Outside the men’s room: Re-election

By Kirk Haaland, Contributor Fred Hoiberg? Conventional wisdom amongst basketball brains has always scoffed at the notion. The hometown hero coming back to be an assistant coach has long been the dream of many born and bred Cyclones, but vaulting past that scenario to be the new head man is a true shocker. So much so, I had never even given it serious consideration until Tuesday afternoon.

At Iowa State you have to do things differently. You can’t lure coaches in with gigantic paychecks anymore and you can’t always take the conventional route. Doing things outside the scope of normalcy has to be the modus operandi. The flip-side? Risk.

There is certainly risk making a hire of this nature. There is risk in making any hire. Four years ago, Iowa State was lauded by the national media for picking a “sure thing” in Greg McDermott. How could it not work with his Iowa ties, roots in the area, and success he had experienced at UNI? It obviously didn’t work. There is just no way to accurately predict beforehand how these things turn out.

Another national media note; they are going to take the desperation angle and run with it in many cases, when in fact the way this hire was made is the only way for it to not appear desperate. Consider the botched men’s basketball coaching search of 2003, we offer the job to roughly five people all out in the open and get publically shot down. Hiring Fred Hoiberg at that point would have been desperation. Announcing it less than 24 hours after your previous coach was confirmed to be leaving is the best way to make this hire. Having said that, if you think the coaching search and information gathering process started any time in the past five days you are sorely mistaken.

Here’s an attempt to debunk the most common questions from the detractors:

How can a Big 12 school hire a coach with zero coaching experience? The hidden question that is actually being asked here is, “can he teach”? That’s what coaching is, it’s demonstrating techniques and developing skills. You don’t have to have coaching experience to understand those skills, but you do have to be a good teacher. That is the true great unknown here.

As far as strategy and “x’s & o’s” go, there is no doubt he has been picking up tidbits from great coaches like Johnny Orr, Tim Floyd, and Larry Brown during his college and 10-year NBA careers to implement upon this opportunity. This isn’t some new fangled idea that came up in the past five days for Fred, this has always been in the back of his mind and he has likely been waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Can he recruit? I have a hard time believing he can’t, especially in the state of Iowa that is loaded with talent the next three years—at least relatively speaking for Iowa, with around 10 division one prospects, including another potential number one recruit in the nation with Peter Jok in the class of 2013. You almost have to imagine that the moms of some of these in-state recruits just had a rush of excitement over getting to be wooed by Fred Hoiberg. Let’s face it; it never hurts to have a good looking guy like Fred to win over the mothers of recruits.

Greater recruiting needs will still be relying upon T.J. Otzelberger who has been at ISU since McDermott came to Ames in 2006. T.J. will get a bump to Associate Head Coach and a pay raise to boot. If you want to try to understand his qualifications, all you need to know is that he has brought in essentially all the talent in the past four years. Keeping him has also insured a roster for the next two years that will have qualified players readily available.

Can he run a program with his experience? Hoiberg’s career in the NBA after retirement is a big factor as well. Do you think a guy that has been an Assistant GM and Vice President of Basketball Operations is capable of evaluating talent? Do you think there are decision making processes, hiring processes, and management issues that he has experience that will be a valuable asset? I do.

He will no doubt need support with handling NCAA issues though. Hiring a staff to help along the way with such things as recruiting rules, booster guidelines, practice limits, academic support, etc… will be absolutely necessary. If you get a chance listen to the Miller & Deace podcast from 1460 KXNO this morning. They address a ton of these issues and offer some excellent insights.

Is this just a PR move? No. It’s an auxiliary benefit. It will definitely unite more of the fan base than any other possible hire. It will unite the community and more people will give more time to Iowa State basketball with Hoiberg in charge than any other potential coach. If you think Iowan’s support Iowan’s to succeed wait until you see the support that Hoiberg will garner on every level of the Iowa State community.

How can you fire a legend? The easy answer? Hoiberg will have unmitigated success and this bridge will never have to be crossed. Truthfully this is something that is painful to discuss right now, but it almost seems necessary. Firing Dan McCarney was difficult but it was done. You can’t possibly have read all of this and think that I honestly believe firing Hoiberg would be of similar magnitude, it’s not. It would be much, much more difficult. I think everyone involved will worry about this should it ever be necessary. I don’t waste time worrying about what ifs they may never come to fruition. If you have to move on then you move on. I don’t believe a failed coaching tenure would tarnish his legacy at all.

While talking this angle up appears to be the fun one for the national guys and naysayers, has anyone mentioned yet that while there are different and more substantial risks to this for him that there is also a higher ceiling for him than any other candidate?

I will also say, that I am not convinced in the least that this hire is anymore risky than say, Gene Chizik. He was experienced with developing players and one of the most highly thought of assistant coaches at the time. He had never been a head coach and people had no idea what kind of style he would implement offensively or defensively and no one knew if he would be able to recruit to Ames. He obviously also never identified with the university or understood what it would take to win at Iowa State.

Those are many of the same questions we have with Hoiberg. He doesn’t have a track record of coaching to lean on, but he has a whole lot of appealing experience. You have to believe he will be able to at the very least recruit the state of Iowa and hopefully T.J. and others can provide the necessary contacts to recruit regionally and nationally. And finally, if anyone understands Iowa State it is Fred Hoiberg.

Maybe you don’t agree with any of this mess, in which case I would have to direct you to a replay of the press conference. New coaches are undefeated with introductory press conferences but that was one impressive showing. Fred made it distinctly clear that he knows what his limitations are with the lack of coaching experience and addressed that he will need to hire experienced and veteran assistants to help fill the role. He also adequately sold the pool of candidates that he will be pulling from.

One of my favorite references was the “I have every NBA GM on speed dial,” it’s hard to believe that those types of connections carry no weight at all. The statements about finding players and having connections to guys that know of the players should be reassuring to many, including ties to European camps.

There is most definitely a learning curve here, a scary thought for a program that was being patient with the last regime, continuously. I have no idea how long that learning curve will lat, but it should be visible based off of progress in the first few seasons.

There is one other unmistakable issue. Fond memories of Hoiberg and the player he was for ISU got him this job. He has vast experience that is applicable to help him along the way but it is the memories and the love of the fans that made this happen. We will always reminisce about the days of yesteryear but from this point forward we do need to separate Fred Hoiberg the player and Iowa State icon from Fred Hoiberg the coach. It will be difficult and they are most certainly intertwined but the overall health of the program must come first.

Fred Hoiberg’s life to this point has been a storybook tale of a young lad that was a hometown hero before he ever even played a game at Iowa State. He was a ball boy and watched Johnny Orr transform a program that had previously been on life support. He was convinced to play his college basketball at home and ended up with All-American honors. Perhaps the most impactful chapter of his story has yet to begin.