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A Cautionary Tale

Never go full Pelini

Nope, no similarities here.

[Author’s note: I wrote this a long time ago, in anticipation of getting routed in the tourney. Iowa ended up beating Cincy, and almost pulled off the big upset against Tennessee, and it just didn’t seem to fit. I still think a lot of it is quite relevant, though, and since it’s Iowa week, this is where I’m dropping it.]

After Iowa got blown out by rutger, at home, on senior day, I frustratingly wrote my recap blurb, and Jesse took the opportunity to comment about how Fran McCaffery’s tenure at Iowa was going very similarly to a certain cat-loving, former Husker football coach.

Jesse: Fran is Bo Pelini. Like, almost to a t. I mean, I actually feel bad about it because that is a shitty place ot be as a fan. His anger issues are probably less of a problem than they are perceived nationally (and to an extent, even within the conference), but precedent is a bitch. Every official has a much tighter leash on him than they should. And, when he gets his back against the wall, he goes crazy and/or goes into a ‘us vs. them’ mentality. His players will fight for him tooth and nail. His fans are divided to death. Oh, and he’s actually not a bad coach but is he worth the overall headache? Probably not.

So Jesse and I decided to has this out a bit in the following rambling conversation.

Jesse: I’m trying to find some parallels beyond the obvious. Peak rankings is another one more or less, but that’s not really fun.

Stew: Both really fine coaches. Not great, but far from terrible. And both resurrected the teams from program worsts. The biggest difference is the overall expectations of the programs, and relationships with the local media.

Jesse: I don’t know Fran’s demeanor with the locals that much. People like him more, right? Pelini could’ve stuck around another year if literally anyone liked him.

Stew: Yes, he’s very effusive during interviews. The temper thing is very much a switch. He heats up and calms down both very quickly.

Jesse: The defense of his temper fascinates me. I don’t think he’s actually quite as angry as Bo was all the time (really a defense mechanism for his misatkes) but like... that dude freaks the fuck out and half the fanbase is like “BUT HE HAS A POINT” and uh... no. It’s like Bo losing his shit at Texas A&M. The refs fucked Nebraska that night. It didn’t help that he was a lunatic.

Noting, of course, that the other half (or more) of the Iowa fanbase is rational and realizes that is insane.

Nebraskans who defended Bo because he was mostly good and had a point were also dumb. I - to be fair - even mentioned how he had gotten better towards the end until he wasn’t. But fuck was he stupid in that Iowa game before he got fired.

Stew: The way it happens is what gets me. He doesn’t get techs very often, but oh man, when he does, it’s just over the top, terrible.

Jesse: It’s Bo screaming at the officials and being restrained post [fill in Big XII game in 2009]

It’s Bo saying “fuck the fans” which like. Seriously, that was unfair to get castigated for that shit in a phantom recording years later, and in some ways, he’s not wrong (leaving early and not supporting his guys, etc), but fuuuuck that attitude.

Stew: Fran has always been very forward in praising the Iowa fans. But behind the scenes? It wouldn’t surprise me. There have been some indications over the years that he may stoke some of those same feelings. And again, not wholly unjustified. But when players are calling out fans for leaving early, and telling reporters to make sure that gets in, makes you think it’s being noticed and discussed by the coach. He almost certainly fosters a bunker mentality.

Jesse: I get that coaches totally support their players above all else but that will kill him eventually.

What’s the ‘fan’ voice think at this point?

Stew: I’d say mostly still behind him. But it’s waning. He needs more success to justify the headache.

And the end of season swoons of the good teams really erodes the support. [Editor’s note: this was before losing the next two games to wisconsin and UNL].

Jesse: Bo’s final season was a masterclass in not getting another chance. He was 11th in the nation going into a very beatable Wisconsin and got blown the fuck out. Then, instead of focusing his team, came home and got beat by a not great Minnesota. Oh, and then BARELY beat a not great Iowa on some bullshit. Fran seems to be playing a similar game.

Stew: A giant difference are the people running the show, though. No way Fran is gone until at least after next season, and even then it would take a massively disappointing season or scandal. And then no one wants Barta making the hire. Barta hired him, and has given him a few extensions.

Jesse: OH RIGHT! Didn’t Barta give him the “gotta keep him for no reason” extension last season?

Stew: On top of it, they never announced anything until Scott Dochterman foia’d it. [Editor’s Note: I tried to link to it, but Land Of 10 is now defunct. Sorry, Scott!]

Jesse: So basically, Fran is here until something actually insane happens, or Barta is gone.

How do you predict what you are at this point? It’ll be interesting.

Stew: This team isn’t swooning the same way. They even won 3 games, and wisconsin hasn’t looked like world beaters either. I could see 3 scenarios:

  1. Iowa pulls out a close game due to heroics from Jordan Bohannon.
  2. Iowa loses the same, ugly, close game, but comes up short.
  3. Iowa gives it a go, gives up a run, and ends up losing by 15+. [Editor’s Note: DINGDINGDING]

Iowa hasn’t had a comfortable win since beating Michigan.

Jesse: It’s not like you all are incapable of winning. You just better look better than today.

Stew: No way Iowa even beats you guys comfortably.

Jesse: I don’t think so either, but Nebraska is literally the dumbest team this year, so who the hell knows.

[Editor’s Note: the conversation went on hiatus until after the Iowa/UNL game when Fran said this:]

Jesse: I was thinking the other angle we missed is the 9 wins vs. NCAA tournament. It’s very similar in that they are both good accomplishments and also so so so so very low bars from what each promised to their schools

Stew: And completely lacking the context of where the team was in that very same season. 9 wins after starting 8-1, not great. 10-10 is ok in this conference, but they were 9-5 at one point.

Jesse: That was an absurd comment considering the situation.

Stew: Yuuuuuup. Goddammit, context matters.

Jesse: It’s also completely lacking in focus on the 10 wins - and losses - that were both a little closer to going either way. Bo did that all the time. “We won dammit” Well, yeah, but it took a miracle play to beat McNeese State and there are some problems here.

Stew: And if/when they lose their first game of the BTT and get assigned to Dayton, it’ll be about how even making the tourney is such a huge improvement over last season. Which ignores how the season played out, and that he shouldn’t be given credit for creating such a disastrous season last year.

Jesse: I’m assuming Iowa is full on “But who you gonna get?” mode? My favorite part of mediocre coaching defense.

Stew: A little, but most of the fans I know are more aware of the situation. There’s 0 chance of him being fired. 0, Considering his contract and the AD. So it’s more resignation that nothing is going to change. Maybe hoping for some changes in assistants (he’s had the same coaching staff his entire tenure). But this resignation comes at the cost of apathy. Nothing is going to change. So why invest in it?

So just completely skipping the “who can we get that’s guaranteed to be better?” So at least there’s none of that shitty argumentation.

That’ll all happen next year, or whenever Xavier Foster decides not not come to Iowa.

Ultimately, it comes down to where you evaluate where Iowa is as a program.