Fred Hoiberg must walk fine line between pleasing players, management

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Fred Hoiberg compiled a 115-56 record in five seasons at Iowa State, including four consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. | Ed Zurga/Getty Images

You gotta like the fact Fred Hoiberg’s nickname is “the Mayor” and not, say, “the Alderman.”


I mean, at some point, we must get past the fact that the Bulls’ front office (read: John Paxson and Gar Forman) pulled a rather devious, undermining campaign to get rid of coach Tom Thibodeau so it could bring in this young college coach. And we’re going to have a Bulls season next fall, like it or not.

The Bulls fired a hard-driving, laser-focused, humorless, socially awkward, defensive-minded, monomaniacally hoops-centered man when they canned Thibs. They also fired a very successful coach.

Thibodeau’s regular-season winning percentage during his five-year run (.647, 255-139) is second in Bulls history behind the legendary Phil Jackson.

It’s not that Thibodeau did anything wrong. He came as advertised from his assistant’s gig with the Celtics. It’s just that the Bulls (read: Paxson, who has been with the organization in some capacity since 1985) are an unsettled franchise with the ghost of Michael Jordan always in the leather chair across the table.

Paxson is an intense, driven man himself, and at times it seems he is more angry at his own choices than with the coaches who perform in ways that provoke his wrath.

After all, he chose untested

Vinny Del Negro as coach in 2008, and then was angry when the first-time coach turned out to be average. Before that, he had fired coach and former teammate Bill Cartwright and replaced him with Scott Skiles, whom he would fire 41⁄2 seasons later, on Christmas Eve.

Then came Thibs, a basketball lifer who had never been a head coach. Just like Del Negro. And, yes, like Hoiberg, who will be introduced as the coach at a 2 p.m. news conference Tuesday.

So the pattern here seems to be the desire to get a fresh, blank slate who can bring skills to the coaching office but also can be molded to Paxson’s philosophical desires. And if that doesn’t happen? Eject button.

So the Mayor will have to introduce himself to Bulls players, explain what he is all about and the players will have to accept him; not as a friend, but as a leader who is worthy of respect and allegiance. And respect for and allegiance to a coach in the NBA comes in a neat package.

One: The coach must be smart and prepared and capable of leading the team to victories.

Two: He must play the best players in the best situations.

Three: He must not be arbitrary, petty, brutal or somebody’s lapdog.

Four: He can’t lie.

Five: He can’t lie.

You see where this is headed.

Hoiberg will have to prove that his college coaching career at Iowa State is relevant to the NBA and that he isn’t just a happy-to-be-here guy who’s in over his head. He’ll have to instill trust in his X’s and O’s and make it clear he (not Paxson or Forman) is running the game-day show.

He’ll have to assure players that he is reasonable and directed and that he’s here for a while: five years for $25 million is real.

But the second Hoiberg lies about something — say, he promises to play somebody big minutes but doesn’t — he will lose the team.

There are always feuds and dislikes on NBA teams. The travel and practice and proximity to each other can be maddening. So Hoiberg can’t let something like a possible rift between guards Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler fester and explode. He has to be a shrewd psychologist, something Thibodeau never was.

We can’t be sure who will be on the team next season, other than Rose and Pau Gasol and a few others. And we don’t know who will get hurt or who might already be damaged goods.

I remember Hoiberg from his Bulls playing days, and I think I can say all of us in the media found him to be a thoughtful, well-spoken young man.

He was the classic guy who did all the little things on the floor. Coaching at Iowa State was a no-brainer for him. That’s his alma mater.

In a way, the Bulls are his alma mater, too. Maybe the Mayor will be a refreshing tonic after the dour Thibodeau. Maybe Hoiberg will get along with Paxson and listen to him just enough to get the passion but not the rage.

After all, Hoiberg is called the Mayor because, back in the day, he got along with everybody.


Twitter: @ricktelander

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