If you’re a believer in destiny, maybe Fred Hoiberg was always supposed to be the head basketball coach at Nebraska.
Hoiberg, who received a scholarship offer in high school to play football for legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, whose grandfather Jerry Bush was responsible for the best win in the history of Nebraska men’s basketball and whose other grandfather Otto Hoiberg spent 30 years at the university as a professor, was introduced Tuesday afternoon as the 28th men’s basketball coach in school history.
After being fired from his position as head coach of the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 3, 2018, ending his four-year tenure with the team, Hoiberg had a two-month period of self-reflection and evaluation for his next career move, while the rumor mill connected Hoiberg and Nebraska long before the coach officially inked his contract with the school.
During Hoiberg’s time away from coaching, a coaching friend called him after his team had a “miserable” week and asked Hoiberg what he was doing.
“I’m sitting here in my robe doing a puzzle, watching ‘The Price is Right,'” Hoiberg recalled.
Hoiberg could’ve waited for next year’s coaching carousel – for college and the NBA – but Nebraska was the right fit for the 46-year-old coach, who said he wants this to be the last stop in his coaching career.
He wasn’t going to jump back to the sideline if he didn’t see the right opportunity available.
“I did talk to some other schools and I don’t know what NBA possibilities are going to open up,” he said.
The relationship between Nebraska and Hoiberg started with Nebraska Men’s Golf Coach Mark Hankins, who told Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos earlier this year to keep Hoiberg’s name in mind as an option to lead the men’s basketball program.
Moos asked how Hankins knew Hoiberg.
“He was my classmate, roommate and great friend in college,” Moos recalled Hankins saying, yet another connection between Hoiberg and the University of Nebraska. Perhaps the most unfortunate Huskers connection is that Hoiberg and his predecessor Tim Miles have a “really good relationship,” according to Hoiberg.
The two talked just two days ago and Miles had recently hired Hoiberg’s niece to join the men’s basketball staff at Nebraska.
Moos and Hoiberg officially met on March 4 in Chicago, the day before the Huskers dropped to 15-15 on the season with a loss at Michigan State. Ironically, Hoiberg’s son Jack is a redshirt freshman who’s a walk-on for the Spartans.
Hoiberg dismissed the notion that his deal to become Nebraska’s next head coach has been done for weeks. He said he ultimately decided he wanted to accept the job just four days ago – March 29.
“The facilities are as nice as any in the country,” Hoiberg said. “The fan support is second to none.”
Now the question is how successful can Hoiberg make a fairly lifeless basketball program at a once-proud football school.
The Huskers have made the NCAA Tournament just seven times in school history – and just once since the high school players Hoiberg will be recruiting were born – and they’re the only team from the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 that hasn’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
As it stands, the best team in school history was Danny Nee’s 1991 squad that went 26-8, earned a No. 3 seed and lost in the first round. That’s a pretty low bar to surpass for the 2012 Big 12 Coach of the Year, who had a 115-56 record in five seasons at Iowa State, which included a pair of Big 12 Tournament titles, four NCAA Tournament appearances, four tournament wins and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2014.
In short, if Hoiberg replicated his five-year tenure at Iowa State in the next five years at Nebraska, it would immediately become the greatest era in Huskers basketball.
A common theme in Hoiberg’s opening press conference was what expectations will be, should be and can be in Lincoln. One reporter even cited to Hoiberg the statistic that Nebraska is the lone power conference program without an NCAA Tournament win.
Ultimately, Hoiberg’s response was, “I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t expect to turn it around.”
But he just met the team’s returning players for the first time Tuesday afternoon.
The team’s top three scorers last season – James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson Jr. – were seniors. The Huskers’ leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer, junior Isaiah Roby, will reportedly test the NBA Draft waters. Fifth-leading scorer Thomas Allen is in the transfer portal.
Hoiberg will conduct individual meetings with his new players on Friday as the Huskers continue the get-to-know-you phase of Hoiberg’s tenure and begin to outline goals and expectations.
He has already talked to all three of Nebraska’s 2019 commits – Mika Adams-Woods, Jervay Green and Akol Arop – and he’s hitting the road Wednesday to meet them in person and hopefully secure their commitments.
That’s where making efficient use of the transfer market, something Hoiberg excelled at when coaching Iowa State, could be a major key for Nebraska, especially in a state whose highest-rated high school prospect in the class of 2019 is ranked outside of the top 200 nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Hoiberg was on the forefront of capitalizing on the transfer market at Iowa State earlier this decade.
Now, he says, the scale of transfers is the greatest difference in college basketball from when he was hired to coach the Cyclones in 2010 to today.
“There’s more transfers in the game now than there was … there’s 1,000 kids in that transfer portal,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of schools that were taking transfers. Now it’s a pretty big part of teams. That might be as big a thing as any … now you’re competing with a lot more schools I think.”
With lots of holes to fill on his roster, more transfers than ever to choose from and an offensive system to install that’s built around playing with “great pace,” Hoiberg didn’t define his expectations for his program, but his athletic director said he expects Nebraska’s new basketball coach to “be here for a long time.”
“I think once we establish the way we want to play,” Hoiberg said, “we’re going to have a chance.”