Truth be told, I had no idea what to think.
I’m speaking of what was going through my frazzled mind when I first heard that Fred Hoiberg had been named Iowa State’s head basketball coach – exactly four years ago today.
I’ll never forget that afternoon. It was the, “ready or not, it’s time to deliver (even though I was clearly in over my head)," live radio moment of my career.
I was filling in as a host on 1460 KXNO’s Matt and Miller Show. Ken Miller was out of town. Miller’s co-host at the time, Matt Perrault, was in Omaha covering Greg McDermott’s (small world) opening press conference as the new head coach at Creighton.
Then WHO-TV personality (now at ESPN) Chris Hassel and I had been given the keys to Des Moines’ sports talk radio station from 4-7. We began the first hour with typical meaningless banter that you would expect from a couple of sophomoric sports guys. It was around 4:30 when my phone started exploding.
“Former player,” one text from a source hinted.
My hope was that Jared Homan was the guy (that’s a joke but seriously, how amazing would that be?).
Hoiberg was the first man that came to me. Just the day before while hosting the same radio program, WOI’s Dave Zawilinski and I had tossed around the idea of bringing The Mayor back to Ames mainly as a dialogue starter with callers and nothing more. We didn’t actually see this happening. The intangibles were there. Jamie Pollard needed to bring somebody in who could rally a defeated and fractured fan base. However, Hoiberg had never coached before. From that standpoint, this scenario didn’t make any sense.
Jeff Hornacek was the only other name I could come up with. However, I hadn’t seen Hornacek in Ames for a long, long time. That seemed like a major reach.
It had to be Hoiberg, and it was. Then WOI sports director (and Voice of the Cyclones) John Walters broke the news.
At that point, Hassel had to leave (to work on the story for his day job). As a green sports talk radio rookie, I took over the microphone by my lonesome in what was probably one of the most listened to shows in KXNO history (not because of me but due to the scenario). In media, coaching searches always draw big numbers. The Mayor’s return to Iowa State was no different. It is still one of the top five highest trafficked days in the history of this website.
On a very surface level, I loved the hire from the start. Like all of you, I grew up watching Hoiberg play. What’s not to like about the guy? But I think the more everybody thought about the situation, we all had the, “Dude has never coached a game,” thought in the back of our minds, right? Objectively, how couldn’t you?
Matt Perrault, a man who I still consider a friend, had surprisingly returned to co-host the last hour and a half of the program with me and to put it kindly, he had his doubts. Love or hate the guy, Perrault, a sports talk veteran, knows how to get the listener’s attention. Golly gee, he did that day.
Some of his remarks led to a legendary exchange (some might call it a scuffle) between Perrault and a guest who I had booked pre-Perrault’s return, now Cyclones.TV head man and a mentor of mine, John Walters.
I could get into details of the duel but I prefer not to. I’m not about digging up old drama. It was a heated moment. The two men had differing opinions and that was it. My role was to play moderator, which was difficult for a green 25-year old broadcaster fresh out of southwest Iowa.
The point to the story I just told is that four years ago today, really, did anybody see the Hoiberg hire working out as well as it has? Be honest…
I am an optimistic person by nature. Unless it has to do with the Minnesota Vikings, I consider myself as a glass half-full type of guy. There is really no other way to live. Even with that upbeat point of view, I saw Hoiberg maybe getting Iowa State back to an NCAA Tournament in 3-4 years. Maybe. By gosh, there was a LOT of rebuilding that had to be done for a program that hadn’t had a whiff of success since 2005.
The fan base was disjointed and that is where it had to start. Hoiberg had to rally the troops. Other than Dana Altman’s debacle at Arkansas, I’ve yet to see a coach lose his opening press conference. As you’d expect, Hoiberg knocked his out of the freaking park.
I don’t know if I should go as far as to say that Hoiberg “changed the game” in college basketball, but he has definitely been a trend setter when it comes to the “transfer era.” Much like John Calipari taking advantage of college basketball’s one-and-done rule, Hoiberg has exploited the recent uptick of blue-chippers transferring from one school to another. (Don’t hate the player; hate the game.) It isn’t for everybody, but Hoiberg has proven time and time against that this route works in Ames, Iowa.
To me though, the biggest thing that Hoiberg has done in four years is grow Iowa State’s fan base, not only by numbers but mentally as well. Let’s all be honest with ourselves: Ames isn’t exactly Austin, Texas. The number of high-level donors is trivial. The weather sucks and a stroll down central campus doesn’t exactly look like Hollywood Boulevard.
As a fan base, the Cyclone Nation isn’t used to having nice things.
By all means, Hoiberg appears to be a rare gem, a rock star in his profession if you will. During his four years at the helm, the man has been courted by some of the top college jobs in the game and the National Basketball Association as well. He keeps saying, “No.”
Remember that old athletic department marketing campaign?
“I chose Iowa State.”
If I were in charge of marketing in the Jacobson Building, I’d bring that back today with Hoiberg doing all of the talking. He represents more than the hometown boy saving a program from obscurity. In football, Iowa State wants to do well. Bowl games are the goal and ticket records in each of the past three years are proof that interest is up. But a realistic human being knows that winning a national title is probably never going to happen.
Hoiberg however has given you all hope that the “big time” is very reachable in hoops on a consistent basis. Expectations are now higher than they have ever been. I’ve covered Iowa State for almost a decade now and I’ve always heard fans, coaches and administrators talk about creating a culture change. There’s been a lot of talk. I feel like Hoiberg has been the first person to actually implement that.
A Round of 64 defeat in the NCAA Tournament would likely disappoint most fans these days whereas five years ago, you would have given up your first born child to see the Cardinal and Gold dance. Iowa State just went to the Sweet 16 but today, you all want more. It’s because Hoiberg wants more and refreshingly, he openly talks about it. Ask Hoiberg about what losing Georges Niang did to his program in this year’s Big Dance. Chances are, the words “Final Four” will be mentioned, as well they should be.
The point of this week’s Musings isn’t to put a simple basketball coach on a throne and to bow at his feet. That isn’t the case at all. The point here is for each and every one of you to reminisce back to four years ago from today. What did you think about the hire then? How have your emotions changed since? How has your attitude towards Iowa State basketball changed?
I just told you my story. Let’s all have a discussion about it. CLICK HERE to visit a thread I created in which I’d love for this conversation to take place.