CHICAGO — Two minutes before Fred Hoiberg was set to emerge onto the Chicago Bulls practice court Tuesday afternoon, he stood behind a steel door and thumbed through Twitter on his phone.
He scrolled and scrolled. Then he stopped on a particular post and clicked. Tears began to swell in the 42-year-old Hoiberg’s eyes. The emotional rollercoaster that had spanned multiple weeks had now reached its peak.
“The impact you’ve had on this school, program [and] community will never be forgotten,” Naz Long wrote in the Twitter letter. “One day everyone will look back on your era [and] see this may have been the best run in Iowa State history.”
Hoiberg held back the tears. “I had to kind of get my emotions in check,” he said.
Then, after five years at the helm of his alma mater in Ames, Hoiberg walked out of the door, strolled across the hardwood to the clicks of cameras and became the newest head coach of the Chicago Bulls.
Rumors of Hoiberg’s imminent departure had become rampant in recent weeks. When the Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau on Thursday, general manager Gar Forman and owner Jerry Reinsdorf held a casual meeting with Hoiberg. Talks intensified until Hoiberg came to an agreement Sunday night and finalized the deal Monday.
Yet the native son and All-American boy insisted the decision was not so simple. By the time Hoiberg agreed to terms there was no looking back, but in the days leading up to that moment, as it appeared Hoiberg’s departure from Iowa State was likely, he wrestled with the idea.
Are we making the right decision here? he asked his wife Carol. His family was comfortable in Ames. He had a likely top-10 preseason team. He saw the fan support. He kept coming back to one thing: You do want to coach in this league.
“It’s not about money,” said Hoiberg, who signed a 5-year, $25 million deal. “This is about an opportunity. It’s about fulfilling a dream to coach at the highest level.”
Monday night, as Hoiberg awaited the big day, he laid in bed sleepless. His heart surgery some six weeks ago to insert a mechanical valve has left his chest making a chirping noise each time his pacemaker ticks. His children can hear it across the room. Now Hoiberg, who had forgotten his white noise fan that drowns out the chirps at nighttime, was wide awake.
He had plenty to think about.
When Hoiberg showed interest in the Iowa State job many years ago, he was warned. “People told me to stay away from that Iowa State job at first because I had somewhat of a good reputation in that community," Hoiberg said. All you can do is tarnish that, people told him.
Instead, he added to it.
After arriving at Iowa State in April 2010 on the heels of four consecutive losing seasons and five straight years without an NCAA tournament appearance, Hoiberg quickly transformed the program. In five seasons, the Cyclones advanced to four consecutive NCAA tournaments and won back-to-back Big 12 postseason titles, both school records. The Cyclones reappeared on the national scene.
“One thing with Iowa State as a whole is it’s in a pretty good spot,” Hoiberg said. “I do take pride in that. That’s something that I’m very happy about.”
That was evident just moments before Hoiberg emerged through the door as coach of the Bulls. A longtime goal is fulfilled, but the past is not forgotten.
“I’m always going to be a Cyclone,” Hoiberg said. “There’s no doubt.”