There are no constants in professional sports, especially at the head coaching position.
So the bell tolled Monday for Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who was fired after just over three full seasons with the Bulls. But it remains a loss for everyone connected to the Bulls because they were all in together. As the poet wrote, no man is an island. So everyone feels such a loss.
"Decisions like this one are never easy to make," Bulls Executive Vice-President John Paxson said in a statement. However, I felt this was the right choice for our organization at this time. After a thorough evaluation, I elected to make this move with the overall development of our team in mind. As a team, I believe it is imperative that we make unfaltering strides in the right direction and build the right habits to help put our players in the best position to evolve not only now, but into the future. I want to thank Fred for his dedication and efforts, as well as for his enduring commitment to our team."
Paxson said associate head coach Jim Boylen has been promoted to head coach. He is not being listed as an interim coach.
Boylen has been Hoiberg's top lieutenant on the coaching staff and primarily responsible for the defense. He was hired shortly after Hoiberg became head coach. Boylen, 53, is from East Grand Rapids, Michigan and after playing college basketball at the U. of Maine returned to Michigan in 1987 as an assistant at Michigan State under Jud Heathcote. Hoiberg's son, Jack, currently is on the Michigan State basketball team. In 1992, Boylen was hired as a video coordinator and scout and eventually assistant with the Houston Rockets and was on the staff during their run of back to back championships under coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Boylen remains close friends with Tomjanovich.
After 11 seasons with the Rockets, Boylen moved on to assistant jobs with the Warriors and Bucks. Boylen then returned to Michigan State as an assistant under Tom Izzo. He was named head coach at the U. of Utah in 2007. Utah in his first season had its first winning record in two seasons and in his second season the 24-10 team won the Mountain West regular and post season and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, which was a conference best at the time. He coached at Utah through 2011 and was fired after his fourth season with a 13-18 record. He was 67-60 overall.
Boylen joined the Pacers staff after leaving Utah and was hired to join the San Antonio Spurs staff in 2013 and got his third NBA championship ring with the 2014 Spurs title.
Hoiberg, 46, was named Bulls coach following the 2014-15 season and the dismissal of coach Tom Thibodeau, who now is with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 2010, he took over as Iowa State coach replacing Greg McDermott, the father of Doug McDermott, who went on to play for the Bulls under Hoiberg and now plays for the Pacers. Hoiberg at Iowa State was a sought after college coach who had interviewed for various head coaching positions in the NBA, including with the Golden State Warriors after Mark Jackson was dismissed. Hoiberg was Big 12 Coach of the Year at Iowa State and became fastest to reach 100 wins at Iowa State. Hoiberg did a major turnaround at Iowa State as the school went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years and claimed its first first top 25 ranking in the same span. He also recorded the largest ever one season improvement in conference history. In 2013, he signed a 10-year contract with a buyout for a pro coaching position. He went on to sign a five-year contract with the Bulls in 2015.
Hoiberg had played for the Bulls from 1999-2003 and then for the Timberwolves when the discovery of a heart ailment ended his NBA playing career. Hoiberg wears a pacemaker. He then joined the Minnesota front office and was assistant general manager and director of basketball operations. Hoiberg played for the Indiana Pacers after being a second round draft pick out of Iowa State in 1995 after growing up in Ames. He was born in Nebraska and was a top Iowa prep athlete who was also offered a football scholarship to play at Nebraska. He played at Iowa for Johnny Orr and one season for Tim Floyd before going to the Pacers, whom the Bulls play Tuesday.
The 6-4 Hoiberg was so popular in Ames for his prep athletic exploits he received a vote in the 1993 mayoral election and was nicknamed The Mayor.
But it proved a star crossed relationship with the Bulls for Hoiberg, who inherited the tough-act-to-follow mantle in replacing Thibodeau, who had led the Bulls to the league's best record in consecutive seasons before Derrick Rose suffered his serious knee injury.
Hoiberg took over a Bulls team that had won 50 games in 2014-15, but which was on the cusp of a change with injuries catching up to its core.
It would be the final season for Rose with the Bulls as he was traded to the Knicks after the season. It was a coming out season for Jimmy Butler, but he clashed with Hoiberg early that season even as the Bulls were 15-9 coming off a quadruple overtime loss. A weary Butler said Hoiberg didn't coach him hard enough even though Hoiberg had only been coach just over a month. Butler later apologized and admitted the remarks were inappropriate. The Bulls still were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference at the time of those comments and would win six straight gams shortly after that to go 10 games over .500 at 22-12. But injured would haunt Hoiberg's Bulls tenure. Joakim Noah suffered a serious injury and was then lost for the season. Mike Dunleavy was out injured the first half of the season and later in the season after making the All-Star team Butler missed 15 games with injury and came back uncertain for the rest of the season. The Bulls were 42-40 but missed the playoffs.
Hoiberg, nevertheless, handled the related difficulties, changes and setbacks with aplomb and personal class and loyalty to the organization.
The Bulls remade their roster for the next season with the Rose trade and the free agency departure of Noah and Pau Gasol with the signings of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Butler became an All-Star starter, but Wade and Rondo often clashed and during the season the Bulls made major trades to deal veteran Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. Still, amidst the changes, the Bulls finished the season strong to make the playoffs and then took a 2-0 lead on the road against top seeded Boston in the playoffs. But Rondo was hurt after another top performance in Game 2 and the Bulls went on to lose the next four games in the series.
The Bulls then committed to a major rebuilding and traded Butler to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen. But Hoiberg again was burdened by a fraught personnel situation. LaVine remained in rehabilitation from his anterior cruciate surgery and didn't play until mid season. He would then sit out the final 14 games. Dunn sustained various injuries and missed 30 games. Plus, just before the season started, forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis got into a fight, causing serious injury to Mirotic. He would not be able to play until December and Portis was suspended eight games. Mirotic asked to be traded and the Bulls traded him in midseason to the New Orleans Pelicans for a draft pick the Bulls used for Chandler Hutchison.
The Bulls finished the season 27-55, which was several games above preseason expectations despite the changes. The Bulls got the No. 7 pick in the 2018 draft and selected Wendell Carter Jr.
Which made the start of the 2018-19 season, effectively, a fourth distinct roster for Hoiberg with Carter Jr. moving in as starting center. Free agent Jabari Parker was signed in the summer and slated to come off the bench, but Markkanen was injured along with Dunn, Portis and Denzel Valentine to start this season and the Bulls became oddsmakers favorites to win just one of their games. Valentine is now out for the season. So Hoiberg again was tasked with juggling lineups throughout this season, often starting and using players who had recently been in the G-league, like Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Cristiano Felicio, Cameron Payne and Shaquille Harrison.
Hoiberg, nevertheless, handled the related difficulties, changes and setbacks with aplomb and personal class and loyalty to the organization. But no one survives the losing. The Bulls Saturday loss in Houston in which, ironically, Markkanen returned for his first game this season, was the Bulls sixth consecutive loss and 10th in the last 11 games. The Bulls record dropped to 5-19. We all are diminished when a good man departs.
The Bulls play the Indiana Pacers Tuesday.