DAYTON, Ohio - When Fran McCaffery is coaching Iowa in its first NCAA tournament in eight years against Tennessee tonight, the Hawkeyes coach almost certainly will have something else on his mind - something much more important than a basketball game.
McCaffery's 13-year-old son Patrick is scheduled to have surgery to remove a thyroid tumor this morning, and the former UNC Greensboro coach flew back from Dayton to Iowa City after the Hawkeyes' practice Tuesday evening.
"Coach McCaffery is our guy," Iowa's leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble said Tuesday. "We love him. We're all like family. Pat is a guy that is basically at practice with us every day. He's like our little brother, so I think as a unit we will rally behind it, and hopefully everything goes well for them. They're all in our prayers.
"He's in a tough spot, so we're just trying to make this as simple and easy for him as possible."
With the game against the Vols in the NCAA tournament's opening round not scheduled to begin until after 9 p.m. following the Cal Poly-Texas Southern game, McCaffery should be able to return to Dayton in time should the procedure go well.
"The other coaches will handle the morning meeting and the shootaround," McCaffery said. "Hopefully I'll be back before the last meeting we have, which is typically right before the pregame meal or right after the pregame meal, and be ready to coach the game, assuming all goes well."
McCaffery learned of his son's condition a couple of weeks ago, and a biopsy was performed just nine days ago. The situation has been a rallying point for the Hawkeyes, who have won just twice since an 18-point victory over eventual Big Ten regular-season champion Michigan at home on Feb. 8.
Iowa is the fourth program McCaffery has taken to the NCAA tournament. The 54-year-old took Lehigh to the tournament in 1988, coached UNCG to the Southern Conference's tournament title in 2001 and made it three straight years with Siena from 2008 to 2010. The Saints upset Vanderbilt as a 13 seed in 2008 and took out Ohio State in Dayton in 2009.
"I said a prayer for him and his family last night and this morning, because at the end of the day this is what we do for a living, but it's not who we are," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "First and foremost, he's a father, and that's the most important thing. But that's first in his life. Put it in God's hands, and when he coaches his team, he'll coach his team.
"I think it's a tough thing to deal with in a situation like today. You're playing in the NCAA tournament, your players need you, but your family needs you more. Tough thing to deal with."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.