Howe: McCarney's Absence Leaves Void

Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney played the villain for many Hawkeye fans when the two teams got together. With McCarney out of the picture, there feels like something is missing. columnist examines that idea.

Kirk Ferentz issued a calculated response on Tuesday when asked if the Iowa-Iowa State game would miss Dan McCarney.

"To me, the series is probably bigger than any individuals involved," the Iowa Coach said of his former Cyclone counterpart. Then Ferentz sailed off on a tangent to cleverly avoiding the wrong words to fuel Iowa State this week.

Ferentz is a smart guy. He knows McCarney's influence on this rivalry. He is 3-5 against the Cyclones.

The series certainly is bigger than one guy, but I'll argue that McCarney represents the single biggest figure in it. It moves on, but without him, there's a void.

McCarney was fired after last season and replaced by Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. He landed at South Florida, which beat Auburn last weekend and is off to a 2-0 start.

Meanwhile, Iowa State has stumbled to a 0-2 mark and some Cyclones fans already are wondering if Chizik is the right man. After all, Athletic Director Jamie Pollard sold them on the new coach taking the program to the "next level."

I'm sure Iowa State's sluggish beginning coupled with the Hawkeyes' strong one has dampened the lead-up to this game, but McCarney always seemed to bring out the fire from both sides no matter the circumstances. He pumped up the Cyclone faithful and annoyed the Iowa side. I know he got under my skin at times, and I happened to like Dan a lot.

Cyclone fans loved McCarney's ability to get his teams revved up for Iowa. Hawkeye followers shot back that their team didn't care as much about the game as did Iowa State, who put all of its eggs in this basket.

Yeah, right, and the Bears don't care much about beating the Packers. I wonder how many Iowa fans called out of work the days after McCarney beat them six times in the last nine years.

What McCarney did against Iowa was unthinkable. The Hawkeyes had won 15 in a row against their rival until McCarney's men broke through in '98. The Cyclones took five in a row from '98-02 after having tasted victory just 12 times in the previous 48 meetings.

Ferentz probably wouldn't admit it because his philosophy of putting the same emphasis on every game has worked well. But it stung him having to hear about Iowa State's success against his Hawkeyes.

The two former assistants at Iowa under Hayden Fry were close for 15 years before facing each other in this rivalry. The dynamics certainly strained their relationship.

"We saw each other in June," Ferentz said of McCarney. "If there's one good thing, we're not banging heads against each other anymore. That's a positive."

Believe that. Ferentz doesn't like competing against former co-workers whether it is Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema or McCarney.

McCarney, on the other hand, loved playing Iowa. He saw it as the best opportunity for the Cyclones to make noise in the Hawkeye State. He relied heavily on winning the match-up, and it was a smart move.

Critics faulted Dan for not being able to get his players back to the level at which they played Iowa for the remainder of the season. But he understood the Big Brother/Little Brother syndrome that existed in the series. He realized that beating the big brother legitimized his program. McCarney grew up in Iowa City, played for the Hawkeyes and understood the landscape.

In a strange twist of fate, maybe McCarney's success against Iowa ended up being his undoing. It lifted expectations. We at Iowa have learned the slipperiness of that slope.

McCarney might have saved his job had he won just one of the Big 12 North titles in the Cyclones' grasp. Pollard could have been thinking about a change regardless, believing his program was destined for even greater heights.

Chizik possesses the pedigree to reach those lofty goals. His hiring created quite a buzz in Ames.

What looks like a sure thing doesn't always turn out that way, however. Iowa basketball fans still are waiting to reach the "next level" from where they were when Dr. Tom Davis was shown the door after the ‘98-99 season. Sometimes the changing of levels isn't always up.

We can all hope that Iowa State rises up, and we have two top-notch, big time programs within our borders. That certainly would heat up this rivalry and bring more national exposure.

But for right now, the exciting meter is down from where it was during the last decade. You can link that directly to the absence of McCarney. He is what I think of when I hear Iowa-Iowa State.

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