As if this Iowa basketball season wasn’t distressing and puzzling enough, now we have this.
We just now are learning that the university gave head coach Fran McCaffery a two-year contract extension in late November that more than doubles the amount of money it would need to pay him if it decides he isn’t the right man for the job.
Reporter Scott Dochterman of the Land of 10 website uncovered this nugget of information through an open records request. According to his report, McCaffery’s extension was signed on Nov. 29.
There was no announcement from the university about this, perhaps because it wouldn’t have looked very good at that moment. The Hawkeyes had just lost to Virginia Tech by 24 points the night before and had lost to Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State in a tournament in the Virgin Islands the previous week.
Things haven’t gotten significantly better for the Hawkeyes since then. They lost their next three games after that and currently are 11-11 — and a very disappointing 2-7 in the Big Ten — following a much-needed win over Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
Under the terms of the contract extension, Iowa must pay McCaffery $10.2 million if it fires him before July 1. Under the previous contract, that amount was $4.6 million.
The buyout drops to $9 million if he is fired between July 1 of this year and July 1, 2019, and continues to decline incrementally after that through the 2023-24 season.
The buyout also doubles on McCaffery’s end. If he leaves for another job prior to July 1, 2022, he or his new employer must pay Iowa $2 million.
None of this would seem very consequential if the Hawkeyes were having the sort of success that was expected of them this season.
But those early losses to nondescript programs in the Virgin Islands and a 1-7 start to the Big Ten season have some fans crying for McCaffery’s dismissal as head coach, something that now has become almost prohibitively expensive.
I’m not one of those who thinks he should be fired anyway.
He has brought the Iowa program back from the depths of the Todd Lickliter era. He has had at least moderate success: Three straight NCAA tournament appearances from 2014-16 and three NIT berths. He has installed an exciting style of play after the drowsy Lickliter years.
Off the court, he has run a clean program. His players stay out of trouble and get the job done in the classroom.
He has done enough in his first seven years on the job to be forgiven for a season that thus far has been a disheartening backward step.
If he doesn’t win another game all season, he deserves to be brought back for another year.
But if next season resembles this one from a win-loss standpoint … that changes things. And that $9 million buyout may prevent the university from doing what it needs to do.
The extension being signed at the time that it was just doesn’t seem like a prudent move on the part of an athletic department that had to pay a $6.5 million settlement to two former female employees last summer.
And the fact that the extension was done so quietly, without any sort of announcement, is both highly unusual and extremely suspicious.
Director of athletics Gary Barta responded with a statement Thursday, explaining that the extension was negotiated last summer but was not immediately finalized as he took a leave of absence because of his battle with prostate cancer.
He added that he was "enthused with the leadership Fran has provided our men’s basketball program and excited for the immediate and long-term future of the program."
That doesn’t explain why there was no announcement.
It seems as though Iowa hoped to slip this one past the fan base quietly, knowing that it wouldn’t be universally well-received in the midst of a losing streak.