IOWA CITY, Iowa -- As the coach who helped lift three basketball programs from obscurity to the national spotlight, Fran McCaffery has earned a reputation for fixing troubled teams.
McCaffery may have just landed his toughest task yet.
Iowa introduced the 50-year-old McCaffery as its new coach Monday, ending a 13-day search to replace the fired Todd Lickliter after one of the most disastrous seasons in the history of the once-proud program.
McCaffery said he's up to the challenge.
"Our players are going to have fun, they're going to enjoy what they do on the floor," McCaffery said. "This place is going to be rocking again."
McCaffery comes to Iowa after five seasons at Siena, where his teams went 112-5 and made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. But the former Notre Dame assistant is now a head coach in the Big Ten, where the competition -- and expectations -- are much higher.
Based on the last news conference for Iowa basketball -- in which athletic director Gary Barta announced Lickliter's firing -- McCaffery's performance won't be judged solely on the team's performance. Right up there with wins and losses, Barta talked about slumping attendance figures and an inability to sell season tickets.
The school has decided to give a guy with an Ivy League degree in economics a chance to fire up the booster base and spark a few sales after a 10-22 season.
"I think we all know, to really energize the fan base, we've got to play the game the right way," McCaffery said.
Of course, Iowa is counting on McCaffery to be more than a responsible manager. Lickliter's teams were remarkable only for their predictability. He brought a grinding, plodding offense to Iowa that allowed the shot clock to tick down while players looked for the best shot. Hawkeye fans weren't receptive.
McCaffery inherits the players from that offense, a group that shoots well enough but isn't known for running the floor. McCaffery said he will push, press and run with Lickliter's players and recruiting class, and expects results his first season.
"They're hungry," McCaffery said. "They're ready to get back to work. They want to improve, and there's no doubt that we will."
That is, until he can bring in a few of his own.
"My experience is varied when it comes to recruiting," McCaffery said. "I've coached in the East, I've coached in the South, I've coached in the Midwest ... Recruiting is about relationships. My first order of business is to re-recruit the players already here."
McCaffery said he's ready to work with the players on the roster.
"I think we have a great nucleus of young talent," McCaffery said. "Last year's team was exactly that. It was young, but it was talented."
University of Iowa president Sally Mason said the school is getting "not only a fine coach, but someone I believe will be a phenomenal ambassador for the University of Iowa statewide and around the nation."
McCaffery spent six seasons at UNC-Greensboro, posting a 90-87 record, before taking over at Siena before the 2005-06 season. McCaffery also coached Lehigh for three seasons, guiding it to the NCAA tournament in 1988, before leaving to become an assistant at Notre Dame.
Barta said McCaffery will be given a six-year contract that pays about $1.1 million in the first year and escalates to about $1.35 million in the last year.
St. John's and Seton Hall expressed interest, McCaffery said, but he decided that Iowa was the best fit.
Iowa was bad last season, but most disheartening were listless, double-digit losses to rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota. Attendance slumped to just 9,550 per home game.
McCaffery wasn't afraid to talk a little strategy on his first day, and it should be good news to Hawkeye fans.
"We're going to push the ball, we're going to run, we're going to press," McCaffery said.
He wasn't done.
"We're going to change defenses, we're going to run motion, we're going to run ball screen action," he said. "You will not have a better prepared basketball team take the floor. We will be ready."
Barta said he wants Iowa to compete for conference championships again.
"And we want to do it with this guy," he said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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