When Fred Hoiberg was hired five years ago, my initial reaction was elation. After giving it some thought my prevailing question was, “How in the heck would you ever fire Fred Hoiberg?”
That was the state of the Iowa State program at the time, a revolving door of disappointments, players and coaches. During a stretch from 2006-2011, Iowa State was the only BCS program to not make a post-season. Not an NCAA, NIT, CIT or CBI tournament. They were the only one of 76 BCS teams. At the time Hoiberg was hired, Iowa State returned just four scholarship players and was in the basement of the best conference in America. It was a monumental challenge.
Yet Iowa State’s “golden boy” took a leap of faith from a cushy front-office NBA job to return home and take over a once proud program. It was a ballsy move for Jamie Pollard and Iowa State to offer Hoiberg, but also a tremendous risk for Hoiberg, a man that had never failed at anything, to take control of his alma mater in such rough shape. How would it look to his pristine image in central Iowa if Hoiberg failed and The Mayor was let go?
Here we are a half-decade later in a scenario that few could have ever guessed. Hoiberg is leaving Ames in completely different circumstances. And pardon the frankness, but it still sucks. To Iowa Staters, this is as if Prince William decided he no longer wanted to be the next king of England and moved to the United States. The backlash of disappointment is expected. Hoiberg is “one of us” and we assume wants the best for Iowa State forever. Based on the results on the floor the last five years, he appears to be best for Iowa State. It makes for the perfect story. Hometown boy leads hometown team to unprecedented heights. Unfortunately, life rarely is so simple.
It is clear Hoiberg’s personal and professional goals don’t match the one’s Cyclone fans projected onto him. Some are calling Hoiberg selfish for pursuing the NBA. But it is probably just as selfish as a fan to keep Hoiberg from a life he prefers so he can achieve the success that makes us as Iowa State fans happy. Yes, Hoiberg made some headline catching comments over the years that sting in retrospect, phrases like “dream job” and “hope to be here until I retire.” You can focus on those and be angry at the supposed flip-flop. But times and priorities change and press conference words made for public consumption are often just words. That doesn’t reduce his impact.
Hoiberg departs after a tenure that was the 2nd longest basketball head coaching tenure in Ames since 1971. Only Johnny Orr was at Iowa State longer in the last 45 years. He is the only coach to take Iowa State to four straight NCAA Tournaments. And he leaves in his wake a team of players that are still capable of doing unprecedented things.
Men like Georges Niang, Naz Long, Monte Morris, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas can define their own Iowa State narrative. Next season is no longer Fred Hoiberg’s Disney movie. It is the players that can take the program that Hoiberg built and clear the next hurdle. No matter who Jamie Pollard tabs as the next head coach, the rock of the Cyclone program is the core of Cyclones that will return. 2015-2016 belongs to them.
Georges Niang is just shy of 500 points from moving into third all time on the Iowa State scoring charts. The man he would pass: Fred Hoiberg. When all is said and done, Niang will see his No. 31 jersey right next to Hoiberg’s No. 32 in the Hilton rafters. I for one thank Fred Hoiberg for bringing in Niang and the rest of these great Cyclones and for making Cyclone Basketball fun and relevant again.
Iowa State never had to fire Fred Hoiberg, but the Hoiball era is done, the too-perfect story has come to an end. It is sad to see someone that brought Cyclone Nation such enjoyment over the past five years move on to something else. We all have experienced unthinkable highs over that time period thanks to The Mayor and it is difficult to ponder the end of that.
Feel what you want about Fred Hoiberg and whether or not he is making the right decision at the right time. But Cyclone Basketball can still be successful. Don’t be afraid of the future just because you liked the past. There is a proud and determined group of players left in Ames that are now the headliners. It is their time to be front and center.