IOWA CITY — Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery vowed to continue fighting for his players but calmly accepted a one-game suspension after his ejection from a basketball game Sunday night.
“I think it’s important to point out that my passion and energy come from a good place,” McCaffery said at a Tuesday news conference. “I want my players to play that way. We ask them to play that way, and I’m going to fight for my guys. That’s what I’m going to do. That will not stop. But I think in that instance, without question, I lost my cool, and you can’t do that. We don’t want them to do that, so I can’t do that.”
The Big Ten reprimanded McCaffery, suspended him for Thursday’s game against Northwestern and fined the University of Iowa $10,000 for an outburst with 11 minutes, 51 seconds left at Wisconsin. During a media timeout, McCaffery rushed toward official Tim Clougherty and immediately received a technical foul. McCaffery lunged toward official John Gaffney, who reflexively held off McCaffery with his hand and issued a second technical foul and an automatic ejection. McCaffery continued to charge up the court toward official Tom Eades before leaving the arena.
McCaffery issued an apology Monday morning, and the league — in consultation with Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta — decided to suspend him Monday night. League officials ruled that McCaffery’s actions violated its sportsmanship policy. They offered no comment after issuing the suspension.
One source with knowledge of the situation said McCaffery’s continual actions from re-engaging officials, initiating contact with one and failing to leave the court in a timely manner led to the one-game suspension. Barta declined to describe the process calling it “private” but showed unwavering support of McCaffery as his coach.
“The video shows that there was physical contact,” Barta said. “Having a discussion about how it was initiated really isn’t part of the discussion. We had discussions, and the video was reviewed.
“I think the world of Fran. I love him as a coach, I love him as a person and he’s our head basketball coach. Clearly in the heat of competition he made a mistake. He’s remorseful ... he clearly wishes he wouldn’t have made that mistake, but he did. We’re accepting the penalty.”
The school must pay the fine, and McCaffery will “make good” for the $10,000, Barta said. Assistant coach Kirk Speraw, who was head coach at Central Florida for 17 years, will serve as interim coach Thursday.
McCaffery will continue to lead the team in practices and preparation through the team’s pregame meal Thursday night. He plans to watch the game on television.
“It will be extremely difficult,” McCaffery said. “But I have confidence in them that they’ll handle the game very well.”
Sunday, the sequence that set him off included a no-call when Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes hacked center Gabe Olaseni attempting a layup. On the opposite end of the floor, Olaseni was whistled for a less-obvious foul on Hayes. The dead ball situation resulted in a media timeout, and McCaffery became incensed. He admitted he sought a technical, and quickly received one.
Overall, Iowa was called for 23 fouls, while Wisconsin received 22.
McCaffery, 54, is known for his fiery temper, which resulted in an ejection from a 2011 game at Northern Iowa and the slamming of a chair on Michigan State’s basketball court. He often gets in players’ faces in games but they relentlessly defended him.
“He wasn’t doing that to make a spectacle, to get himself on ESPN,” Iowa junior Aaron White said. “He did that to back us up. He didn’t like the whistle we were getting. That’s why he did what he did. He didn’t want to get the second (technical); I understand that. He apologized about it.”
“He’s always going to fight for us, whether he’s got to throw a chair or whatever he’s got to do,” Iowa senior Zach McCabe said. “He’s always there for us. That’s something as players we can take as an example of what he wants, and he’s passionate. I just think it comes natural.”
Barta said UI President Sally Mason is aware of McCaffery’s suspension but stands by the coach. Barta, while steadfast in his support, was clear the coach deserved the punishment.“So if there’s a teachable moment in here (for the players), it’s that their coach is a guy that they love, they respect, they love playing for him. But when he makes a mistake, there’s consequences,” Barta said. “So that’s something they’ll take away from this as well.”