Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Steve Bergman rarely lets down his guard, on or off the court.
But don’t let that fool you.
Beneath his gruff exterior is a person who has dedicated his life to teaching the game he loves to high school kids, and has cherished the journey along the way.
Bergman might act as if he is dissatisfied, or annoyed with what is happening around him, and sometimes he truly does feel that way as a basketball perfectionist.
But it’s also part of his shtick, or his persona, because there is a softer side to Bergman that cares deeply for his players. A person doesn’t stay in coaching for as long as Bergman has without valuing people and relationships.
“I know I don’t look like it, sometimes, but I really do enjoy it,” Bergman said.
Bergman expects the game of basketball to be played a certain way, and it’s his way or the highway. If you don’t like it, well, there’s the door.
And it’s hard to argue with the results, considering Bergman won his 600th career game as a high school coach on Tuesday, making him one of just 15 high school coaches in Iowa to achieve that milestone.
Bergman is in his 29th season as the head boys basketball coach for Iowa City West, and his 33rd season overall.
He reached 600 wins in just 793 games, and 555 of his wins have been at West High where Bergman has built a perennial power and coached a long list of talented players, including the McCaffery brothers, Connor and Patrick, both of whom now play for their father, Fran McCaffery at Iowa.
“I saw quite a few of them,” Fran McCaffery said of Bergman’s 600 wins. “I'm thrilled for him, but he doesn't seem to be too excited about it, but that's him.”
Connor McCaffery and Patrick McCaffery combined to play for six seasons under Bergman at West High from 2013-19.
Connor is two years ahead of Patrick in school and West High compiled a 130-22 record during the six seasons in which at least one of the McCaffery brothers was on the team, while also winning two Class 4A state titles.
“I think one of the things that is impressive to me is you say, Okay, he won 600 games,” Fran McCaffery said. “Well, does that mean he's been around a long time? Look at how many losses he has. Not very many. He got to 600 pretty quick and that says a lot about him and how he teaches the game.
“In particular, I think he's always been known as a guy that really teaches defense. His teams play defense very consistently. They compete. But he's been able to build just a winning mindset that, like, no matter who comes in, those kids win and they know how to win and that's I think one of the greatest attributes that any coach could have.”
The names and the faces change every three or four years at West High, and some of the teams are better on offense than others.
But the one thing that never seems to change is the expectation and the execution on defense.
“It is a lot of defense, but I think that’s why we won the games that we did,” Connor McCaffery said Wednesday. “If you have that defense regardless of what you have offensively, like this year, they’re defending teams like crazy.
“Maybe it wasn’t the same in the past in terms of offense or whatever, but he always has that defense that he instills in every team, and it’s always the mentality.”
Connor McCaffery was Bergman’s starting point guard for four seasons at West High and they built a strong relationship, on and off the court.
Bergman trusted Connor’s judgment as his floor general, while Connor respected the winning culture that was already firmly established at West High when he arrived.
“He just does things a certain way and everything is done with excellence,” Connor McCaffery said. “And that’s why he’s one of the greatest coaches in Iowa that there is.
“I loved playing for him, and I know Patrick did, too.”
Connor McCaffery and Patrick McCaffery both were in elementary school when their father was hired as the Iowa head coach in 2010.
Bergman used to attend some of Iowa’s practices, which is common for high school coaches, especially early in the season, and he and Fran McCaffery became friends.
So when Fran and his wife, Margaret, were deciding what high school their sons should attend, Bergman’s presence at West High was a big factor.
The West High boys basketball program already was an established power and Bergman was considered an elite coach who expected and demanded a lot from his players.
“We kind of hit it off pretty well,” Fran McCaffery said. “And then a couple years later he kind of wanted Connor to go there, and so we talked about that and, boy, it really worked out well for both Connor and Patrick. They had a wonderful experience there playing for him.”
Bergman’s current West High team is 18-2 overall, ranked fifth in Class 4A and a force on defense.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many high school teams that clog the passing lanes or play help defense, or transition defense, or half-court defense better than West High does under Bergman.
His players learn the value of team work and are constantly reminded that defense is a mindset that never should change.
Bergman’s players also know what they mean to him deep down, even if he doesn't show it.
“I think that he does care,” Connor McCaffery said. “He won’t let on like he does.”
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