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Q&A with Fred Hoiberg: Chicago's new kid in town

New Bulls coach opens up about decision to leave Iowa State, pressure in the NBA, health concerns and more

POSTED: Jul 13, 2015 3:21 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


GameTime: Fred Hoiberg

Fred Hoiberg addresses the media, and the GameTime crew react to Hoiberg being hired as the Bulls head coach.

— Summer league mostly is for the players, those who were drafted with guaranteed contracts and roster spots waiting come October and those hoping to snag an invitation to someone's, anyone's, training camp. It's a good chance for assistant coaches to flex their sideline muscles, too, building some bonds with their clubs' young players while the boss typically sits in the stands, observing from on high.

But Chicago's Fred Hoiberg -- as is the case for some NBA head coaches, typically the new ones -- was in charge on the Bulls' bench for their games Saturday vs. Minnesota and Sunday vs. Toronto. You might have missed him -- this wasn't the Bulls' last head coach, stomping and stalking courtside, belting out basso profondo instructions. Hoiberg stayed seated mostly -- he might have looked like a squatter in a VIP seat if not for his Bulls' golf shirt -- and went about his business calmly, at a volume audible to his players but not all the way over on the Vegas Strip.

That largely is how it's going to go for Chicago this season, with Hoiberg hired from Iowa State to replace Tom Thibodeau after a souring of Thibodeau's relationship with the Bulls front office. He takes over with the full support of general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson -- Hoiberg spent four of his 10 NBA seasons playing in Chicago (1999-2003) and was a player at ISU when Forman was on Tim Floyd's coaching staff -- but steps into a job long on expectations.

The Bulls still consider themselves contenders, particularly in the Eastern Conference in pursuit of LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Their and Hoiberg's margins for error are slim. Fans at United Center may welcome what's purported to be a faster, more open offensive style than the team played under the defense-first Thibodeau, but the results are what matter. As the Las Vegas Summer League opened late last week, Hoiberg talked with about this opportunity -- and its demands:

Q: You were hired June 2, so it basically has been a month. Are you ready to go?

Fred Hoiberg: It's been a whirlwind. It's been great but when you make a major life change, you forget all the things that are involved with getting your kids situated in a new school and trying to put a house on the market in Ames, and trying to find a place to live [in Chicagoland]. Our last move was five years ago, going from Minneapolis to Ames. And then trying to get acclimated with the players, the Summer League ... there's a lot of things going on right now, but it's been awesome.

Q: Have you met or will you soon meet with all of the returning Chicago players?

FH: I've had very good meetings with all of 'em. The only guy I haven't met, basically, is Pau [Gasol]. And I'll get an opportunity to see him over in Spain when I go over there to watch the national team play. It's been a good first month.

Q: So you had one of those banana-republic "President for life" jobs at Iowa State, where you were a hometown hero, former star and successful coach. Wasn't it a little risky to give that up for the high stakes, high expectations of the NBA? [Hoiberg signed a five-year contract with the Bulls.]

FH: I loved everything about coaching at Iowa State. Coaching at my alma mater. I was very fortunate five years ago to get that opportunity without any coaching experience, to go back and basically coach in my hometown. But if a great situation presented itself, I was going to jump at it. My ultimate goal was to coach in the NBA. I was very transparent to my athletic director about all those things happening. So when this situation came about, now you've got a decision to make. You weigh everything with your family, and there were so many positives about this opportunity. It's a city we're familiar with, from playing here for four years. Great relationships with Gar and John from my past. I'm going to a team that, in my opinion, is set up to win a championship.

Q: This is a tough act to follow. Jason Kidd walked into a 15-victory situation with Milwaukee last season and is lauded for helping the Bucks reach .500. If the Bulls win 41 games this season, after finishing 50-32, it will be considered a disaster. You ready for that pressure?

FH: Look, Tom Thibodeau did an unbelievable job with this team. I'm looking to come in and build off a lot of things he did. The thing I'm excited about with this group is, they've got a great defensive identity. They've been taught very well. When you go to rebuilding situations -- which a lot of college coaches do -- it's very difficult to come in and have immediate success. This job is built for success. That's the way I'm looking at it. It's a group of guys, a great mix of veterans and younger players that have a chance to be very good.

Q: So some of the college guys who struggled in making this transition -- Mike Montgomery, Lon Kruger, your old coach Tim Floyd -- were doomed from the start because of their rosters?

FH: In pretty much every case -- Billy Donovan has a great situation in Oklahoma City and I feel I have a great situation coming to Chicago -- but it's very rare. Usually you're going into a situation where it's a rebuild. It's going to take a while to get things turned around.

