Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Howard to Bring Defensive Acumen, Recruiting Connections to Hoiberg’s Staff

April 06, 2022

Fred Hoiberg announced a move a couple years in the making on Tuesday afternoon as he introduced Adam Howard as his newest assistant coach.

When Hoiberg decided to shake up his staff, Howard immediately jumped to mind for Hoiberg despite the two never having worked together before. Their relationship began a couple years ago when Hoiberg flew Howard up to Lincoln to present his match-up zone defense to Hoiberg’s staff.

“It was in in the preseason and he came down — obviously, there were no conflict with what he had going with his previous job — and I was I was so impressed with the different things and all the questions that we asked on how to defend certain actions, on how he answered all those,” Hoiberg said. “He was the guy that I talked to right away when the position opened up and and he was the first guy that I wanted to bring here and I’m very thankful. I’m really excited to bring him on board.”

The two reconnected during this past season when Hoiberg went down to watch his son Jack play with UT-Arlington as the Mavericks faced the South Alabama Jaguars. Hoiberg kept him in mind in case of a staff opening, and when that spot did open up with Matt Abdelmassih’s departure, he offered the position to Howard. He accepted.

“First off, let me say that my family and I were really, really comfortable with South Alabama,” Howard said. “Richie Riley, who I worked for for the past four years, is one of my best friends, an unbelievable coach, an unbelievable person, treated my family as good as I’ve been around. So we were comfortable and it was going to be hard for me to leave. But just Nebraska, the Big Ten, obviously you see they get nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. You’re coming from a place and in a mid-major level where it’s a one-bid league and you’ve got 14 teams in the Sun Belt, it’s hard. Every night, it’s tough. So the opportunity to be at a place like Nebraska where you have a national brand, an unbelievable fan base and then to work alongside someone like Fred Hoiberg was just an opportunity I’ve been hoping for, looking for and excited about.”

Howard has spent most of his coaching career in the south with stops at Morehead State, Southern Miss, Tennessee, Troy and South Alabama. He’s from Kentucky and played for Mike Flynn in high school and Darrin Horn at Western Kentucky. His wife is from Louisiana and her family is still down there, but the Howards are looking forward to a new experience.

Over the course of his career, Howard has developed into a defensive-minded coach with a unique style, incorporating a lot of match-up zone and multiple pressures into his system. He said he’s very comfortable working on that side of the ball and has been responsible for defensive calls at multiple stops.

“The biggest thing is just finding out what is the best fit for here, for Coach, for the staff, for our players and then just try to build it from there,” Howard said. “We’ve played a lot of zone everywhere I’ve been. This past year, I had an opportunity to work with Rodney Crawford, who was an assistant for us at South Alabama. He’s got an unbelievable man-to-man background, one of the best man-to-man coaches, and three-quarters of the year we played a lot of man-to-man, played a lot of zone with that, so I got to learn from him and some of the philosophies that Nate [Loenser] and I would talk about in the preseason on Zooms and just discuss basketball, some NBA trends we implemented into our man-to-man stuff this past year.”

According to Synergy Sports, South Alabama’s defense ranked in the 96th percentile this past season, giving up 0.807 points per possession and 40% shooting with a 17.9% forced turnover rate. They played man-to-man 70.8% of the time (0.801 PPP, 90th percentile) and zone the other 29.2% (0.782 PPP, 85th percentile). The Jaguars pressed on 7% of their possessions as well (0.727 PPP, 87th percentile).

“Again, it all comes down to what Coach is comfortable with, what’s best for our players and what gives us the best chance to win,” Howard continued. “I like the three-quarter-court pressure, like the full-court pressure, like to extend the zone a little bit. Some of the reasons why zone’s been successful was, like Coach said, if you get the right team with the length that keeps it out of the lane, it suffocates them a little bit and you don’t foul, you keep your best players on the floor, they don’t get a lot of paint touches and if you can rebound out of it, make them miss the first shot, you have a chance to be successful.”

The Huskers began switching up defenses and incorporating more zone late in the season to some success, and Hoiberg wanted to continue working that in moving forward. He believes the Huskers should have the physical tools to make Howard’s defense work in Lincoln. With long guards like Sam Griesel and Ramel Lloyd Jr. and Denim Dawson on the wings plus some size inside with Blaise Keita, Derrick Walker and Wilhelm Breidenbach ins the frontcourt, the Huskers will have the ability throw out some bigger lineups in 2022-23.

