Long before Fred Hoiberg could ever step up the stairs on a ladder on a confetti-filled Sprint Center floor in Kansas City to cut the net away from the rim, he stood at a podium in the center of Ames with no coaching experience and a vision.
That vision was not simply a set of phrases thrown together beautifully for an introductory news conference. This was the native son coming home, and he had thought long and hard about what would hopefully come next.
One night before, Hoiberg walked aimlessly around his home in Chaska, Minn., unable to sleep. Growing up he had walked the few blocks from his home on Donald Street in Ames tucked away a few blocks from the Iowa State campus to sit in Section 236 and watch the stars on the hardwood at Hilton Coliseum. Then he became a ball boy. Then he became the hometown hero who stayed home to play for the Cyclones only to become an All-American.
On this night Hoiberg noticed the photo hanging on the wall.
In the photo, his grandfather, Jerry Bush, who had coached Nebraska beginning in the 1950s, was walking down the street pointing and winking. “It was almost as if he was saying, ‘Kid, you’re going to be all right,’” Hoiberg said.
Fred Hoiberg was coming home.
When Hoiberg arrived at Iowa State in April 2010, he did so on the heels of four consecutive losing seasons and five straight years without an NCAA tournament appearance. He had his vision to return to the days he remembered growing up.
“I want to get this program back in the right direction,” Hoiberg told the frenzied crowd at his introductory news conference. “I think I can get the arena filled again and get the magic back in this place.”
In five years time, Hoiberg took the Cyclones to new heights.
Like his idol Johnny Orr electrified the crowd with his entrance to the “Tonight Show” theme at the dawn of the Hilton Magic era, Hoiberg did the same to a standing ovation each night as he casually walked out to “Let it Rock.”
The new era of Iowa State basketball was ushered in when fans stormed the court in Hoiberg’s second season as winners against No. 5 Kansas. Arguably the best stretch in program history ensued.
Iowa State, after a .500 season in Hoiberg’s first year, advanced to four consecutive NCAA tournaments and won back-to-back Big 12 postseason titles, both school records. The Cyclones won four NCAA tournament games and advanced to a Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden.
Hoiberg, meanwhile, became the fastest coach to 100 wins in Iowa State history, and leaves with 115 wins to his credit, including 23 against top-25 opponents.
When Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard sat at Hoiberg’s dining room table a few days before his eventual introductory news conference, he listened to Hoiberg’s vision with a contract stuffed inside his briefcase. He was ready to bring Fred home, but worried about the status of the beloved icon.
“We talked a little bit about his legacy and the risk of putting his legacy at risk,” Pollard said later. “He didn’t expect to fail, so he wasn’t worried about that.”
So Hoiberg returned, and fans were witness to many memorable moments. There were the signature victories against rivals Iowa and Kansas. There was the walk to the court with Orr before the Michigan game. There are the snapshots frozen in time of Hoiberg cutting the net away in Kansas City not once, but twice.
Now so suddenly, Hoiberg is headed east down I-80 to become the 19th coach in Chicago Bulls history. He departs from Iowa State with what is expected to be a preseason top-10 team. He leaves behind a revitalized program, one sitting in much better shape than the one he encountered with a vision five years ago.