Q: How different is the NBA culture from a college atmosphere?

FH: That's one thing about the NBA that's so attractive -- it really is just coaching. There are so many things in college -- and I enjoyed it, getting out on the road recruiting -- but the whole academic piece... When you go home in college, you're really not home. You're calling recruits, you're calling their high school coaches, their AAU coaches, their parents. You're doing all that work even during the season. In the NBA, you really don't have those responsibilities.

Q: And as Al McGuire said when he retired at Marquette, you get tired of worrying that the cheerleader might get pregnant.

FH: [Laughs.] As far as the game itself, there are a lot of differences. A lot of rule changes. Playing 82 games as opposed to 32. Making sure your guys are fresh and hopefully playing their best basketball come playoff time. The way I look at it, in my career, I spent nine years in college -- four as a player, five as a coach. And I spent 15 in the NBA -- 10 as a player, one as a special assistant, then four years in the [Minnesota Timberwolves] front office. So I've got more NBA experience than college.

Q: Many NBA coaches, speaking candidly, will tell you how important the relationship is between a head coach and his team's best player. What do you do to build that with Derrick Rose or Jimmy Butler or whomever?

FH: My relationships with all the players started the day I took the job. That's so important, to have a trust level with your guys. I tried to talk to as many guys as possible in the first week. Over the summer, I'll try to spend time with them, work with them on the court and try to get to know them off the court, where they can get to know me.

Q: The reports of friction between Rose and Butler, is that something you plan to address with them.

FH: It's something that ... no, I'm not worried about that.

Hoiberg on New Position

Bulls new head coach, Fred Hoiberg talks about his new team and the coaching style he brings to Chicago.

Q: Your health -- after two open-heart surgeries, one in 2005 and one this spring -- is something you're obviously comfortable with in this job. But some people will worry on your behalf. And others might worry that, because you are being smart about the job's demands, you won't be that 24/7 grinder, the image Thibodeau has. How do you answer them?

FH: The answer, I guess, is that you look at the two heart surgeries that I had. The first one, I had an aneurysm in my aorta and it was growing silently. The danger in that one was playing that year (2004-05) before I found out about that condition. Once I got that diseased tissue out, that took that problem away. The complication where I had to get a pacemaker put in, I [still] almost went back and played. This last surgery, the danger again was that valve deteriorating. Once it was replaced and fixed, I've got more energy now than I did toward the end of the [Cyclones] season because of the condition that valve was in. ... If there was any danger, I wouldn't be doing it. I wouldn't be in this business and I'm confident in talking to all my doctors that the risk is behind me.

Q: What sort of habits do you heed now, as concessions to your health? Eight hours of sleep? Special diet?

FH: Eight hours sleep is pretty rare in this business. You just kind of come to terms with that. But when there's time to get rest -- if it's lying on your couch for 20 minutes after practice before diving into film, you have to get it where you can. A lot of coaches who have been at this level have given me that advice. You've got to take care of your body. You've got to eat well, you've got to work out. My condition was all due to a valve. It's not due to my arteries. It's just being conscious of your overall health.

Q: What's a workout for you now compared to when you were an NBA player?

FH: A lot different. When I was playing, it's your job and you work out all throughout the day. Now I'm lucky if I get the treadmill for 15 minutes. The thing they don't want me to do is lifting real heavy weights. I jog, I'll lift light weights.

Q: Becoming a coach at Iowa State in 2010, how naturally did that come to you? Is coaching a reasonable substitute for playing? You're out there even if you're not quite out there.

FH: I really missed the competitive part of it, being on the floor, when I was in the [Timberwolves] front office. I was really considering at that time moving onto a bench. I enjoyed working with players on their shots when I was in the front office -- I'd go down to the gym and spend time. So when I got the opportunity to get into coaching, I jumped at it. I looked back at all the guys I played for -- I played for some Hall of Fame coaches -- and I also watched a lot of practices when I was in the front office. I took notes on what I liked, what I didn't like and if I ever got the opportunity, what I'd do as a coach.

Q: It's something that runs in the family, too. [Hoiberg's maternal grandfather was Jerry Bush, who coached basketball at Toledo (1947-54) and Nebraska (1954-64).]

FH: I didn't know him very well -- he passed away when I was very young -- but I heard great stories about him and how he impacted people's lives. Not only being a coach but a mentor to the kids.

Q: How have the coaches around the NBA received you?

FH: I have great relationships with a lot of them. I played for coaches who are still in the league. I talked with coaches when I was contemplating coming back from my surgery. They've called to congratulate me and offer advice if I need it. I'm always looking to learn and get as much information as possible to apply it to what we're doing.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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