CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The road to the next job in college basketball is often paved with expectations that are not met.
UCLA fired Ben Howland, even though he’d taken the Bruins to three Final Fours early in his career, in part because Howland could not deliver the next national championship.
In came Steve Alford, who left a disappointed fan base behind at Iowa when he jumped to New Mexico. Shortly after his Lobos lost to 14th-seeded Harvard in the NCAA Tournament, Alford headed West — again — to UCLA. If this trend continues, Alford will soon be a head coach in Fiji, should he fall short with the Bruins.
Fred Hoiberg, on the other hand, lives in a different neighborhood. Shortly after Hoiberg replaced Greg McDermott at Iowa State, the former Cyclone star made a couple of strong statements.
One: “If I thought I was going to fail, I would never have come here.”
Two: “I hope and I think I can get the arena filled again, and get the magic back to this place.”
Three years after taking the ISU job, his first as a head coach, Hoiberg looks like he’s on the right track. He hasn’t won a Big 12 title yet and the Cyclones missed a ride to the NCAA Sweet 16 in the most painful of ways, but his team has been to the big dance two straight times.
It’s playing effective and entertaining basketball, and attendance at Hilton Coliseum has improved.
One more thing: There is no next job following a trail of disappointment. While his name popped up in speculation about an opening at Minnesota, Hoiberg signed an extension with Iowa State. Things could still change, but Hoiberg’s future seems secure, although he shrugged when asked if the deal would quell discussion of jobs in other programs.
“Oh, who knows?” he said Monday. “I’m really excited about being at Iowa State for a long time.”
Hoiberg signed autographs at the Menard’s in Cedar Falls as part of the store’s grand opening festivities. He wrote on basketballs and backboards, posed for photographs with babies and chatted with middle-aged ladies.
That session happened roughly a day before Iowa State issued a press release discussing improper recruiting phone calls and the possibility of two years of probation. ISU did not say which coaches made the calls, and it’s unlikely Hoiberg would have commented.
On that Monday, Hoiberg shook hands with his fans, grinned for the cameras and talked about his own standards for Cyclone basketball.
“I had high expectations when we took the job,” said Hoiberg.
He reviewed those first three years, a stretch that began with four scholarship players in 2010. From there, with the help of transfers like Royce White and Will Clyburn, ISU took off, won 23 games twice and advanced a round in consecutive NCAA tournaments.
But those last-second losses hurt — such as the two in overtime to Kansas in the regular season, then the Ohio State game that ended the 2012-13 season. Hoiberg winced a little when he talked about them.
Yet, Hoiberg said, “It was really a fun season.
“It’s a group I’ll always remember. The way we lost — it was tough. It’s still tough to digest that last game, you know. But we had a pretty special year, I thought.”
He has work to do. Clyburn, Korie Lucious, Anthony Booker and Tyrus McGee are done. Georges Niang, impressive as a freshman, and Melvin Ejim return.
There will be an infusion of junior college transfers, plus a highly-regarded shooter from the Wisconsin high school ranks, a guard named Matt Thomas.
“It’ll be a lot different, but so was this year compared to the previous year,” said Hoiberg.
This year isn’t quite over yet. Hoiberg will coach in the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Star game. Clyburn is scheduled to play. McGee, another departing senior, will try the 3-point shooting contest.
Hoiberg knows this territory well. He participated in both events at the end of his senior year with Iowa State.
“It was a great weekend for me,” he said. “I still remember it. I had one of my better games. It’ll be good for Will, and it’ll get him great exposure. There will probably be about 20 teams out at our practice and watching him play.”
Hoiberg smiled a little when he relived the 3-point contest.
“I got last,” he said. “So I hope Tyrus does better than me. I am giving him advice. I told him to make sure he goes slow. I rushed it and I got off to a horrendous start.”
The future is never a sure thing for anyone. Obstacles that could never be foreseen might force Hoiberg to try a different path. The heart problems that abbreviated his playing career could intervene.
On one day in early April, it was hard to envision a man more comfortable than Fred Hoiberg. Given his record of success from high school star at Ames to standout at ISU to the NBA and then back to his alma mater, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Hoiberg.