The former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls head coach could be just the man to turn the Huskers' fortunes around on the hardwood
Former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg's name has been on the lips of Nebraska basketball fans as a potential replacement for Tim Miles well before last Sunday night's loss to TCU in the second round of the NIT. Well before the past season began, to be truthful. Regardless of how you feel about Miles, his short-handed team's moxie in the latter part of 2018-19 does speak volumes about its passion to make the most of their opportunities. Still, it's important to remember that at one point in the season's youth, Nebraska appeared to be an NCAA Tournament lock versus an eventual fourth seed in the NIT.
With Miles' departure seemingly imminent, Hoiberg appears the ideal replacement. The only other candidate who really stuck out is Buffalo's Nate Oats who recently signed a five-year extension. A Lincoln native and second-round NBA draft pick by the Indiana Pacers, Hoiberg didn’t have much success as a head coach at the professional level, but his efforts at Iowa State can't be ignored.
During five years in Ames, he accumulated a 115-56 record finishing a year with less than 23 wins only once — in his first season. After that, Iowa State finished tied for fourth at worst in the Big 12, made the NCAA tournament every year (winning at least once in four appearances) and were back-to-back conference champions in Hoiberg's final two seasons before departing for the NBA. He also became the school's fastest coach to notch 100 wins, doing so in 148 games.
What Nebraska has going for it in terms of securing him is the monetary windfall they see by simply being a part of the Big Ten Conference — one of the nation’s most competitive in college basketball and lucrative overall. What this means is that the Huskers have the ability to make Hoiberg one of the college game's richest coaches and not bat an eye. He likely doesn't pull in the kind of money that Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky's John Calipari or Ohio State's Chris Holtmann do — all three make north of $7 million and in Krzyzewski's case, $8 million.
However, suggesting that he be mentioned in the same breath as Kansas' Bill Self, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, West Virginia's Bob Huggins, and Michigan's John Beilein isn't out of the question. Nebraska basketball has the foundation to compete in the Big Ten and finally win an NCAA Tournament game or two. Pinnacle Bank Arena — the Huskers' home court — is frequently lauded by visiting announcers as it packs to the brim and is regularly raucous. It simply hasn't been a home for both the right coaching staff and a properly-managed roster to maximize the program's output.
Enter Hoiberg. What he's shown himself capable of is well-established and national pundits see his role as the Big Red's head man as a natural fit. FOX Sports Radio's Aaron Torres weighed in on the potential hire. "Here's the bottom line, Hoiberg is — in all likelihood — the biggest name on the market this year. I know for a fact he was UCLA's first choice, but always thought it was more likely he ended up in the Midwest. The guy is a proven winner with a proven system of not only taking transfers but developing young guys in his program as well, sending guys like Monte Morris to the NBA. Again, I just think this [would be] a home run for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers may never be Michigan or Michigan State, but there's no reason they can't consistently compete for NCAA tournament berths year in and year out under his watch."
Should Hoiberg take the job, he'll need some solid assistants and two names immediately stick out. First, Matt Abdelmassih — who already worked as an assistant coach under Hoiberg at Iowa State — has spent about a half-decade in New York at St. John's and things aren't very rosy. Under head coach Chris Mullin, the Red Storm have gone 38-60 over the past three seasons and lost in the First Four of this year's NCAA Tournament. The opportunity to join Hoiberg at a Big Ten school with excellent facilities and a devoted fan base would seem an extremely enticing offer. Said Torres on the possibility of Abdelmassih reuniting with Hoiberg, "He is the exact guy they need. [He] is plugged into the transfer market and will upgrade the Cornhuskers' talent immediately."
Another name is one that Big Red fans are intimately familiar with. Doc Sadler's 101-89 record while coaching the Cornhuskers didn't earn him many fans in terms of on-the-court success, but Hoiberg tabbed him as an assistant for the 2013-14 season at Iowa State. Combine Sadler's recruiting connections with Abdelmassih's ability and Nebraska's roster could see the talent influx Torres mentions. Losing James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson, and Isaac Copeland to graduation demand they do just that, another reason Hoiberg's presence in Nebraska’s capital city would be a major boon.
Finally, a hire like this should be comforting to Husker fans of all sports. The football program invested a large sum of money in Scott Frost and is obviously the cash cow of the athletic department. However, men's basketball still turns a profit as does the national powerhouse volleyball program. No one's expecting men's basketball to make the same amount of monetary contributions as football. However, with Hoiberg leading the way, the type of unprecedented success the Huskers might see under his guidance could result in a few extra million dollars to go around. That's just good business, no matter how you slice it.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) and enjoy the Eight Laces podcast. To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.