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By Sam Smith | 6.3.2015 | 7:00 a.m.
It was before Fred Hoiberg's third season coaching Iowa State. His team was 23-11 after a .500 rookie season and had won an NCAA game. Hoiberg was at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for the enshrinement of friend and former teammate Reggie Miller.
"I remember us having a conversation at my induction," Miller recalled Tuesday after Hoiberg was officially named the Bulls new head coach. "He was thinking about how could he get back into the NBA. He loved Iowa State, loved coaching the players there. But he always was thinking about doing it on a bigger stage
"I said, ‘Fred, you are kidding me?'" recalled Miller. "'You are made for the NBA. You played 10 years, you know the temperament, you know what it's like to be on teams that are very successful, our Pacers teams; you are a good mixture of knowing the game, knowing what to go through.'
"He was my understudy," said Miller. "He was the guy every day as a rookie who went through the drills (with me), shooting and footwork, the repetition. He's cut from that mold. You watch those Iowa State teams play with that pro system, that movement and the shooting and everyone gets touches. That's why I think it's going to be such a breath of fresh air for the Bulls. He knows how to change things on the fly and that's what will gain a lot of respect for the players for Fred, this breath of fresh air. There is a lot of pressure on Freddie. But I think this is tailor made for him."
Hoiberg seemed to fit in with the Bulls Tuesday at his introductory press conference like a comfortable sweater. He was loose and casual in a nearly one hour session with media addressing everything from his health to motivation to relationships with his new bosses. Hoiberg didn't deflect or flinch at a question, answering honestly and earnestly. Which is the Hoiberg his friends, teammates and various team officials over the years have known.
Though modest in nature and speech, Hoiberg was one of the nation's star prep athletes, recruited by the best in basketball, baseball and football. He was Iowa's Mr. Basketball growing up in Ames, where he went to college and earned the nickname "mayor" for getting votes in the city's mayoral election. He was a first team academic all-American, married his high school girlfriend and has four children. The 6-4, 205-pound shooting guard chose basketball in college and was a second round draft pick of the Indiana Pacers in 1995.
He would play four years with the Pacers as they went to the Eastern Conference finals and lost to the Bulls in seven games in 1998, then four seasons with the Bulls and two with the Minnesota Timberwolves before a heart issue forced his retirement at 32. He then worked in the Timberwolves' front office four years before going to Iowa State for five and now onto the Bulls.
And though Hoiberg never left a big mark among the pros with statistical achievements, his impact was substantial and those closest to him and most knowledgeable about the game believe he's ideal as an NBA head coach.
"His personality," said Pacers president Larry Bird. "If you watch him coach he never shows he's up too high or too low. He's even keel. I think the players will absolutely love him. I know they did at Iowa State. He's easy to get along with, a smart kid. He'll do a fantastic job. There's no question about that. I thought it was a great hire for the Bulls."
Bird says he has watched Hoiberg's Iowa State teams often in scouting and they remain one of his favorites.
"He likes to push it, have an open court, move the ball around," said Bird. "A lot of his guys were all the same size. He'd match and do different things. I'm not surprised Freddie has turned out to be a great coach. He's so even tempered it's unbelievable. You (Chicago) guys are going from one extreme to the other.
"The best I've ever had," Bird added about Hoiberg as a teammate and quality individual. "The players absolutely adored him; he was all about the team. He would wait his turn to play, always there at practice doing what you are supposed to be doing, very professional. You'll find out that right away. He goes about his stuff in a professional way, always has. That's why he was the mayor."
Former Pacers' president and current consultant Donnie Walsh drafted Hoiberg and said Hoiberg has many special qualities.
"Gave you everything he had, and as he went on he got to be a better player because he is smart and he figured out how to get shots and he could make them," said Walsh, noting how Hoiberg went on to lead the league in three-point shooting percentage in Minnesota. "I liked having him on our team; great team member. You could use him in big games, defend and give you everything. Everybody loves Freddie. He's just that kind of guy.
