If first impressions mean anything, count me in as a Todd Lickliter guy.
Iowa's new coach said all the right things at his introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon and nothing seemed forced. A calmness and quite confidence emanated from the podium.
Listen, I'm not going to go overboard here. I'm not going to tell you that Todd Lickliter will take Iowa to the Promised Land (or the next level). What I will say is that it appears AD Gary Barta found someone who genuinely wants to be in Iowa City and become part of the fabric of the state.
I watched as Lickliter's wife Joez and their youngest son, John, stepped into a media packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Their eyes looked like saucers. Something tells me that it was a little larger throng than was assembled at Butler.
When Lickliter followed a few minutes later, he looked around in amazement at photographers scooting around on the floor in front of him to take his picture. I looked at his hands. They were shaking a little as began speaking.
I sensed a lot of Kirk Ferentz in Lickliter – very little flash and a lot of substance. He projected a humility that goes a long way in these parts.
"I told you I was looking for somebody who was a proven winner," Barta said. "I told you I was looking for someone who had proven that they could compete in the classroom. There were several coaches that had both of those. Finally, it came down to the person I thought would represent the state of Iowa and have great integrity and just be a terrific fit."
Barta illustrated his point by saying that during the entire interview process, Lickliter did not once bring up that he had been named the Division I men's coach of the year. The fact that the candidate didn't throw that in as a bargaining tool told the boss a lot.
I've said on our message boards, in stories and on various radio shows that the most important thing for Iowa to find in their search is a good fit. There are a lot of guys out there that can coach and stress academics, but it needed to be somebody that the fans welcomed in their arms and wanted to hold there long after the honeymoon period had ended.
Remember, I'm an old East Coast guy that road in on my high horse 10 years ago and needed to learn the landscape. You guys taught me about being an Iowan. Much like Ferentz, Lickliter seems built for the rigors that are required in this state on and off the field.
It didn't take long for Randy Peterson of the Register to toss the football school question at the new coach. His predecessor at Iowa, Steve Alford, referred to it as such.
Lickliter handled it well.
"I've known Steve a long time," he said. "I was a coach when he was playing. Steve might speak one way about something and I might speak another way. The way I look at it is if Ohio State and Florida are football schools count me in with them."
Lickliter later tossed that out at the pep rally crowd to great applause. He added that Iowa is a football school, and a men's basketball school, and a women's basketball school, and a wrestling school, etc.
"I don't think this is a football school," Lickliter said. "It's a school that's good at football. I met with Kirk today. I was very impressed."
He also was asked about the new practice facility and upgrades planned for Carver. Again, he answered correctly by saying that his program was more than willing to share Carver with its other tenants until changes were made. He didn't put his team ahead of anybody else, much like he treats all of his players as equals.
Ah, breathe in, breathe out. What's that you ask? It's fresh air.
Subtle things stood out during the press conference as well. At one point, two reporters talked over each other in asking questions. Lickliter politely apologized to one of them, saying, "I'm sorry. Let me take this one and I'll come right back to you. Thank you."
It was smooth.
Come to think of it, I don't recall Lickliter talking much about himself at all on Tuesday. He credited his players and assistants with his success at Butler and seemed uncomfortable when the focus was on him.
When Lickliter was asked what he told the recruits that signed with Butler in the fall, the coach didn't flinch.
"I told them good-bye," he said. "They committed to Butler. I wish them much success. I'll always pull for Butler unless we're playing them."
The winning percentage and the graduation rate speak for volumes for Lickliter. Those actions scream integrity.
Yeah, time will tell, but I think Barta got this one right.