Iowa State's golden era doesn't have to end with Fred Hoiberg leaving

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Jeff Eisenberg
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, right, presents the championship trophy to Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg following an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in the finals of the Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, March 14, 2015. Iowa State defeated Kansas 70-66. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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If saying goodbye to the university where he has become an icon feels at all bittersweet to newly hired Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, at least he can take solace in the health of the program he is leaving behind.

Iowa State basketball has grown strong enough under Hoiberg that its golden era doesn't have to end with the departure of its golden boy.

Whoever Iowa State's new coach is will take over a program that has progressed remarkably quickly since 2010 when athletic director Jamie Pollard risked the future of a success-starved program on a beloved alum who had never coached at any level before. Hoiberg transformed the Cyclones into a perennial Big 12 contender, leading them to four NCAA tournament bids and back-to-back conference tournament titles the past two years.

Enough talent returns from last season's 25-win team that Iowa State will begin next year in the top 10 in the polls regardless of who its new coach is. The Cyclones also have strong brand recognition among recruits because of their free-flowing style of play and an enthusiastic fan base that has helped Hilton Coliseum regain its reputation as a house of horrors for opposing teams.

Of the many candidates to succeed Hoiberg, his top assistant T.J. Otzelberger might be the most obvious choice. Otzelberger is a proven recruiter who returned to Iowa State this spring after spending a couple years on Washington coach Lorenzo Romar's staff.

UTEP coach Tim Floyd and Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek are two other coaches with Iowa State ties who could draw interest from Pollard. He could also make a run at established mid-major coaches like Murray State's Steve Prohm or Stephen F. Austin's Brad Underwood should he decide that a connection to Iowa State is unimportant to him.

The best choice will be a coach who can handle the pressure of following a revered coach, design a scheme to capitalize on the current talent-laden roster and find a way to recruit to a school that traditionally hasn't attracted elite prospects.

The state of Iowa is not an especially fertile recruiting ground, nor do its schools even typically land its best in-state prospects. The last two Iowa-born McDonald's All-Americans, Marcus Paige and Harrison Barnes, both went to North Carolina, while fellow Iowa products Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Raef LaFrenz all starred at Kansas in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The way in which Hoiberg circumvented that problem was by turning Iowa State into a popular destination for talented transfers in need of a second chance, from Chris Allen, to Royce White, to Will Clyburn, to DeAndre Kane, to Jameel McKay. More recently, Hoiberg also pursued impact recruits out of high school as well because the Cyclones had grown in stature enough to land some of them.

The new coach would be wise to maintain that formula. It has produced one of the best runs in Iowa State basketball history, one that doesn't have to end even with Hoiberg on his way to Chicago.

When Pollard gambled by hiring Hoiberg in 2010, he had only a downtrodden program in search of its first winning season in five years to pitch. Now he can sell prospective coaches on a top 10-caliber roster and program with a proven formula for winning.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!