It’s no secret that Illinois head coach John Groce is on the hot seat. The Illini are putting together a nice run to end the season, but the fan base is nevertheless growing impatient with Groce’s failure to produce wins over the last five years. Many are calling for AD Josh Whitman to find a replacement for the fifth-year head coach. Despite their recent struggles, Illinois has a rich basketball history and could potentially be the most attractive job available this offseason, given nothing shocking happens at a place like Indiana.
So who are some candidates to replace the head honcho in Champaign? As a part of our coaching profile series, today we examine current Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg.
Hoiberg has a very brief coaching past, but all of his stops have been impressive and well-known gigs. He was named the state of Iowa’s “Mr. Basketball” in 1991 before committing to the Iowa State Cyclones that summer. He played for three season in Ames and was named a First-Team All-Big Eight player in 1995. His number was retired following his graduation from Iowa State, and is arguably the most popular player in the program’s history. Hoiberg garnered the nickname “the Mayor” after receiving numerous write-in votes in the 1993 Iowa mayoral race.
Hoiberg went on to be selected in the second round of the 1995 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers. After four years in Indianapolis Hoiberg signed as a free agent with the Bulls, where he averaged 30 minutes and nine points per game over four seasons in the Windy City. He finished his playing career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he led the entire league in three-point shooting percentage. After suffering several injuries that required surgery, Hoiberg announced in 2006 that he would retire from the NBA and join the Timberwolves’ front office staff. He remained in that position for four years.
In 2010 Hoiberg was approached about and accepted the Iowa State coaching job. Returning to his alma mater, Hoiberg hit the ground running as coach of the Cyclones. In his second year at the helm, he led the team to a 23-11 record and an NCAA tournament berth for first the time in six years. The following season saw an identical record and another postseason appearance. The 2013-14 year was one to remember for Hoiberg; he took Iowa State to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2000, eventually losing to the UConn Huskies who would go on to win the national championship. His final season in Ames saw another Big 12 tournament championship, followed up by a disappointing first round tournament loss to 14th-seeded UAB.
Rumors began to swirl around Hoiberg as the Cyclones entered the offseason. His name was brought up in several prominent NBA roles but he eventually accepted the head job in Chicago to be the next Bulls coach. Things haven’t gone very well for Hoiberg as of yet; his team missed the playoffs last season and are currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
No direct ties to the Illinois program, but Hoiberg has spent plenty of time recruiting in the midwest and now obviously coaching in Chicago, so he knows the area very well.
1. Brought success to Iowa State
Hoiberg might have been the most popular coach in the state of Iowa during his time with the Cyclones. He was nicknamed “the Mayor” after bringing fame and success back to Iowa State, including a Sweet Sixteen run in 2014. He was nothing short of amazing in Ames, which makes him one of the most talked-about names in the coaching market whenever there’s an opening. He’s a proven winner at the college level, which leaves very few questions about his X’s and O’s abilities. His dynamic offenses and stifling defenses at Iowa State showed his prowess as a head coach, and it was even more impressive considering the Cyclones gig was his first at the college head coaching level.
2. Midwestern ties
Even though he doesn’t have any direct ties to the Illini, Hoiberg has been all over the midwest. His time at Iowa State has made him a legend in Ames, and now he’s the face of one of the most famous NBA franchises in the league. He knows the recruiting landscape in the midwest like the back of his hand, which is a huge plus for anyone being considered for a Big Ten job. Some of the candidates on our list have similar coaching resumes to Hoiberg, but few have spent quite as much time in the Illinois area as he has.
3. Name value
Hoiberg brings a pretty strong reputation to the recruiting trail. He’s well-known for being “the Mayor” in Ames and now he’s also recognized as the Bulls head coach. Any college recruit who lives in Illinois and doesn’t know who Hoiberg is isn’t paying attention. His college and professional resume can’t be understated when it comes to entering the living rooms of high school prospects. The only remaining question is whether or not Hoiberg is ready to return from the NBA following his rough tenure with the Bulls. That doesn’t ruin his name value, although. Any coach who’s been around NBA stars like Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade automatically gets more to talk about during a recruiting pitch.
1. He’s in the NBA
This is the biggest road block to a potential Hoiberg hire. The NBA season finishes much later than the college season does, and if the Bulls make the playoffs, which it looks like they will, Hoiberg might not be available to talk until mid-April. That’s a lot longer than Josh Whitman would want to wait if he lets Groce go in early March. Considering how important next year’s top ten recruiting class is, it would be a really unwise choice to make those kids wait another month and a half before revealing who their head coach will be. The only way this issue gets resolved is if the Bulls front office or Hoiberg himself decide to make a move before the end of the season. That seems extremely unlikely, although with the Bulls front office you can’t count any strange decisions out.
2. He hates recruiting
This is a strange anecdote that most former college coaches won’t admit. But Hoiberg has as much as come out and said that he hated the college recruiting game.
. @CodyWesterlund: "Fred (Hoiberg) hated recruiting at Iowa State." Loves game planning, game night and being around family.— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) February 21, 2017
It’s understandable; the constant 24/7 grind of the recruiting trail can be tiresome for a coaching staff. But Hoiberg never managed to get four of five-star prospects at Iowa State. Even though he was able to develop some underrated recruits and pick the guys he thought “fit his system best,” it seems that Hoiberg has some issues with recruiting, which needs to be a strong suit for the next Illinois head coach.
3. Underwhelming in Chicago
Even though Hoiberg brought a lot of success to Iowa State, his time in the Bulls hasn’t helped his reputation. Only a year and a half in and the Hoiberg Era in Chicago has already had a myriad of frustrating issues, from a lack of team chemistry to confusing trades to a simple lack of wins. Things like this are concerning to hear:
Interesting how many times players have noted an apparent lack of communication with Hoiberg/coaching staff in regard to rotation/minutes.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) February 27, 2017
The Bulls missed the playoffs in his first season and might do the same this year if they continue to lose games. It’s unclear how much of this dysfunction is coming from the Bulls front office versus Hoiberg himself, but Fred’s reputation has taken a big hit from where it was a few years ago, which could be a concern when it comes to recruiting in the Chicagoland area.
Hoiberg brings nice name value and would be a popular “home run!” pick in the eyes of most fans. But I think if you look deeper there are a lot of issues here. He’s admitted he was not a fan of college recruiting; he loves coaching college kids but isn’t as interested in creating relationships with them. That’s a big problem, especially considering the relationships he would need to immediately establish with Jeremiah Tilmon and Trent Frazier to convince them to stay committed to Illinois. There’s no doubt Hoiberg is a good in-game manager and X’s and O’s guy, but the problems he’s had with player relationships in Chicago (Rondo and Butler just to name a few) and his distaste for the recruiting trail make me question whether or not he’d be the right fit in Champaign. Besides that, if he were even interested in the Illinois job it would mean he’d have to start negotiating during the NBA regular season. That would be extremely tricky to navigate and Whitman doesn’t want to wait until late April to name the next head coach. I would be pleased with a Hoiberg hire as well as extremely surprised, but I think once you start to look under the surface here there are a few more concerns than many Illini fans are considering.
Have thoughts on Fred Hoiberg’s (slim) chances of becoming the next head coach at Illinois? Drop by in the comments section below and let us know what you think!