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Fran McCaffery’s controversial Iowa contract extension gets an explanation

Iowa v Villanova

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was in the news last week after signing a contract extension to stay in Iowa City.

While McCaffery has helped rebuild the program with three NCAA tournament appearances in eight years, the Hawkeyes have struggled this season when they were expected to at least be competitive in a down year for the Big Ten. The extension -- which was signed, in secret, on Nov. 29 -- grants McCaffery a pay increase, additional years and a buyout number that makes a lot of Iowa fans uncomfortable.

McCaffery originally had a buyout of $4.6 million if he were to be fired this spring. With the new extension, McCaffery’s buyout jumped to to $10.2 million and $9 million after next season. The buyout numbers stay relatively high for the next few seasons thereafter.

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta cleared up some of the misconceptions about McCaffery’s contract extension this week in an interview with Chad Leistikow the Des Moines Register. Since Barta believes that McCaffery aligns with the school’s goals and future plans, he wanted to make sure he secured his head coach with additional job security. Barta also said that McCaffery received interest from multiple Power 5 programs for his services and that also helped Iowa make the decision on the extension.
“When I hired him, he re-energized a broken program. He’s a tireless recruiter. He’s done a great job in recruiting,” Barta said.

“When I find somebody who matches our culture and is a proven winner and proven that they care about our student-athletes graduating, et cetera, I want to lock them in for a long time, because I want them to stay.”

The secretive nature of the extension -- which was revealed publicly thanks to a FOIA request -- also irked a lot of Iowa fans. Barta explained that he had a handshake deal in place with McCaffery this summer, but he wanted to wait to publicly announce the extension until after the season to avoid any in-season conflicts. Since Barta was dealing with some personal medical issues late last year, the contract extension couldn’t properly be announced before the season.
“Many times, when we announce coaches’ contracts, it’s for recruiting. In this case, we didn’t need an advantage in recruiting. Recruiting’s been going fine. So I made the decision to wait until the end of the season, knowing full well … it could get out during the season,” Barta said. “I hoped that it would be after the season — not because I’m worried about how we’re playing. But I just did not want to have this conversation in the middle of the season. But it is what it is. And there was no conspiracy.

“I could’ve announced it. I chose not to. There’s really nothing in it to hide. It’s fair for people to criticize.”

Iowa might have given McCaffery a ton of buyout money for the next few seasons, but the Hawkeyes also have a young team with more recruiting reinforcements on the way. In the Class of 2018, Iowa has a top-50 prospect in Joe Wieskamp committed while McCaffery’s two sons, Connor and Patrick, should also both join the program in the next few years. Both McCaffery sons are also four-star basketball prospects -- although Connor only played sparingly during his freshman season this year while dealing with an ankle injury and lingering issues thanks to mononucleosis.

The buyout numbers are gaudy, and Iowa hasn’t given fans a lot of confidence with its play this season, but McCaffery at least deserves some of the benefit of the doubt until he plays through next season with nearly the same roster. If that group also underperforms next season, then the Hawkeyes might have a huge issue on their hands.

(H/t: Chad Leistikow, Des Moines Register)