Oddly, despite his reputation as a shooter and little else during an 11-year NBA career, Fred Hoiberg developed into an excellent rebounder for his trim, 6-4 size. The obvious correlation here is that he’s now charged with helping a Chicago Bulls franchise rebound from a mess that is entirely of its own creation.
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Hoiberg was hired as Chicago’s head coach on Monday, just four days after the firing of Tom Thibodeau and following a sham of a coaching “search” that everyone involved knew wouldn’t take place in reality.
The former Bulls swingman and Iowa State Cyclones head coach will be making his NBA debut as a coach in 2015-16, with no previous head or assistant coaching gig to his credit. His was a much-admired and well-liked “players coach” while with the Cyclones, never contending but leading his team to a .673 winning percentage and two Big 12 titles. He won that conference’s Coach of the Year award in 2012.
Hoiberg entered the NBA already fitted with a nickname, “The Mayor,” given to him after he received a handful of write-in votes for mayor of Ames, Iowa, during his junior season at Iowa State. After playing sparingly for the Indiana Pacers for four seasons he signed on with the Bulls in 1999 as the team struggled through an endless rebuilding project following the team’s decision to chase the Michael Jordan-led championship core away (before pathetically attempting to bring them all back).
After dutifully slugging it out on a series of lacking Bulls squads, the off guard was a key reserve on one of the more unheralded teams of the modern era – the 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves – prior to walking away from active play in 2005 due to a heart condition. He officially retired in 2006, and worked in the Wolves’ front office for four years. Hoiberg underwent heart surgery in 2005 to correct the aortic valve in his heart, and was told that eventually he’d have to undergo further surgery in order to replace it. He eventually underwent that surgery earlier in 2015.
The former Cyclone replaced Greg McDermott as Iowa State coach in 2010, as McDermott moved on to coach at Creighton. McDermott’s son, Doug McDermott, was a Chicago lottery pick in 2014; one the Bulls gave up several picks in order to move up to draft. The rookie was yanked from the Chicago rotation early in his first season and wasn’t even given token minutes by then-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, much to the front office’s consternation.
Gar Forman, the Bulls’ general manager, was an assistant coach at Iowa State during Hoiberg’s senior season. Forman also currently lives in the same house that Hoiberg lived during his playing days with the Bulls. Forman also drafted Doug McDermott. Clearly you can see where all this is going.
The embarrassing parting of ways with Thibodeau and the duplicity behind the coaching “search” that the Bulls swear only started late last week doesn’t take away from the fact that the Thibodeau firing was a necessary one, and that Hoiberg should be a fantastic fit in Chicago. The Bulls have a curious habit of only hiring head coaches who haven’t worked at that NBA position before, dating back to hiring Doug Collins in 1986, but Hoiberg doesn’t exactly give off the sort of huckster whiff that Tim Floyd came to town with in 1998 as “president of basketball operations.”
The new Bulls coach comes with a reputation as an offensive mastermind, a needed salve after the staid workings of the previous administration.
Chicago ranked 11th in offensive efficiency during the 2014-15 regular season, a serious underachievement that was only magnified during a ridiculously feeble postseason showing on that end. It’s true that the team’s offensive performance was hamstrung by Joakim Noah’s injury woes (Noah is still recovering from the “minor” knee surgery he underwent 13 months ago), to say nothing of the ubiquity of Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose’s overreliance on the three-point shot, but any little bit will help. Bulls fans, for too long, have been sick of watching their team dive into an obvious and dispassionate set with ten seconds having already ticked off of the shot clock.
It is fair to conclude that Chicago blew perhaps its best chance at winning a championship this season, merely playing out the string after nearly going up 3-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers during the Eastern Conference semis as the Thibodeau distractions raged, but an uptick under Hoiberg wouldn’t be out of the realm of the possible. The fact that he might be a company man shouldn’t take away from his clear talents.
It’s an obvious selection, one you’re allowed to roll your eyes at, but it’s also the correct one.
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