'I been to the edge
and there I stood and looked down
-Van Halen, ‘Ain't Talkin' Bout Love
That's how some Iowa fans feel right now. They feel as though they are on the edge, or they are on edge, regarding the Iowa basketball program.
The message boards are alight with debate, those ‘fer or agin' Coach Steve Alford are waging their annual war; it's March, after all. And this March is especially testy, due to Iowa being passed over by the NIT selection committee.
The annual cannibalism amongst the Iowa fan base is what bothers me the most, being a lifelong Iowa fan, and a lifelong Iowa basketball fan. I have said this before, and will say it again; I am an Iowa fan due to the Iowa basketball program of my youth, in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Lute Olson's teams spoiled me. In hindsight, Dr. Tom's teams spoiled me.
What you are about to read is neither an endorsement of Steve Alford as Iowa's coach, nor is it going to be something akin to symbolic request for his resignation.
What it will be is factual, up until I clearly make the distinction between fact and opinion. I will be sure to let you know the difference, because I don't want any doubts about that.
To begin, Iowa fans are bickering over several aspects. Some are saying that eight years of Steve Alford are enough. Others are saying that the future looks better and it would be foolish to get rid of him right now. Some are saying that the track record of eight years speaks volumes about why he should be let go. Others are saying that if you look at the last three years, perhaps even four, you have seen good to great coaching from the Iowa staff.
Neither side wins, the arguments spiral out of control with both sides attacking one another, as opposed to attacking the questions. That is unacceptable, no matter what you think of the Alford era at Iowa. Seeing Iowa fans attack one another is a sad state of affairs, in my opinion, and that's what alarms me the most. But let's get to the facts, using these popular debates that you see here on HawkeyeNation.com and other Iowa fan communities on the world wide web.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
No, I am not talking about the 1980's TV show that featured Dick Van Patton. I am talking about the faction of the fan base that feels eight years of Steve Alford as Iowa's basketball coach is enough.
To support their opinions, they throw out Alford's Iowa statistics such as:
-Just three NCAA tournament appearances in eight years, which is the worst eight year period since the period expanded to 64 teams back in the mid-1980's and even before then.
-Just one NCAA tournament win in eight years. Tom Davis never lost a first round NCAA game in 10 tourney appearances in his 13 year Iowa career.
-Alford is 61-67 in Big Ten games over those eight years
-Since 1951, Iowa has had eight basketball coaches. Only two of those coaches, Sharm Scheuerman and Dick Schultz, have had worse conference winning percentages than Alford, but neither of those coaches lasted for more than five years.
-George Raveling's in-league winning percentage (.481) was better than Alford's (.476)
THREE IS A TREND
On the other side of the ‘Eight is Enough' fence are those fans that feel the last three year's of Alford's tenure have been much improved in nearly every way:
-Iowa has been to two NCAA tournaments during that time frame, it had a second place regular season finish last year in addition to winning the conference tournament and it finished fourth place in the league this year when all of the ‘experts' felt Iowa wind up 8th or worse.
-Recruiting, or the recruiting chatter and buzz around the program, has certainly increased over the course of the last year or two.
-The ‘three is a trend' crowd contends that it would be foolish after all this time and all this money, to give up on Alford right now when things appear to be heading in a good direction.
Then there are the fans that will support Alford tooth and nail no matter what for various reasons, and there are some that didn't want him in Iowa City in the first place, and they will do what they will.
Both the ‘eight is enough' and ‘three is a trend' crowd can make compelling arguments, or at least, the debate can be compelling.
I also think that some people have been on both sides of this fence within the context of this season, and flipped over to the other side, and then maybe flipped again on Sunday night when the NIT left Iowa out of it's field of 32.
That underscores the quagmire, in my opinion. NOTE: I am heading into some opinion areas now.
The fourth place team from the Big Ten, a league that received six at large bids in this year's NCAA tournament, did not get invited to the NIT. C.M. Newton, Gene Keady and Dean Smith are members of the NIT selection committee. Has the perception of the Iowa program gotten to the point where it's fourth place finish, a 9-7 record in league, wasn't good enough to gain entry into the tournament that no one wants to be in?
Well, let me take that back. Iowa would very much like to be in that tournament right now. Adam Haluska would like to wear the Iowa jersey one more time, but that ship has now sailed.
My friend Steve Deace of Deace in the Afternoon on 1040 WHO Radio made an interesting post in the HN Clubhouse message board forum over the weekend.
