Fred Hoiberg to leave the Bulls for Ohio State? Not an option

The road has a clear path.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith held the same position for Iowa State while Fred Hoiberg was setting school records for the Cyclones. Smith, who fired coach Thad Matta this week, needs a replacement in a hurry.

But several sources told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that Smith and the Buckeyes haven’t contacted Hoiberg, who still has three years and $15 million left on his Bulls deal.

Even if Ohio State had interest in Hoiberg, one source said the timing of Matta’s dismissal suggests Smith already had someone in mind.

Also, the lack of contact with Hoiberg indicates that he isn’t a serious contender at this point.

“Gene is usually very thought out,’’ the source said.

Still, there have been whispers out of Columbus that Hoiberg could be an option, especially considering his coaching résumé at Iowa State from 2010 to 2015, when he brought that program back to national prominence in his five seasons with a 115-56 record.

In his two seasons with the Bulls, however, Hoiberg has offered no signals that he’d even want to return to college coaching.

Not that anyone could blame him if he jumped ship.

As was the case with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, Hoiberg has to work with a front office that has a difficult time delivering the type of players to fit a particular system, and general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson have been known to undermine their coaches.

“I think Fred’s challenge this offseason is to find ways to be a better leader,’’ Paxson said during an end-of-season news conference. “I think he showed progress in that area.’’

Hoiberg also has had to deal with several assistant coaches who report directly to Forman, leading to major questions about loyalty.

If by some chance Hoiberg, who couldn’t be reached for comment, leaves the Bulls, assistant Jim Boylen — a Forman guy — would be the likely replacement because of the timing.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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