Iowa Basketball Assistant Coach Kirk Speraw To Retire

By RossWB on May 11, 2022 at 10:50 pm
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© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen, Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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A silver-haired coach named Kirk with several decades of history with Iowa sports is hanging up his whistle this summer. No, not that one. Kirk Speraw, Fran McCaffery's top lieutenant and an assistant coach at Iowa since McCaffery's arrival 12 years ago, is moving onto retirement this July. 

Speraw, who will be 66 later this summer, is the definition of a basketball lifer. He's spent the last 43 years as a college basketball coach, as both an assistant and a head coach. He got his start as a grad assistant at Iowa in 1979-80, then followed that with stints at the University of Denver, Florida Southern, Pensacola Junior College, and the University of Florida. His first and only head coaching job came at Central Florida, where he had a 17-year (!) tenure, from 1993 to 2010. He guided the Golden Knights to four NCAA Tournament appearances over those 17 years. After the Golden Knights fired him in 2010, Speraw became one of the first hires for new Iowa coach Fran McCaffery's staff -- and he's been in Iowa City ever since. 

An Iowa native (from Sioux City, IA), Speraw has ties with the Iowa program that go beyond his decade-plus on the sideline, though -- he was also a player at Iowa from 1976-1979, finishing as a letterman on Lute Olson's 1979 Iowa squad. He has the distinction of playing on the last Iowa team to win a regular season Big Ten championship. So he bookended his career with a Big Ten regular season championship (as a player) and a Big Ten Tournament championship (as an assistant coach) -- not too bad. 

Speraw was a calm voice in the Iowa locker room and an experienced, highly respected veteran teacher. He was one of the staff's primary tacticians and a film room junkie, meticulously breaking down and reviewing film for several Iowa opponents each season. As Chad Leistikow noted in his article at Hawk Central, Speraw was also an important part of Iowa's player development, especially when it came to fine-tuning offensive skills. 

Speraw’s was known as the Hawkeyes’ “Shot Doctor” and could quickly identify flaws in a shooting stroke and fix them. Iowa is annually one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Speraw, with 43 years of coaching experience, has had a huge role in that.

The impact Speraw made on Iowa's shooters is apparent when you look at the growth of players like Peter Jok, Matt Gatens, Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, and many more. There's no doubt that Speraw will be missed -- he did a lot for the Iowa program. 

Speraw is the second Iowa assistant coach to leave McCaffery's staff this offseason, after fellow assistant Billy Taylor left to become to the head coach at Iona. That's a lot of upheaval for a staff that's been more or less the model of stability since McCaffery arrived at Iowa in 2010. No Iowa assistants from that initial staff left until Andrew Francis departed in 2019; now Sherman Dillard is the only assistant remaining from that original staff. 

So who replaces Speraw? Iowa looked within to replace Taylor earlier this offseason, promoting Courtney Eldridge from director of recruiting and player development to a formal assistant coaching role on the staff. That move made sense as Eldridge had paid his dues in his former role, is well-regarded (and well-liked by players and recruits), and seemed ready for a bigger responsibility. There aren't any other internal candidates with a profile like his, though. And, frankly, Iowa probably needs an assistant who can replace the experience and leadership that Speraw brought to the table. As for who that might be... TBD. 

The usual Iowa-affiliated names are already being floated -- Matt Gatens (currently an assistant coach at Drake), Dean Oliver (an assistant at Wisconsin), Jeff Horner (head coach at Truman State, a Division III school). They're all great former players and very capable coaches, though Oliver and Horner would probably be harder to pry from their current positions without at least getting an "associate head coach" title as part of the move. Gatens would be an interesting choice -- he's an Iowa City native who was a superb shooter with a good understanding of offenses. But Fran also has an opportunity to look a bit further afield here, at options who don't have any Iowa connections. Speraw probably didn't decide to retire out of the blue, so McCaffery has likely had some time to consider his replacement -- we'll have to see what direction he opts to go in. Speraw leaves big shoes to fill, though, and this be a big hire for Fran -- perhaps his biggest since getting Speraw and Dillard for his initial Iowa staff.

In the meantime, though, congratulations to Kirk Speraw on a wonderful career. He gave Iowa basketball a lot of very good years, both as a player over 40 years ago and more recently as a coach. Thanks very much for the memories, coach. Here's hoping you enjoy retirement. 

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