A meeting, a magazine, a comedian and a sign: how Fred Hoiberg’s path back to coaching ended in Lincoln
As everyone expected with this whole thing, you can pin the success of Nebraska basketball’s coaching search on American Airlines and Larry the Cable Guy.
OK, yes, it took more than that to get Fred Hoiberg on a stage Tuesday in front of more than a hundred people on the third floor of Memorial Stadium for his introductory press conference as the Huskers’ next head man.
But sometimes you need a sign.
For Hoiberg and wife Carol, that sign came at 40,000 feet in the air. Flying home last week from watching son Jack’s Michigan State team play in the NCAA Tournament, Hoiberg pulled an American Way magazine out of the seat pocket in front of him and flipped directly to a page filled with an interview of Larry the Cable Guy talking about Nebraska and an article singing the praises of the state.
“It’s funny,” Fred Hoiberg said. “When you’re contemplating these big life decisions like we were, you look for signs or what can be the thing that can be the tipping point.”
Hoiberg, with his deep family roots in Lincoln and other small towns in Nebraska, probably didn’t need a lot of convincing on Nebraska’s charms.
The other factors — potential job openings in college hoops and the NBA, the fact that at the time, Tim Miles was still employed by Nebraska, Hoiberg’s own questions about whether he wanted to get back into coaching — were what made things complicated.
“There’s no such thing as low-risk when you’re in the coaching game,” Hoiberg said.
Hoiberg’s path to Nebraska started not unlike Scott Frost’s — with a meeting in Bill Moos’ office.
Some time after the hoops team began backsliding after the turn of the new year, Moos took a meeting with men’s golf coach Mark Hankins. In a stroke of luck for the athletic director on par with Matt Davison’s long friendship with the Nebraska football coach, Hankins and Hoiberg had a relationship dating to their college days when the two were roommates at Iowa State.
“He brought Fred’s name up to me, and I said, ‘Well how do you know about Fred Hoiberg?’ He goes, ‘Well, he’s my classmate, my great friend, and we were roommates in college,’” Moos said. “I go, ‘OK, sit down.’ Because I was intrigued.”
Moos “cataloged” that meeting in his mind and “went about my business.” But the seeds had been sown.
While Moos was intrigued, he, like Hoiberg, also didn’t want to interfere with the remainder of Nebraska’s season. He and Hoiberg’s first face-to-face meeting came March 4 in Chicago — four days after the Huskers were shellacked at Michigan, one day before they lost at, of all places, Michigan State, and six days before they beat Iowa to kick-start a memorable run to end the season.
It was a get-to-know you meeting, and not much more, Hoiberg said.
“I think the world of Tim Miles. He’s a guy that I’ve had a really good relationship with, and he’s done a lot of really good things for my family,” Hoiberg said. “It really was hard for me to see all the rumors that were out there, because I didn’t want to disrupt what was going on. He was coaching the team. He had a group of guys that were playing very well. And I did not want to be disruptive in that.”
So both Hoiberg and Moos took their time as the Huskers found a spark late in the year.
“The initial meeting with Bill, and I told him — I said, if you want to get to know each other a little bit, great. But let’s wait until this thing’s over if you do decide to go in a different direction,” Hoiberg recalled. “And when that happened, we went back and forth a lot.”
Things didn’t reach a conclusion until late last week. Hoiberg said he’d wake up some days and say he didn’t have any interest in the job. He had a former coach call him up one day unhappy because he’d had a rough week. Hoiberg took the call while doing a puzzle at his table wearing his robe and watching “The Price is Right.”
“It was pretty good,” Hoiberg deadpanned. “I liked it.”
He and Carol talked about spending the entire year away from coaching. They talked about waiting to see what opened up in the NBA. The took a couple of vacations to Napa Valley and the Caribbean.
In the end, the opportunity to make history at Nebraska won out. One week, almost to the hour that Miles was fired, Hoiberg was introduced to the public.
“I was looking for a great opportunity, and after I continued to get to know Bill and sat down with him and saw his vision, I was excited about it,” Hoiberg said. “I know he’s going to put the resources into it that are necessary to compete at the highest level. I understood that was going to be a priority for him to put those resources into the program to where we can compete. Again, I talked about this a lot, but when you look at facilities like we have, the support, when we get kids on campus and show them, hopefully with an exciting style of play, I’m confident we can get this roster built the right way and do it for a long time.”