It’s not often that head basketball coaches have to conduct a search for a new assistant in July and August, but that’s the situation in which Fred Hoiberg found himself this summer hen Armon Gates departed to join Dana Altman’s staff at Oregon.
Despite the timing, Hoiberg said he received significant interest in the opening and talked to “probably 20 different guys from around the country” before settling on former Mississippi State assistant Ernie Zeigler, whom Hoiberg introduced on Wednesday afternoon.
“Ernie checks all the boxes of what we were looking for,” Hoiberg said. “Specifically, a guy that has a proven track record on the recruiting trail and has built several top-10 recruiting classes, probably most notably the runner-up [UCLA] team in the NCAA Tournament that lost to Florida back in ’06. He did a great job recruiting at really every stop that he’s had, including his last stint at Mississippi State. Obviously, being a head coach, sitting in my chair, was also very attractive to me, somebody that’s been there in the heat of the moment, built teams, built game plans, proven in the player development category, as well.
“When you go around and you make calls and you do different things as far as background check, in talking to multiple people, there wasn’t one person that I found that said one negative thing about Ernie. He is a very well respected person in this business and he’s going to bring a lot of experience to our team. So I just could not be more excited about about the addition of Ernie, and he’s going to fit in very well with the group that we have.”
Hoiberg said Zeigler was aggressive in reaching out early in the search process. Zeigler said he considers himself a “sports fanatic” and cited both Tom Osborne and Danny Nee to explain his excitement about the opportunity to join the Nebraska program.
“To have an opportunity now to come back and after coaching as a head coach against some Nebraska teams, as an assistant coach when I was at K-State, and now it’s almost surreal just to have an opportunity to be on this side of it and helping Nebraska basketball be successful,” Zeigler said. “So my family and I are really excited having this opportunity that Fred has bestowed upon me and I had an opportunity to work with Nate and Adam and and Luca and Matt and rest of our staff. So I’m just really excited to get after it and get ready to put ourselves in position to have a success, help Fred be successful and help our program be successful and take that next step.”
Zeigler said Hoiberg was a big reason he was interested in the position. Zeigler did his own due diligence and everyone he reached out to spoke highly of Hoiberg both as an offensive mind and as a person.
“The common denominator is great people have great success, and that’s why I wanted to be here and have the opportunity to help Fred Hoiberg do just that, have great success,” Zeigler said.
The new position marks a homecoming of sorts for Zeigler, a Detroit native whose coaching career has taken him across the country and the world. He’s made stops in the Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC after starting his head coaching career overseas.
“I’ve been across the water coaching in the beginning and to come back full circle and be back in a region where it’s home, and have an opportunity to now, for me personally, I’ve almost touched on all Power Five conferences,” Zeigler said. “And so growing up in Big Ten country, the Big Ten has always been, in my mind, the best Power Five conference. So having that opportunity now, it’s just another blessing and I’m just looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting after it.”
Hoiberg pointed to that background and his success on the recruiting trail at those various stops as a major selling point.
“Just everywhere, from a recruiting standpoint, to be able to get the caliber player that we’re looking for and that we need, he’s not just connected in one area,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not only in the U.S., but but globally as well.”
Zeigler was part of a staff the landed three straight top-15 recruiting classes at UCLA, but recruiting to the Bruins is a bit different than doing so at Nebraska. Zeigler said his best recruiting pitch in Lincoln will be centered around Hoiberg himself in addition to the facilities and fan support.
“He’s an NBA guy,” Zeigler said. “The different people I’ve talked to and they talk about the best offensive minds in this business, he’s one of them. So for young guys that are at this level, guys that want to play, they aspire to be in the NBA, and he’s been there, done that. So that’s the thing and then from there, now you’re working with a guy every day that’s pushing you to reach your ultimate level of success, but not in a demeaning way. In this culture of kids, I’ve been in it long enough to see it go from, hey, when the coach said this, that was it, versus now it’s ‘Why?’, and you have to be able to understand and adapt to that and I think Fred Hoiberg is one of the best coaches in the business to be able to help guys reach their full potential.”
Zeigler said prior to his visit during he process, the last time he had been to Lincoln was when he brought his Central Michigan team to Nebraska for a nonconference game in December of 2011. The Huskers still played in that Devaney Center at that point. He said he was blown away by the new facilities.
Ziegler’s first day on the job was Tuesday, but he’s already familiar with a few of the players on the roster after coaching against them at Mississippi State. That includes Derrick Walker, who started his career in the SEC at Tennessee before transferring to Nebraska.
“He’s really grown as a player,” Zeigler said about Walker. “I think he’s gonna be a very valuable asset and leader to this team with his experience and savvy. Juwan Gary, I coached against him the past few years while he was at Alabama; he’s just a junkyard dog, a winner.”
With Zeigler on board, Hoiberg’s staff is now complete and ready to prepare for the 2022-23 season.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.