Perhaps it’s not fair to call it a shocking hire simply because Hoiberg’s name was certainly being discussed. But, at the very least, it’s surprising because few fans actually viewed him as a realistic candidate. And while surprising, I’m doubting this was a knee-jerk decision given how quickly everything unfolded. They say every good AD has a ‘short list’ of candidates to turn to in the event that you suddenly have a coaching vacancy. Fred Hoiberg’s name must have been at the top of that list. In bold font. Underlined. Jamie Pollard clearly knew who he wanted, and Hoiberg must have expressed an early interest in the job (perhaps even before the job was open).
If I had to guess, I would say that this hire is at least partially the result of how well the Paul Rhoads hire has turned out. In Rhoads, and now Hoiberg, you have personalities that the fanbase can rally around and a couple of coaches with local roots who will probably stick around for a while if given the opportunity to do so. Clearly these things are very important to Pollard. Fred Hoiberg was a childhood hero of mine, and I wish I could be 100 percent sold on the hire at the outset. But I have to be honest, and there are plenty of question marks that need to be addressed.
In an effort to conclude this post on a positive note (after all, we’re about to welcome a former Cyclone great back to the Iowa State family), let’s start with Hoiberg’s weaknesses.
Experience: There’s no sugar-coating it. Hoiberg has no truly relevant coaching experience. He did spend a very brief time on the Minnesota Timberwolves coaching staff before moving to the front office, but that doesn’t get you much. This is clearly his biggest weakness. It’s going to be the elephant in the room at his introductory press conference.
Recruiting: This goes hand-in-hand with coaching experience, but it warrants additional emphasis. While some of Hoiberg’s strengths (which I will discuss next) will help him on the recruiting trail, he will have no established territories and contacts. It will be imperative that Hoiberg surround himself with a staff strong in both Xs and Os and recruiting.
But it’s not all gloom and doom because The Mayor certainly has some strengths that could help him become a successful head coach.
Intelligence: Hoiberg was an exceptional student-athlete, and you don’t get a front office job in the NBA by being a dummy. My guess is he knows exactly what he’s getting himself into. And I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to learn that Hoiberg laid out a very detailed plan on how to attack this job, just as Rhoads did when he won Pollard over in his interview.
Selling the Cyclones: Hoiberg won’t have to fake it on the tailgate tours and the recruiting trail (which is critical with a nice crop of in-state talent on the horizon). The man’s Cyclone bloodlines are as deep and pure as they come. And when you don’t have to fake excitement in what you’re selling, the product always sells a little better.
Personality/Charisma: The Mayor is a sharp individual in many respects, and I expect this to play well in many of the environments that college coaches must frequent. He’ll impress donors at fundraising events. He’ll impress mom and dad in Joe Recruit’s living room. And he’ll probably look pretty sharp in a suit roaming the floor of Hilton Coliseum. I expect to see a glimpse of this when he’s introduced as the Cyclones’ new head coach.
Talent Evaluation: While he hasn’t recruited college athletes, he’s scouted for NBA talent. This may not translate directly, but it won’t hurt Hoiberg on the recruiting trail when Joe Recruit tells him about his dreams to play in the NBA. Hoiberg can tell him that he knows what it takes to play at that level, and he’ll do what it takes to help prepare his players.
Longevity: Hoiberg is still a young guy (age 37) with many years in front of him. If we’re all lucky enough that this thing works out, he’ll probably stick around for awhile and would likely retire in Ames. If that happens, Cyclone fans will have probably enjoyed two to three decades of good basketball. A man can dream, right?!
So, while a surprising hire, it’s not without its reasons to be excited. Jamie Pollard is gambling here, and I think even he would admit as much with a gun to his head. But this gamble has a potentially enormous upside. Five to ten years from now, this hire will be viewed as either a bust or a stroke of pure genius. There are many questions to be answered, both in the long term and the short term. Who will make up his staff? What style of play will The Mayor bring to Ames as a head coach? How will the current players and recruits relate to him?
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to hear what he has to say at his press conference tomorrow.