, or even on a Division II roster for that matter.

That was the day I remember saying to myself that Lickliter was in way over his head at Iowa. It was Lickliter’s fault that his son was embarrassing himself against Big Ten competition.

Lickliter and his son are now reunited at NAIA Marian, whose campus is located in Lickliter’s hometown of Indianapolis. Todd is having success as the men’s basketball coach, which led to the Indianapolis Star article, while John serves as his top assistant.

The fact that Todd Lickliter is a better fit at Marian than he was at Iowa says more about him than it does the Iowa program.

It’s probably not Lickliter’s fault that his story keeps being rehashed by the media. But he is responsible for what he says publicly.

He said he regrets leaving Butler for Iowa but did so largely because of the increase in pay. Iowa fans also regret that Lickliter made the move because it only led to misery.

His version of what happened at Iowa is different than what unfolded before my eyes. Lickliter wants us to believe that he was steering the program in the right direction when really he was destroying it.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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