It was one of the worst kept secrets in college basketball. If the Nebraska Cornhuskers were to move on from Tim Miles, the school wanted Fred Hoiberg to be his replacement. Furthermore, if Hoiberg were to find no NBA suitors, he’d prefer a Midwest collegiate destination.
All of these scenarios eventually happened; though a bit longer than the initial reporting inferred, putting an unfortunate ethical dilemma over the entire situation. It’s a conversation for a different time, but just ask yourself this: Isn’t it slightly twisted for a coach’s hiring being leaked while the tenured person is still manning the position?
As for the hiring itself, this signals a swift dynamic change for Nebraska. Miles was a better than competent college basketball coach, but only led the Huskers to one NCAA Tournament in seven seasons. While at Iowa State, Hoiberg led the Cyclones to four trips to the Big Dance in five years. His only season not earning a pair of dancing slippers was his first — one campaign removed from Greg McDermott putting three 15, and one 14, win seasons together.
“We’re all in on basketball, I can tell you that,” athletic director Bill Moos said after the introductory press conference. “I think people will walk away from here today feeling all in as well. It’s going to be a great time.”
You don’t move on from Tim Miles unless the above statement is true. Moreover, that declaration can’t happen unless you actually upgrade at the coaching position, which Nebraska has by bringing in Fred Hoiberg.
Hoiberg’s NBA run will leave some skeptical. As the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, he failed spectacularly. Even if some benefit is extended to Hoiberg for the woefulness of his time in the NBA, pointing fingers to those who built a mismatched roster in Chicago, there’s still few silver linings in his professional coaching cloud.
The positive news? He’s not coming to Nebraska to coach in the NBA. College basketball is such a different game than the NBA, it can be argued it’s barely the same sport, especially when it comes to what a head coach’s job is at each level.
Hoiberg is, without ever truly publicly stating it, known as a guy who disfavors recruiting. It’s one of the presumed reasons he left college basketball in the first place. He is, however, masterful at finding JUCO talent and transfers. On top of that, he has a knack of building balanced rosters through his recruiting of these already experienced players.
If one were to knock Coach K this season, it could be said he did a tremendous job landing all the top recruits, but found it all at redundant positions. After that, he failed to balance RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson. A first-class problem to have, although one that eventually bit Duke in the rear in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s something that rarely happened to Hoiberg while he was with Iowa State. His rosters, and maybe it was accidental luck, always seemed to have balance. And heck, even when he had a larger, position-less sort of talent, Hoiberg would find ways to make the player useful. Georges Niang and Royce White would, at times, effectively play point guard at different points for the Cyclones. Neither were actual point guards.
There’s obviously the allure of playing for Hoiberg as well. Unless something in his coaching system has dramatically changed since his stint with the Bulls, the Big Ten can expect to witness an up-tempo, 3-point heavy program being built in Nebraska.
After that, it’s the theoretical of what a Hoiberg led Nebraska program can become. His introductory meeting with the press wasn’t just about winning with words (though, it was definitely still partially that). He was a guy with options. He chose Nebraska for excellent reason.
“I wouldn’t take this job if I didn’t fully expect to turn it around and win consistently,” Fred Hoiberg said. “Tim did a great job of making basketball exciting here at Nebraska. It’s our job now to go out and be a consistent winner.”
Then there’s the following. Maybe it’s 100 percent what he has to say. Clearly, there’s a shot he doesn’t actually mean it:
“It’s such a thrill for me to be able to walk — even though in a different building — on the same sideline as my grandfather did,” Hoiberg said. “We want this to be our last stop. We feel we can build a program that consistently wins.”
But if he does, and he still has the same knack for what he did with Iowa State, the floor at Nebraska just raised multiple levels. People will eventually argue about the program’s ceiling, but that’s a luxury the Cornhuskers have literally never had.
Hoiball might be dead. Hoibraska is just getting started.
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