Editor’s note: Some coaches’ names always seem to come up for other jobs. But what would it take for them to actually leave? This week, we’ll look at the names most often mentioned. Today, we look at Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg.
Ames, Iowa, is a town of more than 60,000 nearly three hours south of Minneapolis via Interstate 35. Cornfields, mills and livestock populate the path to the college town in the middle of Iowa that feels like one expansive neighborhood instead of a small city.
Need some good barbecue? Head to Hickory Park. Iowa State’s coaches and administrators grab lunch at Wallaby's, a restaurant that doubles as an Iowa State history museum. There’s a strip of bars downtown that students swarm on the weekends. Sips and Paddy’s Irish Pub are two of the favorites.
The folks in Ames love their Cyclones, too.
The Cyclones practice at the Sukup Basketball Complex a few miles from campus near an emerging development. It’s an $8 million facility that Iowa State boosters funded to enhance a basketball program that’s reached the NCAA tournament in three consecutive seasons under Fred Hoiberg. Fans flock to Hilton Coliseum to show their support, as Iowa State finished 22nd nationally in overall attendance during the 2012-13 season.
In March, the program won its second Big 12 tourney title. Cyclones backers filled the Sprint Center every night.
Hoiberg sparked the rebirth of a program that hadn’t reached the Big Dance since 2005 prior to his return in 2010. He’s called “The Mayor” for a reason. Hoiberg was a local high school star before he became an icon at Iowa State, and now he’s turned the Cyclones into a nationally relevant program again in his first four seasons on the job.
Both his and his wife’s parents still live in Ames. And Hoiberg likes that.
He has a 10-year contract and a $2.6 million annual salary -- after a recent $600,000 pay pump -- that places him among the top 15 coaches in the country.
A supportive fanbase that’s not afraid to write a fat check to prove its commitment? Yep. High-end facilities to attract elite talent each year? Check. Family and friends he’s known his whole life? Hoiberg has that, too.
Every offseason, he’s one of the hottest names in NBA circles. It would be the same in college circles, too, but Hoiberg will never leave Ames for another college gig, so schools don’t even try. But pro squads continue to call the former NBA standout about possible relocation, only to be rejected.
Hoiberg has everything, in both his professional and private life, in Ames.
This isn’t about power or prestige or money for Hoiberg. He has that at Iowa State.
So it’ll never be easy to convince him to leave. But it won’t be impossible.
What would it take? There’s an NBA job out there for Hoiberg. It just doesn’t seem like it’s something he’s pursuing at this point in his career. The rumors have circulated for years. He was even recently linked to a Chicago Bulls job that isn’t even open.
But the rumors make sense.
Hoiberg was an executive for the Minnesota Timberwolves before he took the Iowa State job. And he has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave Ames to take an NBA job for a $500,000 buyout.
But he’s still in Ames because that’s where he wants to be. If he really wanted to coach in the NBA right now, he would be. The Golden State Warriors wanted him, and he’d have an All-Star point guard and talented roster to work with. But he didn't want to go to the Bay Area.
"I'm very happy here," he told ESPN.com last year. "That's where I thought my coaching career would probably start, as an assistant in [the NBA]. ... Now that I've experienced this part of it with the college game, I love everything about it."
A source close to Hoiberg said that any NBA offer “would have to be ridiculous for him to leave Iowa State right now.”
This might be a different discussion in a few years. The NBA will eventually call with the “ridiculous” job that entices Hoiberg.
Maybe it’ll be a Stan Van Gundy deal. The new Detroit Pistons coach recently signed a five-year, $35 million contract that makes him coach and president of basketball operations.
Hoiberg retired from the NBA in 2005 after doctors diagnosed him with a life-threatening heart condition and inserted a defibrillator into his chest. He chose a front-office job at the time, although he could’ve chased a coaching job somewhere in the league.
The advantage he has at Iowa State right now is that the university’s administration supports him and his decisions. It’s no secret that Hoiberg has signed transfers who were considered risks at their prior stops. But the influx of talent has enhanced, not harmed, the program. You can't do that everywhere, though. The only way to pull that off is with a strong bond and trust between management/leadership and the coaching staff.
If Hoiberg takes an NBA job, that’s something he’ll demand. He wouldn’t leave Ames to take a hands-off NBA gig that offered limited personnel control and a weak connection with management. He’d want a say in the makeup of his roster.
He’s also not interested in rebuilding projects. You can see that at Iowa State. Most new coaches talk about the future and request patience. Hoiberg didn’t do that when he arrived. When he interviewed for the job, he told Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard that he wanted to sign players who could help him beat Kansas and compete for the Big 12 title immediately. The transfer market offered the quickest path to the goal, so he mined it.
He’s had opportunities to join NBA franchises that boasted strong rosters. But he’s rejected the interest.
He could coach the Cyclones for life if he wanted. He won’t.
At some point in his career, Hoiberg will choose the NBA. But right now, he’s just enjoying the perks of the best situation in college basketball. And only a “ridiculous” offer would lead to a serious contemplation of leaving. There are more reasons to stay than go right now.
Possibilities: Chicago Bulls, or another NBA job that offers opportunity to coach and mold an elite roster.