2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

"Consistency" is byword of Iowa men's basketball coaching staff

Fran McCaffery's staff has been intact longer than any in Division I

Iowa men’s basketball assistant Andrew Francis, Kirk Speraw and Sherman Dillard encourage the Hawkeyes during their game against Rutgers in Carver-Hawkeye Arena earlier this month. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa men’s basketball assistant Andrew Francis, Kirk Speraw and Sherman Dillard encourage the Hawkeyes during their game against Rutgers in Carver-Hawkeye Arena earlier this month. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Effective within the last week, Iowa has the longest-tenured men’s basketball coaching staff of the 353 NCAA Division I programs.

The staff of St. Joseph’s had been together for 12 years until head coach Phil Martelli was fired Tuesday. Moving up to the longest is Fran McCaffery’s staff with assistants Sherman Dillard, Andrew Francis and Kirk Speraw, at nine seasons.

“Really?” Francis and Speraw replied in separate interviews when told that Saturday after the Hawkeyes practiced in Nationwide Arena for their second-round NCAA Tournament game Sunday against Tennessee.

Staffs just don’t stay together like Iowa’s. Just nine have been intact for six or more years. Assistants from winning programs have upward mobility. Assistants from losing programs often leave on terms other than their own.

“I don’t know any one reason why we’re still together,” Speraw said, “but I think it’s beneficial and helpful in a lot of ways. The consistency you have, the consistency of your message, the consistency of responsibilities

“Yet, it’s not like we’re not trying new things or new ideas. We’re always on the lookout for a better way to approach things, a better way to implement things.”

It has to be a rarity for a staff to have three former college head coaches as assistants. Speraw was a walk-on player at Iowa for Lute Olson, and was a graduate assistant on Olson’s 1980 Iowa Final Four team. He went on to be a head coach for 20 seasons. The last 17 were at Central Florida, where he took that program to four NCAA tourneys.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Dillard was the head coach at D-I programs Indiana State and James Madison, totaling 10 seasons.

Francis coached the College of Mount St. Vincent women’s basketball team in Riverdale, N.Y., for two years, then got into men’s coaching.

“I have to think our staff ranks right up there for years as far as head-coaching experience,” Speraw said, “but also in the number of years as assistants at a high level.”

“We’ve got great guys on this staff that have been in this business a long time,” Francis said.

“We check all egos to the side. It really is a staff of guys that care about the players and what we can do to help our program.”

Speraw was hired by McCaffery not long after he got fired at UCF. It wasn’t a good-old-boys deal.

“I knew of his success,” Speraw said. “I can’t say I had a whole lot of conversations with him before coming up for my interview, quite honestly.”

Francis was on McCaffery’s Siena staff for three years, then followed him to Iowa. That was a quick hire. The other two spots stayed open a while.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“He took at least a month before he hired me,” said Speraw. “I think he took another month when he hired Sherm. Most people don’t take that time he took to evaluate what he wanted and how a staff should be put together.”

Speraw said that, like McCaffery, when he was a head coach he tried to hire assistants who understood what it’s like to sit in the head coach’s chair.

“What I try to do, and I think all of us try to do,” Speraw said, “is take whatever we can off his plate, eliminate maybe some things that are coming on the horizon and might be issues, try to resolve those issues before they even get to Coach.”

Unless someone makes a play for one of the three assistants, they’ll make it 10 years together next winter.

“I don’t look outside,” Francis said. “I try to figure out ways to be helpful within.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.