“I think it’s good because it’s got length,” Hoiberg said. “I think anytime you’re playing that defense on that end of the floor, to be able to slow a team down hopefully with with the pressure, which we went to a little bit towards the end of the year with a little bit of three-quarter-court 1-3-1, dropped that back into some zone, switched over the course of the possession to man. But I think anytime you have positional size and length on that end of the floor, it gives you an advantage when you’re switching up your defenses. I think we’ll have a high-IQ team as well that will be able to handle some of that switching up.” 

Howard isn’t just a defensive coordinator, though. Hoiberg made sure to point out how well-rounded he is multiple times during his press conference. Hoiberg praised his recruiting connections, which will come in handy as recruiting becomes more of an all-hands-on-deck exercise than it had been the past three season in Lincoln.

“As a recruiter, it’s just like the defensive philosophy, offensive philosophy: you just have to find what your team needs, what’s best for each specific year,” Howard said. “There’s so much turnover and so much change year to year. Managing a roster is really important everywhere. Obviously in the summer and fall you get a chance to go and see a lot of high school kids, sign some high school kids early and then in the spring and late until summer school, you’re trying to fill your roster with needs. Maybe it’s a late high school kid where there’s a coaching change, you didn’t get in the first go-around and now you’re getting in the second go-around or this time of the year, it’s heavy transfers. 

“Everybody’s focused on that and again, working for Richie Riley, he’s been a head coach for six years and I think he’s taken like 27 transfers or something. So it’s been a big part of who he was and Richie is a mentor of mine and it’s been a big part of who we were. We had seven Division-I transfers on our roster this past season at South Alabama, and we had guys from TCU, Memphis, LSU, two from from Auburn, Texas A&M and VMI. So You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to turn over every rock and it helps being in a place like this. If you can just get kids to campus and you see the facilities, you guys know, it’s just part of what attracted me here is in recruiting, you’ve got to have places, you’ve got to have buildings that look like what we have here in place. So this is a special place. You’ve just got to work hard to get them to campus and then everything else pretty much sells itself.”

Howard said the key to recruiting is balancing rosters and recruiting to needs based on how the roster projects moving forward. He’s not looking to add eight or nine new players every year.

In addition to recruiting connections, Howard already has chemistry with the other members of the Nebraska staff which should streamline things this spring and summer.

“The other thing with Adam is he’s not only connected in the recruiting world, but as far as coaching, everybody on our staff has a connection to Adam,” Hoiberg said. “Nate Loenser and Adam have been close for a long time. Armon Gates was a grad assistant when Adam was playing at Western Kentucky, so he’s got relationships with everybody on our staff, which was another thing that I really wanted. It was important part of bringing in somebody that knew everything that we were all about. We showed Adam some offensive concepts when he came last year and presented on the defensive end. So I think everybody is very comfortable with Adam and certainly what he can bring to our team.”

Speaking of comfort, Hoiberg was comfortable hiring Howard despite his experience at Southern Miss that led to an NCAA investigation and a 10-year show-cause penalty for head coach Donnie Tyndall. Howard worked for Tyndall at Morehead State, Southern Miss and then Tennessee, but he resigned from his position with the Volunteers a few weeks into the season as the investigation launched. Hoiberg said Howard’s background check went through the Nebraska’s administration and compliance office didn’t raise any concerns.

“The one thing I’ll say about it is well documented, everything that happened,” Howard said. “The one thing that I took from it is my relationships on every campus that I’ve been at have allowed me to get back. This is the third time I’ve been hired since then and I think the way you treat people on a day-to-day basis, who you’re with in those offices across campus, not just in the basketball. Myself, my family, we’re department people; we’re for everywhere we’ve ever been. At South Alabama, we would go to women’s [basketball] games, we’d go to baseball games, softball games. My family is around campus a lot, they’re there at the gym. 

“So the relationships I think that you take away from everywhere you are is what allows you to have your next opportunities and moving forward. So I’m really proud of the relationships I’ve maintained and the people that I got to know every place I’ve ever been.”

After winning just 24 games in his first three seasons in Lincoln, Hoiberg is revamping a lot of what he does in the hopes of turning things around. Needing improvement fast, Hoiberg is betting on a man he had not worked with previously but impressed him in their previous interactions. Now, after a chance occurrence spurred things along, Howard is in Lincoln sporting the Scarlet and Cream and looking to leave his own fingerprints on the program.

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