By: Thomas Gibbons
Five years, $25 million. That was the contract given to Fred Hoiberg to become the 22nd head coach in Chicago Bulls franchise history.
Are you serious? Hoiberg become the fastest coach in Iowa State history to reach 100 wins but what else did he accomplish? One trip to the sweet sixteen in 2014? Not exactly the type of resume you want when looking for your next head coach.
Now, he looks to be the right man for the job.
In his first season, Hoiberg failed to make the playoffs, first time the Bulls missed since 2008. His second season delivered a playoff berth, but it was not easy. From Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade calling out the younger players to the many inconsistencies, the Bulls fell to the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
Just two years into his deal, fans were calling for the firing of Hoiberg. There were even chants of “Fire Hoiberg” erupted on Madison Street in April in the game six loss.
The lack of success and failure to be a contending team in the East is not going to put people in the seats. But was it all his fault? No, it was not.
On the day Fred Hoiberg was introduced to the media and fans back on June 2, 2015, General manager Gar Forman spoke highly of the Iowa State “mayor.”
Obviously we’ve known Fred for a long, long time and felt very highly of Fred,” Forman said. “We have great respect for who he is as a person, and we have great respect for the job that he has done. He’s a talented, in-demand coach that has attracted significant interest throughout the league and was on top of our list as we began this process … as we [visited with him] it became very apparent to us that he was the fit that we had talked about. A fit with our players, a fit with our team, and he was the right guy to maximize the potential of this basketball team.”
At the time, that all seemed great. But his first two years did not translate to be a fit for the Bulls and maximizing the potential out of the roster.
Hoiberg is known as a great offensive mind. In his second season at ISU, the former Bull led the Cyclones to a 23-11 record and their first appearance to the NCAA tournament since 2005. The Cyclones also finished three times, twice in the top five, in points per game in Division I.
Given his success in college, it was easy to see why the Bulls hired Hoiberg. The Bulls front office have known him and saw the results at Iowa State. But what the front office failed to do what build a roster that fit his coaching, his offense and the style of play he wants to see played.
Dwyane Wade? Rajon Rondo? Those are not young guys who can run a fast paced offense. The Bulls signed Wade to fill the seats and Rondo, it was not a good decision. And remember when Gar Forman wanted to get younger and athletic? Holding onto Pau Gasol at the trade deadline two years ago is not going to accomplish that.
On draft night 2017, the Bulls made a decision to trade their face of the franchise in Jimmy Butler and start over. And as a fan, I could not have been happier given the return and what they have done on the court this season.
After a 3-20 start, the Bulls are 14-7 since December 6th, including a seven game win streak spanning from December 8th to the 20th. During that run, we started to see Hoiberg’s offense come to life because he was finally given the roster to execute it.
This month, the Bulls lead the league in both made three point field goals (108) and 3-point percentage (.422). They also rank 4th in the league in assists per game (23.7) and rank 1st in PACE and off ball movement. “Hoi-ball” has emerged.
In an article posted by Joe Cowley from the Chicago Sun-Times in late December, Bulls players have bought into Hoiberg. “The players that are here right now, they believe in his system, said Nikola Mirotic. He’s a great coach, and he understands players because he was a player. I’m sure he can be a big piece of this rebuilding road that the Bulls are going down. I know that I trust him.’’
In another article earlier this month, it was Kris Dunn praising his head coach. “Oh, yeah, Fred is legit, for sure,’’ Dunn said. “I think he’s proved it, especially with a young group, a group that’s trying to develop, trying to learn. We’re all listening. We’re all buying into his system.
Hoiberg worked with Dunn this offseason in fixing and improving his shooting form. Dunn is shooting 43% from the field so far this season and has drastically improved his mid-range and three point shooting.
What about the emergence of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and David Nwaba? The players deserve credit for their outstanding play but the coaching staff has helped them get there.
In March of 2017, ESPN and their Forecast panel ranked the NBA’s 30 coaches based on “his guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.” Hoiberg placed 30th, dead last.
17-27 is not good at all, but the rebound from a 3-20 start was something no one saw coming. Hoiberg and his staff got these players playing hard, unselfish basketball and playing for each other. I believe Hoiberg could be the coach to see the rebuild through and would not only be surprised but support if he got a contract extension.
The arrow is pointing up for the Bulls. They are nowhere close to being a top team in the East and far from a championship, but Fred Hoiberg deserves a lot of credit for how the Bulls are playing and developing.