IOWA CITY — As a University of Pennsylvania basketball player, Fran McCaffery ran with a bad crowd. Namely, sports writers.
“I started working at the Philadelphia Journal, which couldn’t have been more than a half-mile from Penn’s campus,” said Jack McCaffery, Fran’s brother. “Guys from the paper would go out, and he and some Penn players would join us. So he’s always been around sports writers, and broadcasters.”
Many believe media people and big-time coaches have unfriendly, even hostile relationships. That’s true with some, of course, but not most. Certainly not with Iowa’s men’s basketball coach and the lead sports columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times in suburban Philadelphia, two brothers in the City of Brotherly Love who had a Philadelphia police officer for a dad.
“Because of my understanding of what (Jack) does, I don’t really view it as adversarial,” Fran told me last week. “I’ve got a job to do, you’ve got a job to do. I don’t come into this with the preconceived notion you’re out to get me. If you write something negative, I don’t take it personally. This is 30-plus years of understanding how it all works.”
What has perhaps struck me most about Fran McCaffery in his two seasons at Iowa is his willingness to give meaningful answers to reporters’ questions and not bogging them down with coach-speak.
“(Jack) has been real good with me,” said Fran. “He’s been to a million press conferences, more than I have. He’s given me advice on how to deal with people and how to be professional. We talk about that kind of stuff all the time.
“The one thing he’s always told me is to say what you want to say. You’re not necessarily changing the question, but the reality is nobody ever sees or hears the question. It’s a sound bite on TV or a quote in a newspaper, so remember that you want to get out what you want to get out.
“But at the same time, I don’t ever want to be guy that’s just sort of vague all the time every time you ask me a question, gives some vague answer that doesn’t really mean anything, doesn’t say anything. There’s a fine line in there that I hope works.”
Jack McCaffery has seen a lot of basketball. He was his paper’s Philadelphia 76ers beat writer for five years, and Philly has always had lots of terrific college and high school ball. Jack’s admittedly biased, but he said he saw coaching in his brother’s future when Fran was a collegian.
“He was a point guard at Penn, and because he had a red-shirt year, he was a fifth-year senior point guard,” Jack said. “His coach, Bob Weinhauer, would send the refs to Fran. I remember one time Bob said ‘That’s my captain, go talk to him.’
“When I was at the Philadelphia Journal, the paper put together a team that represented us in a tournament in Conshohocken, Pa., called the Donofrio Classic. It’s for high school kids. It’s huge, competitive. We had good players, but weren’t favored to win it.
“We decided Fran should coach our team. He was still in college. It was the darnedest thing. He was changing defenses, playing rotations accurately, putting in the right players at the right time, working the officials.
“He won the darn thing, against Philadelphia all-star teams and everything else. He had it down pat like a natural. I don’t want to make it sound too big, but it was a big deal.”
Jack can’t be a fan in his job, but he has one exception no editor could fault.
“The only team I root for is the Hawkeyes,” he said. “I read The Gazette and other papers every day on the Internet, read whatever I can about them. It’s an outlet for me to really enjoy and I don’t have to feel guilty about it.
“I love Iowa City. My travel took me to Chicago two or three times last year, so I was able to swing over to Iowa City. When I was out there in December, I stuck my head in the basketball office early in the morning on the day I left. All the coaches were in, watching film, getting after it. I’ve seen that everywhere Fran’s been.
“The last thing I said to Fran on that trip was ‘Keep doing it the right way, it’ll turn around.’ He said ‘I know.’ "
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