CHICAGO -- Strong-willed mayors tend to have long careers in Chicago, so that’s a good sign for Fred Hoiberg.
If he were nicknamed “The Governor,” then I’d have more concerns.
The new boss in town is the 42-year-old Hoiberg, who was named head coach of the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.
Tom Thiba-who? Am I right?
Hoiberg was famously nicknamed “The Mayor” when he received write-in votes for the 1993 Ames, Iowa, mayoral election as a homegrown Iowa State Cyclones player.
The big man on campus went on to play four seasons with the Bulls during a 10-year career, before working in the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office and then, finally, coaching the past five years at his alma mater.
Like most ex-players, Hoiberg wanted to coach in the pros. College basketball was an unexpected detour.
And no, this isn’t a Tim Floyd situation. Hoiberg is a rising, innovative coach who belongs in the NBA. Plenty of teams were interested in his services over the past few years, but the timing wasn't right, he said.
Hoiberg's hiring was similar to Floyd's back in 1998: a general manager replacing a coach he disliked with a friend from Ames.
Gar Forman, who came in with Floyd, managed to stick around, improbably rising to one of the biggest jobs in pro basketball.
There is an old saying in Chicago: “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” It means you have to have connections to get work here.
Hoiberg has those relationships, and that’s why he’s replacing Tom Thibodeau in what could be a pretty plum job.
Unofficially, Hoiberg was the leading candidate for Thibodeau’s job since Forman and Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson jumped feetfirst out of Thibs' circle of trust a season or two ago.
Officially, they’ll tell you this hire was days in the making, considering Thibodeau was just fired last Thursday morning.
But those are the white lies that make up news conference transcripts. Forman, who has known Hoiberg since his senior year at Iowa State, had a mental list of one to replace the prickly but talented Thibodeau. If Hoiberg said no, we might have been talking to player-coach Kirk Hinrich.
Apparently, he went all Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, searching “warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse” in Ames.
But Forman, who actually bought his suburban home from Hoiberg back in 2003, quickly found his man and made him very rich. Hoiberg reportedly signed a five-year, $25 million contract. Imagine how much he would've gotten if he beat UAB in the first round of the NCAA tournament this year.
Now it’s time for Hoiberg to prove he’s Steve Kerr, not Floyd.
While Thibodeau was known for his defensive principles, Hoiberg’s calling card is offense.
In five years, he turned around a moribund Iowa State program with a fast-paced scoring attack that led the Big 12 in scoring the past three seasons.
According to Synergy Sports, Iowa State ranked in the top 5 percent of college teams in points per possession, and the top 7 percent in points per possession in half-court offense.
Hoiberg wants his point guard to push the ball in transition in order for his players to get into offenses quickly. He wants his team firing 3s, getting to the rim, and avoiding long 2-point shots, main principles of the analytics movement. He’s big in the coaching clinics circuit with his "primary break offense." (Order his DVD for $49.99 today!)
“I have always run an NBA-type system,” Hoiberg said. “I’m not coming into this never experiencing NBA basketball, from my 10 years as a player. We had the second-fastest pace of play in college basketball last year. And we like to get out and play with pace and spacing. I think we ran more pick-and-rolls than anybody in college basketball last year. We really like to flow into an offense, as opposed to coming down and getting set on every possession. So it’s something that has always been my philosophy.”
His offense seems perfect for most of the Bulls' personnel, particularly Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. If Ames' own Doug McDermott -- last year’s first-round pick who became an afterthought thanks in part to an early-season knee injury -- is going to contribute in the NBA, this will be a solid opportunity.
Let's just hope management doesn't turn sour when the scribes start writing about the "Hoiberg offense." I've seen it happen.
When I asked a college assistant to riff about Hoiberg’s offense, he quickly mentioned Iowa State’s offensive spacing, which should give Rose room to score and create.
This past season, Iowa State was 11th in Ken Pomeroy’s (kenpom.com) adjusted offense per 100 possessions, and 17th in adjusted tempo, which is possessions per 40 minutes.
As for pick-and-roll stats, in keeping with the way Synergy tracks stats, Iowa State wasn’t close to running the most pick-and-roll plays in college basketball. (A Synergy employee told me the Cyclones likely used many more “dummy action” pick-and-rolls, which they don’t track.)
Iowa State ball handler pick-and-roll situations that ended in a shot, free throws or turnover were used in only 7.9 percent of Cyclones plays, the fifth-most common play type. Of teams that ran at least 200 pick-and-roll plays (Iowa State ran 208), the Cyclones were 54th in the country in points per possession.
Most important, Iowa State was ranked "excellent" in overall offense.
The Bulls weren't as bad offensively as Thibodeau detractors like to believe, as Chicago ranked 10th in offensive rating this season. The problem was often pace, or the number of possessions per 48 minutes. The Bulls were 21st in pace, according to NBA.com. Thibodeau knew how to coach offense -- and always wanted Rose to push the tempo -- but in the playoffs, the Bulls' offensive sets were too predictable and took too long to develop into good shots.
Maybe Hoiberg can jump-start the offense. He certainly seems to have the right philosophy.
“A big part of coaching is the human element,” Forman said. “Getting guys to buy in, play together, play hard and put them in the right system. I know we have 100 percent confidence Fred is going to be able to do that.”
The Bulls torched Thibodeau on the way out for not communicating with them, but he was often praised for how he communicated his defensive philosophies. With a fresh infusion of talent and Rose turning into an MVP, Thibodeau took the Bulls from the 8-seed to the top seed in one season. Hoiberg has a better foundation of experienced players.
"Tom Thibodeau is an excellent, excellent basketball coach," Hoiberg said. "I think he instilled a lot of unbelievable qualities in this team that hopefully I can build on."
When a general manager hires a new coach, he typically goes opposite in philosophy or demeanor. Hoiberg's NBA experience, not to mention his personality, should serve him well in his transition. The guys will like him. If they win, they'll love him.
“I understand this league after playing 10 years and working in the front office for four,” he said. “I know what this league is all about, and that’s the guys. I’m here to do everything I can to support them and work with them and hopefully bring this group to where we’re competing for a world championship.”
But for all the early love Hoiberg is bound to get for his fresh-faced approach, he has to be judged on whether or not the Bulls are competitive in the playoffs, and ultimately whether or not they win a championship.
No pressure just yet, but you don't make that kind of change for a rebuilding project, especially not with this roster.
Hoiberg is a film junkie like Thibs -- OK, maybe not exactly like Thibs -- and said he watched Bulls games all year, but really focused on them in the playoffs.
“I think absolutely this team is ready to compete for a championship with this group of core players,” he said.
Now it’s his job to get it there. Being the boss in Chicago is never easy.