"He's not a guy that tries to get everyone to love him," said Walsh. "He's a pretty quiet, straight guy. Our team then when we got to be pretty good we had Mark (Jackson), Reggie, Dale (Davis), (Rik) Smits, Derrick McKey, a good bench, a lot good players. Larry's coaching. Before shootarounds start, like all NBA players, these guys want to throw touchdowns passes and stuff like that; somewhere along the line there was a football in the middle. Mark is throwing and Reggie and all the guys. Then Freddie goes and it was a different level. This guy is throwing it like he's Johnny Unitas. I said to him, ‘Freddie, did you have football scholarships?' He went, ‘Yeah, Nebraska, Notre Dame.' Never said anything to anyone about it. Baseball player, too. Could do everything.
"I think the Bulls got a good guy," said Walsh. "I really do. I think the players will like him. I know this: If anyone is pissed off at Freddie or can't work with Freddie, they've got the problem. He's not divisive, not that kind of guy, going off on his own. He's a guy who will work with everybody.
"Also, Freddie has been in the pros and went back to college, so he'll know the differences," said Walsh. "A lot of college coaches come into the pros, get blind sided because they think they know all the basketball they need to know. Then they walk in and go, ‘Oh crap, there's a lot to this game I don't know.' They hear it from the players. I think Freddie's a lot like Steve Kerr as far the way he carries himself. Fred can be humorous; low key, though. Not trying to be the star out there."
That's the way former Bulls teammate Elton Brand remembers Hoiberg.
"A tireless worker," said Brand. "Super professional, very meticulous about his craft. A shooter and he would practice and work on his game endlessly, tirelessly. That's the biggest thing that sticks in my mind the way he worked. And he fit in."
"He wasn't trying to hang out with me and Ron Ron, for instance," Brand said with a laugh. "Great teammate, didn't try to push himself on the young guys. But outgoing with the team, told jokes, all around good guy. Always had a positive outlook as tough as things were with that team."
And it's not going to be easy replacing a successful coach like Tom Thibodeau.
"Fred will be judged according to his success according to Thibs' (record)," said Miller. "He has to get (Derrick) Rose, (Joakim) Noah, Pau (Gasol) and Jimmy Butler if he resigns (all working together), find room for Doug McDermott because a young guy like him has to play, Nikola (Mirotic). Has to get those guys to buy into his system and play just as hard as they did for Thibs.
"But let's face it, Thibodeau was more of a defensive coach and that wears on you," said Miller. "That's great; that wins. But you have to score to win, too. You've got to put players in good position and the way the game has changed there's got to be so much flow; it's really catered to that you can't really hold the ball anymore; you've got to have an offense that flows and Fred's that type of guy.
"He was one of those guys always all in," Miller said of Hoiberg as a teammate. "Rookies have to do a lot of the grunt work. I always liked to get there early and prepare and to be over prepared; Fred was that type of player. He was there as early as I was to go over film work, the game plans, matchups. A lot of times he was on the scout team. Then he'd sub for me for the first team. So he had knowledge of both sides and to me that's the sign of a good coach.
"That's why I think Steve (Kerr) is such a good coach," said Miller. "To play with the greatest player of all time in Jordan, to be in that system under Phil (Jackson) and to be part of the bench brigade coming in making shots, he found the best of both worlds. I think that's why Fred will be successful. We obviously didn't have the success of the Bulls, but we were competitive, in the Eastern Conference finals and Fred was a big part of that.
"Mild mannered people think (of him), but there's a little bit of a mean streak to him," said Miller, who was closest with Hoiberg. "You're going to need that. You've got to gain the respect of your players. But I think with Chicago that Fred, trust me, he will change it up. Fred is such a great people person.
"And like with Billy Donovan (in Oklahoma City), it's a great team to inherit," said Miller. "It's a team that has championship aspirations, an MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, runner up Rookie of the Year. If you can put those pieces together and in the East you have a shot."