He wrote that when you look at Steve Alford's resume, it's tough to make objective arguments for either keeping him or wanting to see him go. Here is a sampling of what he wrote. Steve's words are italicized:
Good: He has won the only two conference championships at Iowa since Jimmy Carter was president.
Bad: Until this recent run only Dick Schultz had a worse Big Ten record among Iowa coaches over the past 50 years.
Good: His teams rank in the top 25 nationally in attendance.
Bad: His teams continue to set dubious records for lowest attendance in Carver-Hawkeye Arena history.
Good: Streak of consecutive winning seasons is one of the best in school history.
Bad: 1 NCAA Tournament win in 7 years.
It goes on and on. Entering this season he had a near 50% attrition rate among kids he recruited, but the last two years have seen increased stability in the program.
This inconsistent record means that where you stand on Alford's status tends to come down to whether or not you like him or not. That's not a good position for Alford or you folks who love the Hawkeyes, because your judgment here is predicated almost totally on subjective terms as opposed to the record.
Therefore, you're trapped. You're trapped between the temptation that the times he's beaten a #1 team or a national power are a preview of things to come if he could just catch a break, and those who have already made up their minds based on the resume currently as it is. That's why there's so much division among your fan base.
That ends Deace's comments, which I feel are near the heart of the matter.
Marty Gallagher, the man who used to publish www.iowasportsopinions.com, who has written a monthly column in Hawkeye Nation Magazine going on four years and who was a regular on central Iowa sports talk radio, submitted an interesting set of questions on the message boards. Here are Marty's words, also in italics:
Let's assume that at some point down the road, either Alford moves on, is asked to leave or eventually retires from coaching. At that point (whenever the time comes), Iowa will need to hire a new men's basketball coach. So, given how unbelievably "patient" or "forgetful" some people seem to be regarding Iowa's last eight seasons, I would like to get some people on the record about what they truly expect regarding this program.
Please feel free to respond with "Yes" or "No" or, in the case of Question #4, whichever option best answers how you would expect to react. Then, of course, feel free to state your reasoning.
Here are my questions about the "new coach" (or next coach) in charge of Iowa basketball:
1) If the new coach is at Iowa for 8 years and has only 1 NCAA Tournament victory, will you consider that to be successful?
2) If the new coach is at Iowa for 8 years and has a losing record in the Big Ten Conference, will you consider that to be successful?
3) If the new coach is at Iowa for 8 years and the last 5 of those seasons will represent the WORST 5 seasons of attendance in the history of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, will that be OK with you?
4) If the new coach is at Iowa for 8 years and has only 1 NCAA Tournament victory ... PLUS a losing record in the Big Ten ... AND attendance at home games has reached all-time lows, what would you want the Athletic Director to do?
A) Dismiss the coach and buy out his contract.
B) Hum the Iowa fight song and HOPE something in the equation changes soon.
C) Extend the coach's contract and increase his buyout clause.
5) If you hired John Doe to do a job and John Doe was earning a seven-figure income to do that job, do you think that 8 YEARS is enough time for John Doe to prove whether he is the right person for that position? End of Marty Gallagher's words
Pretty strong stuff, but thought provoking, to say the least.
Now we see Craig Neal's name is coming up for some head coaching jobs, the most recent being a publisher report surrounding the University of Denver job. Last week, Steve Alford said that he had to call recruits due to the ESPN story that said he might be on the outs in Iowa City, and that Dana Altman was in line to replace him.
If Neal would leave Iowa for a college head coaching job, and he didn't turn down the writer for a comment that called to ask him about the connection between he and Denver (click here to read it for yourself), then Iowa's recruiting Class of 2008 will require a lot more work. This class is seen by some as a saving grace, yet the hay is far from being in the barn as letter of intent signing day for that class is eight months away.
No matter which side of the ongoing and annual Alford debate you are on, if you have an opinion either way, you are likely engaged in some degree of turmoil with a fellow Hawkeye fan. That could be at your local coffee shop or on an Iowa message board.
As I said earlier, the cannibalism amongst the Iowa fan base is the part that bothers me the most. Visit any Iowa basketball message board, or listen to any sports talk show in the state of Iowa, and you will see the ugliness. That's the worst fallout of all of this, no matter which side of the fence you are on; In the end, it's the Iowa fans that are losing, regardless of your opinion on the current state of affairs.