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All signs point to Ames, Iowa and Fred Hoiberg as the new Bulls coach

Give the Bulls credit: They at least tried to keep the worst-kept secret across the NBA alive and well.

With Tom Thibodeau fired as coach after five seasons on Thursday, both general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson wasted very little time describing the characteristics of the next coach they will be looking to hire.

“I just don’t think we’re going to put ourselves in a box,’’ Forman said.

Numerous reports, however, have the Bulls at least knowing the location of that box, and it resides in Ames, Iowa, with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

The Bulls have been linked with Hoiberg since last season, and that talk only grew as this season went on, and the relationship between Thibodeau and the front office worsened.

There have been several leaks out of Iowa State that the Cyclones athletic department was already preparing for Hoiberg’s departure, and then early on Thursday there was a report in the Ames Tribune that Hoiberg told five-star recruit Cheick Diallo, who chose to play at Kansas, that the coach couldn’t commit to his own future at Iowa State.

Then there’s also the Hoiberg contract, which he signed in 2013, and was very NBA friendly. The $10-year, $20-million deal has a $2 million buyout if Hoiberg leaves for another college coaching position, but only $500,000 if he leaves for an NBA team.

Hoiberg played for the Bulls for four seasons, had a front office job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and was the Iowa State coach since the 2010-11 season, where he has made the Cyclones a nationally ranked program in making the NCAA Tournament four-straight seasons.

While the Bulls would still be on the hook for $9 million over the next two years with Thibodeau, there was an off-set in his contract that if he was hired by another NBA team, the Bulls would only owe the difference in the money.

Thibodeau could sit out this next season and wait for a better opportunity to open up for the 2016 season, but the 2011 Coach of the Year likely won’t be unemployed very long.

As far as how quickly the Bulls will act, Forman didn’t put a timetable on it, but indicated that the search started Thursday evening.

“We’ve got certain criteria that we’re going to be looking for in the next coach,’’ Forman said. “But we’re not going to put ourselves in a box – ‘had to be a head coach, had to be an assistant coach, what level they’ve coached on’ – we’re really going to look for the right fit.

“And I went through some of those things that I’ve talked about. Obviously someone that can lead, but we’ve got to get somebody that can communicate at a high level, that’s got great knowledge of the game, obviously experience is a plus, as far as coaching is concerned. If they’ve been a head coach even more so, but we’re not going to limit our search in any way.’’