Fred Hoiberg was on an American flight back to Chicago from the NCAA Tournament last week with his wife, Carol, looking for a sign of what to do.
“Contrary to the rumors that are out there that this thing’s been done for a while, it hasn’t,” Nebraska’s newest head basketball coach said Tuesday when he was introduced.
On that flight, he opened the magazine up to a story about life in Nebraska. Larry the Cable Guy was the interviewee and he was talking about life in Nebraska. What followed was a 14-page spread on the state.
“Wow, maybe this is a sign,” Hoiberg thought.
A few days later, Hoiberg and his family came to a decision to pick Nebraska. They talked, they debated, they weighed their options. Hoiberg, who spent the last four years in the NBA coaching the Chicago Bulls, thought about sitting out the cycle and looking to see if an NBA job opened that interested him. When he looked at the landscape, nothing excited him. Then when he looked at Nebraska, he saw home.
“We want this to be our last stop and we’re excited about this,” he said.
Maybe that American Way magazine was the turning point. Maybe it was something else entirely. Athletic Director Bill Moos’ sign, though, came months ago.
In mid-January, while Nebraska was slumping and riding what would become a seven-game losing streak, one of his coaches asked for a meeting. Mark Hankins, an Iowa State grad from 1993 and current Husker men’s golf coach, told Moos he wanted to talk about Fred Hoiberg.
“How do you know about Fred Hoiberg?” Moos asked.
“Well he was my classmate and great friend and we were roommates in college,” Hankins responded.
“Okay, sit down,” answered Moos.
And Hankins pitched Moos on a replacement, should he need it.
Hoiberg’s name was then sharpied at the top of Moos’ coaching list. You know, the one he keeps locked in his desk drawer in his office, the one he jokingly says he’s never needed to move past the first line on. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. He was hoping he didn’t need to use it this time, though. Nebraska was slumping but it wasn’t dead. Moos said Tuesday he was hesitant then to do too much legwork on a replacement coach.
“During that time, I was supporting my coaches and where we were going,” he said. “We were in a bit of a slump then, so I cataloged that in my mind and went about my business. Later on, I thought it might be smart to just meet the gentleman, and I did.”
That was in Chicago on March 4. There may or may not have been deep-dish pizza involved. There was certainly talk about who Hoiberg — the man, not the coach — was. There was certainly not talk about years on a contract or salary.
“He was very, very careful about wanting to talk about numbers and I wasn’t ready to do that either,” Moos said.
Hoiberg said Tuesday he “think[s] the world of Tim Miles” and he took the same approach Moos did. He didn’t want to become a distraction. During that initial meeting, Hoiberg focused on getting to know each other.
So Moos got to know Hoiberg’s family. About his grandfather Jerry Bush, the one who coached at Nebraska in the late 50s and 60s and beat Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas, and about Hoiberg’s other grandfather Otto Hoiberg, the one who taught history at UNL for almost 30 years. He learned about Hoiberg’s children, one of whom is set to graduate from Kansas soon and another who could raise a national championship trophy with Michigan State this upcoming weekend.
He woke up one day shortly after and thought to himself “I don’t have any interest.” His days consisted of yoga with Carol, puzzles and The Price is Right. Life was good and there weren’t any jobs at the professional ranks that moved the needle.
Then Miles was fired.
Moos and Hoiberg met again and talked specifics. Hoiberg asked about the roster. Who was coming, who was leaving, who needed to be convinced to stay? He didn’t need to know about the Husker facilities. Moos had shown him pictures of the Hendricks Training Complex, which Hoiberg said he’d put up against the best in the country, and Hoiberg had already been inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.
On Oct. 23, 2015, the Chicago Bulls played the Dallas Mavericks inside PBA for a preseason game. That was Hoiberg’s first season at the helm of an NBA franchise. He had been inside historic United Center, the house Michael built, already, mind you. He was still blown away. Turns out that served as one of the best recruiting tools Moos had at his disposal.
Because Nebraska’s new coach sees it as one of the best recruiting tools in the country. Hoiberg mentioned PBA or Hendricks or the fanbase in pretty much every answer he gave to every question he was asked Tuesday. He said he wouldn’t have come to Lincoln if he didn’t think he could turn Nebraska into a consistent winner and it’s clear he views the resources Nebraska has at his disposal as a key part of making that reality.
Hoiberg talked to Miles, too. (He mentioned Miles during Tuesday’s press conference, thanking the former coach for elevating the Nebraska brand. He said it’s his job to build off that.)
The contract came together quickly after that. Hoiberg’s hiring was announced on Saturday, March 30. A seven-year contract worth $25 million would make him the highest-paid basketball coach in Husker history. A Twitter account that hadn’t been touched in nearly three years was updated Tuesday morning. At 3:01 p.m. CT Tuesday, Hoiberg and his wife stepped into an elevator with Moos, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, Husker football coach Scott Frost and a few others. At 3:02 p.m., those elevator doors opened on the third floor of Memorial Stadium, with the Husker cheer squad and a sea of cameras and former players and staffers waiting for him. He gave a few hugs, shook a few hands, and sat down next to his new boss at a podium in the center of the room at 3:03.
“Okay, well welcome everybody,” Moos began. “This is a special and exciting day for the University of Nebraska, especially for me, because I have the honor and privilege to introduce the 28th head coach of Husker basketball, Fred Hoiberg.”
Hoiberg shook his hand and paused.
“Is it my turn?” he asked.
Yeah, Coach. The wait is over.
The floor is yours.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.