IOWA CITY, Ia. - It will take all hands on deck to rebuild the Iowa men's basketball program. Fran McCaffery can do his best Captain Merrill Stubbing, but he'll need Doc, Gopher, Isaac and Julie to help navigate these waters.
I wrote yesterday that McCaffery was handed a tall task. At his introductory press conference here on Monday, I was encouraged by a lot of what the new coach said. In particular, one thing stood out.
McCaffery spoke about his visits to Carver-Hawkeye Arena as an opponent and how he left impressed by the atmosphere. He stated that he would get the building rocking again.
"We're going to have meetings (Monday night) directly addressing that," McCaffery said. "I've been active in doing those kinds of things before, but I think we all know, to really energize the fan base, you've got to play the game the right way, and we're going to do that."
I'd like to focus on the first part of that statement. He speaks very confidently about rallying the fans beyond putting out a fast-paced brand of basketball for which many fans have been clamoring.
The drive started Monday night when McCaffery spoke at a pep rally at Carver. Students received free pizza and T-Shirts that said "Fran is the Man" or something to that effect.
Please, Iowa Athletic Administration, keep reaching out. This is not the Love Boat as evidenced by a rather small gathering at the pep rally.
You can shoot many holes through the Steve Alford and Todd Lickliter eras at Iowa, pointing to various mistakes that kept those coaches from succeeding at the necessary level. They can present cases that they were under supported by the university beyond their salaries.
It's time to put the students in a better location in the arena. It's time to let them in for free. Give them free T-shirts and pizza. Let them bring signs that are appropriate.
And, don't stop there.
Iowa must find ways to better market the product…NOW. You can't wait until there's winning. It's not working. The coach and the players need fan support and just because it's Iowa basketball doesn't mean fans will come out like they did 25 years ago.
McCaffery showed his knack for public speaking during Monday's press conference and that can be used to the program's advantage. I hardly ever remember hearing Lickliter doing TV and radio interviews around the state and region, but it's time to push for those appearances as a university and not wait for them to come along.
I think the chicken-or-the-egg theory can be thrown out the window. The idea of building it and they will come can be blown up.
When McCaffery brings in a recruit to Carver, the prospect needs to feel like Iowa basketball matters and not just be taken to Kinnick Stadium to look at the great football environment. He should see fans in the stands of the basketball arena. The athletic administration must do everything it can to make that happen, and if that means lowering tickets, giving some away, having a demolition derby at halftime, so be it. Do it.
Apathy has hit an all-time low, and they're charging a family of four $100 a game just for tickets. It hasn't just been the style of play that's sunk attendance.
It was encouraging to see a group of former Iowa players attend the press conference. They didn't point fingers when it came to the talk that Alford and Lickliter might not have reached out to them as much as they would have liked them to do. They said it was their responsibility to step up and help the program that means so much to them.
McCaffery needs the support of the lettermen. They can sell the program.
Sure, the fans play a role in this rebuilding project and we have a great base. It needs to be ignited.
Since Tom Davis was shown the door 11 years ago, a lot of money has been spent by the Hawkeye faithful on this program and those running the show have failed them. The ball has been put back into the administration's court to win back the fans.