IOWA CITY — It’s a new rivalry for Fran McCaffery and an old rivalry for Fred Hoiberg.
Both are new coaches with new systems at Iowa’s highest-profile basketball programs. They know the spotlight shines a bit brighter on them tonight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
As a player, Hoiberg’s Cyclones beat Iowa three times from 1991-1994. He’s seen the rivalry at its peak when both schools were NCAA Tournament contenders and now takes over when the programs are rebuilding.
McCaffery has yet to experience Iowa-Iowa State but compares it to other rivalry games he’s coached. He doesn’t want to put more emphasis on this match-up, but he doesn’t want to downplay its significance, either.
“I am going through it for the first time,” said McCaffery, whose Hawkeyes are 5-4. “I haven’t really talked to the players about it. It’s just the next game on the schedule. My approach is as a coach has always been to put a game plan together and get the players to play the next game and not make it any more important than the previous game or the next one after that.
“I think the fact that it’s in-state, I’m not stupid, I know there’s impact with how the fans look at the game and how the media looks at the game. I understand that. As far as we’re concerned, it’s the next game on the schedule and we have to play a very good, very well-coached team. That’s pretty much the only way we’re going to look at this game.”
Hoiberg took over for Greg McDermott, who left Iowa State for Creighton last spring. McCaffery replaced Todd Lickliter, who was fired after coaching Iowa to a 38-58 record in three seasons.
It’s natural for some to measure each program’s progress against the other. They’re both Iowa schools competing in top-level conferences with solid — but fading — traditions. The new coaches add to the comparisons. McCaffery was quick to eschew the notion that a win will vault one program over the other in the public’s eye.
“I think you evaluate a coach over time. To me that’s the only way to do it,” McCaffery said. “Anything can happen in one game. To evaluate somebody over time … I feel confident with my record being what it is. I’m comfortable in my own skin, and I know (Hoiberg) is, too.
“While he hasn’t coached as many games, he’s been exposed to some of the greatest coaches in our profession as a player at the highest level. He was in administration as well. He’s been around. I know there’s no hesitation to go in his direction and he’s proven he’s more than capable and more than ready.”
Each team has played nine games and both have competed against an in-state foe — Iowa beat Northern Iowa; Iowa State beat Drake and lost to Northern Iowa. The state’s eyes will focus on Iowa City, but the coaches hope to put the game in perspective.
“It’s two programs, both trying to put their philosophies and their systems in,” said Hoiberg, who is 7-2 in his first season at Iowa State. “Hopefully we’ll both be around a long time and have a lot of these games to play in.”