A new head coach usually hires an entirely new set of assistants.
He doesn’t usually promote someone from the previous staff.
But that’s what Fred Hoiberg did when he took over his alma mater, Iowa State, in 2010. He elevated T.J. Otzelberger to associate head basketball coach.
“I thought he did a great job of bringing talent to Iowa State, and he had some guys that ended up becoming pros all over, not just the NBA,” said Hoiberg, who was named Nebraska’s coach in March. “I was working for the Minnesota Timberwolves in a front office position, and when I came down to scout Iowa State, not only did I get to know (previous coach) Greg McDermott, but I also got to know T.J. very well. So when I got the job, I thought it was very important to keep T.J. on board and to promote him.
“It worked out great. He did a really good job in helping get recruits, and I also thought as a coach X’s- and O’s-wise, he’s very good. He’s the guy that handled all the scouts for us, especially in that second year, so it was really fun to be on the same staff with T.J.”
Hoiberg and Otzelberger, UNLV’s first-year coach, were part of fundraising activities this week in Las Vegas for Coaches vs. Cancer, which benefits the American Cancer Society. Former UNLV and current Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is the main organizer.
Otzelberger’s ascension under Hoiberg played a key part in his career.
“He empowered me a lot as a coach, taught me a lot,” Otzelberger said. “He’s somebody that has been a mentor to me.”
Now Hoiberg takes over a Cornhuskers team that went 19-17 last season and was eliminated in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. Previous coach Tim Miles posted a 116-114 record in seven seasons.
Hoiberg brings his Iowa State coaching experience, having gone 115-56 from 2010 to 2015. The Cyclones made the NCAA Tournament each of his final four seasons, and they won the Big 12 Conference tournament championship in his final two years.
That success led to an opportunity in the NBA, where Hoiberg coached the Chicago Bulls. Victories came much more infrequently, and Hoiberg was fired in December after starting 5-19.
He was open to taking another NBA job or returning to college.
“I’m happy to be back in the college game, and I’m really excited about this job at Nebraska,” Hoiberg said.
He has a supporter in Otzelberger.
“Fred’s an offensive genius,” Otzelberger said. “He’s extremely intelligent, really understands spacing, mismatches, strengths of players. He’s a players’ coach. I learned a lot from him in the time we spent together.”
Though Hoiberg, 46, played at Iowa State and grew up in Ames, Iowa, he was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. His grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached the Huskers from 1955 to 1963.
“That was a big part of it and what got me interested in the job,” Hoiberg said of the ties to the university and area. “The facilities that I saw when I coached a preseason game at Pinnacle Bank Arena two years ago when the Bulls played the Mavericks, I saw how special that place was. The more I learned about that job, the more attractive it became. I really think it’s a job we can be successful at and have sustained success.”
Fred Hoiberg file
Current: Nebraska coach
Prior coaching experience: Chicago Bulls, 2015-19, 115-155; Iowa State; 2010-15, 115-56
Other experience: Vice president of basketball operations, Minnesota Timberwolves, 2009-10; assistant general manager, Timberwolves, 2006-09
Playing career: Timberwolves, 2003-05; Bulls, 1999-2003; Indiana Pacers, 1995-99; Iowa State, 1991-95