The naysayers and the critics lampooned Iowa State’s decision nearly four years ago, said it was a move designed to curry favor with a disenchanted fan base but not necessarily win games.
The naysayers and the critics had a point. Fred Hoiberg, the beloved son of Ames, had zero coaching experience when he was tabbed as the Cyclones’ new head coach.
But the outlook in Iowa was decidedly different.
I spent a day accompanying Hoiberg on a barnstorming tour right after he got the job in 2010, and people there believed in the coaching version of The Mayor as fervently as they did in the playing version.
"He’s been a success in everything he’s done and I don’t see any reason to believe that won’t be the case now," donor Rod French told me then.
Hard to hear those naysayers and critics over the din coming out of Hilton Coliseum after Iowa State’s 77-70 win against Michigan on Sunday afternoon.
"The magnitude of this win, I don’t think you can describe it," Hoiberg told ESPN.com. "When you have the opportunity to play the national runner-up with their key contributors back and you find a way to pull it out, it’s just huge. Huge for our fans, huge for our community and huge for our team."
The truth is, the Cyclones have been coming along for some time now. Hoiberg turned Ames into basketball’s Land of Misfit Toys, taking transfers who welcomed a last chance at redemption to fast-track the program’s turnaround. It had potential debacle written all over it. Instead Hoiberg made it work, leading the Cyclones two seasons ago to the team’s first NCAA tournament berth in seven years.
Iowa State followed that up with a 23-12 season last season, a first-round win against Notre Dame and a near upset of Ohio State.
And now this -- three games into the season, the Hilton Magic is back, with fans storming the court and Iowa State knocking off the No. 7 Wolverines.
Which is why this win against Michigan is so significant. Upsets happen, especially in March, but what Iowa State now has is that most desirable of all hoops commodities -- consistency.
"People always ask me if I had a time frame; I didn’t," Hoiberg said. "I felt we had some pieces that first year, but we didn’t have depth but with all the transfers sitting out, I saw that scout team and I thought we’d be pretty good the following year. Last year I think as a team we really came together. They felt they could play against any team, on any stage and that’s what you’re seeing now."
Seeing, of course, is believing. Four years ago the only believers lived in Iowa, where a fan base put its faith in its golden boy. That barnstorming tour in June 2010 was as down home as they come, with Hoiberg stopping for visits at a small golf course, a truck dealership and even a zoo.
But everywhere he went, the fans came out. They were that excited, that energized.
"Hiring him has mobilized and re-energized Cyclone Nation," Mitch Osborn, an athletic director at a local high school, told me back then. "People are excited about this program again."
And not just people in Iowa, anymore.