The world of Nebrasketball changed forever on Saturday March 30, 2019. It was the day the Huskers and Fred Hoiberg made it official. Bill Moos is tabbing the former NBA and NCAA coach to lead Nebraska to something no one else has: a March Madness victory (or, ya know, six). But what are his credentials and why does everyone love this hire so much?
Fred Hoiberg was born in Lincoln, but due to his father being a professor at Iowa State, grew up in Ames. His parents were both graduates of UNL, however, and one of his grandfathers was a professor at the school, too. His other grandfather? Jerry Bush, a former head coach for the Huskers’ hoops squad, whose record we better hope Fred doesn’t imitate.
After leading his high school to a state championship and being named “Mr. Basketball” of Iowa, Hoiberg chose to stay in his hometown and attend Iowa State, where he would also play basketball. He played all four seasons of his collegiate career and currently sits in the top seven of nearly every stat in the Cyclone record book. His number, 32, is also retired.
He was All-Big Eight in his junior and senior season, but it was something that he accomplished his sophomore year that still sticks to this day. Hoiberg received a good amount of write-in votes in the Ames mayoral race, which led to his nickname that still sticks to this date: the Mayor.
After his Cyclone career, Hoiberg made the jump to the NBA, getting drafted by the Indiana Pacers, and eventually playing for the Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves. His best season was liekly 1990-91, where he started 37 games and averaged nine points, four rebounds and four assists for the post-Jordan and Pippen Bulls. In his final season in the Association, he led all players in three-point percentage, but was not invited to the three-point contest, which is the only time that has happened.
His professional career may not have been as fruitful as collegiate one, but this interview before a Timberwolves exhibition in Omaha should give Husker fans some joy.
Fred Hoiberg is a big Nebraska Football Fan! Check out this interview from 2003, before a Minnesota Timberwolves exhibition game at Omaha’s Qwest Center. pic.twitter.com/iUYJPvJhu5— Ross Jernstrom WOWT (@RossJernstrom) March 30, 2019
Hoiberg retired from the NBA in 2005, mainly due to surgery he had on an enlarged aortic root. He immediately took a front office job with the Timberwolves after retiring, where he stayed for five years.
In 2010, the Mayor made his triumphant return to Ames, replacing Greg McDermott (heading to Creighton) as the head basketball coach. His first season, while underwhelming at 16-16, proved to be a building block the team needed. In just his second year, the Cyclones won 23 games and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.
The Cyclones would win a game in March that year and followed that up with another 23-win season and a Round of 32 appearance. Hoiberg signed a 10-year, $20 million extension with Iowa State. It was worth every penny. The Cyclones reached 28 wins and rode that momentum to the Sweet Sixteen. Unfortunately, next season did not live up to the expectations. While they still won 25 games, a first-round exit to 13-seeded UAB would end up being Hoiberg’s last game as a Cyclone. He would eventually take the Chicago Bulls head coaching position.
Hoiberg brought an exciting pace to Ames, as the Cyclones finished in the 28 in offensive rating in his last three years. Tim Miles’ best rating would have been Hoiberg’s fifth-best. They were even top five in points per game from 2012-14. Unfortunately, the defense was less of a focus. The Cyclones best defensive rating in his five-year stint was good enough to finish 109th in the nation.
Moving on to his former team, the Chicago Bulls, Hoiberg inherited an interesting situation. He had a team not built to run his space-and-pace, three-point-centric offense, as their best perimeter threat was the underwhelming Doug McDermott. While the Bulls finished 42-40 his first year, they missed the playoffs.
The next year, the Bulls lost three starters and signed Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo, two players who are even further from his system. While they did take a surprising 2-0 series lead on the Boston Celtics, they fell apart and were eliminated. That offseason, the Bulls blew their team up and created a core built around the uber-athlete Zach LaVine and sharpshooting-big man Lauri Markannen.
While they showed more promise with no results the next year, it wasn’t good enough. And following a 5-19 start to the 2018 season, Hoiberg was fired and replaced by the tough and gritty Jim Boylen.
While his Bulls teams were efficient on offense, their improvement and defensive ineptitude ultimately spelled the end for Hoiberg. For what it is worth, the Bulls offense and defense immediately got worse during Boylen’s tenure so far.
So that leaves Hoiberg without a job, left to watch his son and the Michigan State Spartans from the stands. That is, until a job with ties to his family and his past, opened up at the perfect time.
Hoiberg will become the ninth coach in Nebrasketball history. And something tells me, he might just be the most successful.