OK, Gary Barta, no more mulligans. This time, you have to get it right. You've got to find the right basketball coach.
Todd Lickliter, Barta's choice for the position three years ago, obviously didn't work for the Hawkeyes. Whether you agree with his action or not -- I was leaning toward giving Lickliter one more season -- give Barta credit for this: He didn't try to spin Lickliter's dismissal as a resignation or a mutual parting of ways or some other nebulous term. He called it what it was -- a firing. And in letting Lickliter go, Barta admitted he made a mistake. He didn't get the right guy for the job.
I agree with Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler on this point: In trying to find the anti-Steve Alford, Barta probably went too far in the other direction in tapping Lickliter. People were fed up with Alford's arrogance and many were upset with his handling of the Pierre Pierce incidents. In Lickliter, Barta found someone who was honest, sincere, modest, a coach who had integrity and played by the rules. All admirable qualities. But Lickliter seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight that goes with coaching in the Big Ten and lacked charisma. In the end, that hurt him.
I'm not saying Iowa needs to hire a wise-cracking funnyman. The school doesn't need a coach who paints his body for a big women's game. The new coach doesn't necessarily have to show his emotions as openly as Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads.
But Iowa does need a coach who can rally the troops, someone who's comfortable on the banquet circuit, who can schmooze with donors, who can relate with students and get them interested in Hawkeye basketball again. Oh yes, he also needs to be able to recruit better players than what this team has now.
Speaking of those players, I got a little tired of their whining at the end of the season. If you're tired of losing and basketball isn't fun anymore, who's fault is that? How about playing a little harder? Work harder at improving. Take better shots. Try guarding somebody. Hey, life isn't always fun. Sometimes you have to suck it up and look for ways to make things better. That starts with looking in the mirror, not quitting on your coach.
As for style of play, I don't think Iowa has to do a total about-face and play racehorse basketball. You certainly can't call Wisconsin a racehorse team, but the Badgers play good defense, they're sound fundamentally and, the most important thing, they win. That's what keeps the fans coming back.
But a little more aggressiveness on defense by the Hawkeyes would help. They don't have to press all the time, ala Tom Davis, but clamp on a press once in a while, spring some half-court traps, do something to get some steals, create some cheap baskets and disrupt the other team's rhythm.
So the pressure's on, Gary Barta. If this choice flops, the next time reporters start figuring out how much a buyout would cost, it might be yours.