IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa likely knew the axe was going to fall early Monday when it issued a public apology for Fran McCaffery's actions the night before. The Big Ten either warned the school after his last blowup that a third strike would result in suspension or there at least were discussions that the behavior needed to stop.
On its own, McCaffery's tirade on officials during the second half of a 75-71 loss at Wisconsin would have warranted a reprimand but probably not a suspension. The the conference announced Tuesday that the coach would be sidelined for a game and the school fined $10,000. It resulted from the pattern of behavior, even though it won't be publicly acknowledged by Iowa or the league.
Athletic Director Gary Barta said Tuesday that he was not surprised by the suspension. He also declined to talk about the process between he and the league since Sunday night. They're both signs that there was a no-to-low tolerance level at play here.
McCaffery admitted to seeking his first technical foul Sunday, in part because of his displeasure with the referees but also to motivate his team, whose play had fallen off after building an 11-point halftime lead. Had it ended there, it's a blip on the national media radar. That it continued, resulted in a second T and an ejection was why the coach will miss Thursday's home game against Northwestern (8 p.m., ESPNU).
McCaffery has earned a reputation for his fiery approach. He was thrown out of a contest at UNI in December of 2011. A little more than a year later, he grabbed headlines again for violently slamming a chair during a game at Michigan State.
McCaffery issued no apologies after those previous incidents. There wasn't one Sunday night in Madison. Asked if he thought he would face punishment beyond his ejection, McCaffery strongly dismissed that notion.
"No. I got two T's. Why would I be disciplined?," he said after the game.
Websites promoted their video of McCaffery's outburst by writing he bumped an official. It was incidental contact where the referee was as much responsible for it as was the coach. That wasn't why he was suspended.
Players and coaches sometimes win seasonal awards based on lifetime achievement. McCaffery earned this time off based on an accumulation of embarrassing events. One national media member on Twitter Sunday suggested someone put together a highlight video of the incidents, something no one at Iowa wants to see.
No conference is more image conscious than is the Big Ten. It can't have a person in a high-profile position attracting negative attention with behavior seen as unbecoming.
McCaffery is a tremendous person. His players love him, he works tirelessly for charity and runs a clean program. A few tantrums can't change those facts.
Unfortunately, people outside of Iowa City are more exposed to the eruptions than they are the good deeds. Their perception of him being an out-of-control hothead become reality. That reputation also proceeds him with officials, who are employed to be objective but also are human.
The Big Ten is stepping in here hoping the admonition defends its character and prevents further storms from McCaffery. If it doesn't, the league looks even more justified in its action to suspend him now.
Barta knew what he was getting when he hired McCaffery. One of the bigger sidebar stories when the coach was hired in '10 was his wife, Margaret McCaffery, once being removed from a game for riding referees. It's a passionate basketball family that has crossed the line, which happened again Sunday.
The athletic director, presumedly dug deep in researching McCaffery, after missing so badly on his previous hire, Todd Lickliter. Barta probably didn't envision meeting with the media Tuesday to discuss his coach's behavior but surely he knew it was a possibility.
McCaffery's "passion" was a buzz word during he and Barta's press conferences with the media here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday. The coach said it and his competitiveness partially were responsible for the episode two days earlier and that he would continue to fight for his guys.
The players expressed their appreciation for that after the Wisconsin game and again on Tuesday. It's been an unwritten bonding tool and rule in the way the opposing pitcher sends a message in baseball when his guy gets beaned by his counterpart. We're in this together.
That shouldn't be an issue going forward as long McCaffery doesn't cross the line, which is a very fine one. Tuesday's suspension and fine essentially told Iowa, Barta and the coach that the behavior won't be tolerated and the next punishment would be stiffer.
Barta didn't seem worried about that being a a factor. A remorseful McCaffery concurred.
Emotions are a funny thing to predict, however. More Big Ten road games where Iowa feels it's being screwed by officials lay ahead. McCaffery must be mindful of it in the heat of battle, which will be a challenge for such a spirited soul.
More eyes are on him now, making sure he conquers it as he has other obstacles in his long career. It could end up being the toughest thing he's ever had to do on the sideline.