Just two years ago, Fred Hoiberg was perhaps the hottest coaching commodity around. He was fresh off his fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance at Iowa State and his second consecutive Big 12 Tournament championship. In five years at Iowa State, Hoiberg was 115-56, and that came against competition stout enough to give the Cyclones a top-10 strength of schedule in each of his five seasons. After his first season, when the Cyclones went 16-16, 3-16 in the Big 12, Hoiberg’s team never finished worse than fifth in the Big 12 standings.
Hoiberg took the opportunity that resulted from his success in Ames and departed his alma mater to take the head coaching job for the Chicago Bulls. But in two seasons in Chicago, Hoiberg has not found the same success he had in the college game. Last year, in his first season, the Bulls finished two games above .500 but that was only good enough for 9th in the Eastern Conference, two games out of the playoffs. This season, Hoiberg’s team is under .500 and in last place in the NBA’s central division as the season draws to an end. His inability to get his team made of a mix of former all-NBA talent (Dywane Wade and Rajon Rondo) and young pieces (Jimmy Butler and Michael Carter-Williams) has had him on the hot seat since December, when the Bulls went 6-11.
Why He’s a Good Fit
Because he’ll probably be available. One of the biggest problems with a number of those coaches who fans wish were candidates is that they are not available. Brad Stevens is coaching one of the youngest and most talented teams in the NBA. And it’s a franchise with more history and championships than Indiana, which undercuts the argument most fans make as to why people would leave good jobs and good money to come to Bloomington. Those like Chris Collins and Richard Pitino have jobs in the Big Ten and have situations that, at least for the foreseeable future, are better than the situation at Indiana. And any coach under contract will require the university and athletic department to spend money buying them out.
But Hoiberg is headed toward being fired in Chicago. It seems like he will be available barring a late season charge into the playoffs. The only problem with Hoiberg’s availability is that the Bulls season won’t be over until the end of April, which could certainly hurt recruiting (including keeping the guys committed to come to Indiana this fall).
He is everything fans have wanted Crean to be. In Hoiberg’s last season in Ames, the Cyclones played the following non-conference opponents that were top-100 KenPom teams: Georgia State, Alabama, Maryland, Arkansas, Iowa, and South Carolina. The story was the same in his other seasons, aside from his first. 2013-2014: Michigan, BYU, Northern Iowa, Iowa, Boise State. 2012-2013: Cincinnati, UNLV, BYU, Iowa. 2011-2012: Lehigh, Rice, Northern Iowa, Michigan. In addition to scheduling, Hoiberg’s collegiate teams have been far different in performance. They were a top-40 team in TO% three times, ranking as high as 8th, and never lower than 90th in the category. They have also shown a propensity to peak at the end of the season, as evidenced by his two Big 12 Tournament titles. In his last three seasons in Ames, the Cyclones won six, eight, and eight of their last 10 games, respectively (not counting the NCAA Tournament).
He has appeal. Fans have longed for a coach who can recruit Indiana. And though it’s probably not nearly as important as most of the fanbase would like to think it is, Hoiberg should be able to do it. He played with the Pacers for several seasons to start his NBA career and will be able to use his ties to the state in living rooms and kitchens. But that Hoiberg’s NBA experience, both as a player and now as a coach, will resonate with recruits everywhere. Aside from how he’ll play with recruits though, is Hoiberg’s look. He’s a clean cut guy with a cool kind of demeanor that will bring a sense of calm and will appease a group of fans who think how a man’s pants fit or his sideline antics have an effect on the quality of his coaching.
The dude can coach some college basketball. The bottom line is that Fred Hoiberg has proven he can get it done in the college ranks. He took an Iowa State program that is not a blue blood, is not a power, and is not a place where winning will come automatically. Other than Billy Donovan and Brad Stevens, neither of whom are realistic candidates, no one who we might see on the sideline in Bloomington next year is as proven as Hoiberg.
Why He Wouldn’t Fit
He might not be here very long. I say this for two reasons. First, it’s hard to think that a guy who had some real success in Ames and then got kicked around for a couple seasons in the NBA wouldn’t have some kind of interest in going back to the professional game at some point to take a better roster and a better situation and prove his worth and ability. And if the guy was forced out of the NBA on someone else’s terms, he might be even more eager. Second, it’s even harder to imagine that a guy like Hoiberg, who was a good player and is a good coach, would put up with the antics and treatment from the fanbase like Crean did. If things didn’t go well for Hoiberg quickly and the fanbase acted like they have the past few years, Hoiberg would probably be more willing than most to go elsewhere.
The last two years might have ruined him. There is a real possibility that what will be deemed a failure in the NBA — despite having a flawed roster and unrealistic expectation — will be Hoiberg’s downfall. Perhaps the NBA-related recruiting leverage he had at Iowa State will be gone after he’s washed out of the professional coaching ranks. Perhaps he’ll suffer a crisis of confidence. Or maybe he’ll just be disinterested with the college game and recruiting self-important 16-, 17-, and 18-year olds after two years in a man’s league and a man’s world. Not that this will be the case, but if Hoiberg gets the call from Fred Glass, this has to be a slight concern for the fans.