How does Missouri find its version of Fran McCaffery? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself over the last few days. Nobody is mistaking McCaffery for John Calipari. And nobody should be expecting Missouri to hire the next Calipari, frankly.
The beginning of a coaching search is a good time for self-reflection.
What is Missouri’s program at its peak? What should a typical season look like? How many NCAA Tournament appearances should we expect over a 10-year stretch?
If nothing else, we all know this: The last decade can’t happen again.
Missouri has been selected to the NCAA Tournament just twice in the last nine years. The Tigers have finished above .500 in conference play once since 2013. A high school senior was six years old the last time we saw Missouri win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
All of us should be able to agree that is not good enough. So, what is? What’s the level of success Missouri should - realistically - be striving for?
This is how I got to the name Fran McCaffery.
McCaffery wasn’t some hot shot coach when he was hired at Iowa back in 2010. He had a decent amount of success at UNC-Geensboro, built Siena into a powerhouse program in the MAAC and took over a team at Iowa which had lost more than twice as many games than they won in conference play the three years prior to McCaffery’s arrival.
Things didn’t turn around immediately. McCaffery finished 11-20 with a 4-14 conference record in his first season in Iowa City. It was essentially a repeat of the season prior, a year which led to Todd Lickliter’s dismissal.
But then, the switch was flipped. Iowa went from a bottom dweller to a team which consistently finishes in the top half of a powerhouse Big 10 conference. McCaffery has won at least 20 games in eight of his last 11 seasons. He’s made the NCAA Tournament seven times in the last nine years. His teams are annually ranked among the top 20-30 most efficient offenses in the country. He’s built a program as consistent as they come. And he’s done so despite landing just eight blue chip recruits in the last decade.
Fran McCaffery is a good coach, and he’s built the type of program Missouri fans should hope to emulate.
Maybe you think Missouri should aim higher than becoming what Iowa has become. Maybe striving to hire the next McCaffrey is aiming low. Maybe you want Missouri to hire the next big thing in college basketball. I get that. But it’s time to be realistic about Missouri’s lot in life. This isn’t the program it once was.
Missouri’s financial investment into its basketball program has fallen behind the top contenders in the SEC. Attendance has fallen off in a big way. Expecting to return to Norm Stewart levels of success in short order is a lofty goal, one which probably isn’t realistic.
What about getting back to the Mike Anderson era levels of success, though? In Anderson’s five seasons at Missouri, he made it to the NCAA Tournament three times, made it out of the first round twice and had one team capable of going on a deep run, making it all the way to the Elite Eight.
Do you know how quickly I would sign up for that kind of success in a consistent 5-year rotation?
Nobody is mistaking Anderson’s tenure at Missouri for the greatest stretch of Tigers basketball in program history. But it was a really solid stretch of basketball. It was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. The games still felt like they mattered.
That’s what Missouri should be searching for in its next coach. Who can get Mizzou to where Iowa is now, where Missouri was under Mike Anderson? I don’t have the answer to that question. I wish I did. I like the idea of Todd Golden. I thought Niko Medved would be the ideal hire before it was announced he signed a lengthy contract extension at Colorado State.
I don’t envy Desiree Reed-Francois’ position. This is not going to be an easy hiring cycle to navigate. The stakes are enormous for a program looking for some semblance of stability.
I don’t know who the Tigers will hire. I just want them to find their version of Fran McCaffery. Is that too much to ask?