116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - The ballroom at the Cedar Rapids Marriott had a big crowd for Tuesday's Cyclone Tailgate Tour stop, but it wasn't as large or as buzzing as it was here a year ago.
The reason: No Fred Hoiberg.
Coming off a Big 12 tourney title and NCAA tourney Sweet 16 appearance last spring, Iowa State fans started grabbing Hoiberg for photos and autographs the moment he got off the ISU bus at the Marriott a year ago. The Cyclones flamed out in their first game at the NCAAs this year, but no matter. They won the Big 12 tourney again, and they're in almost everybody's national Top Five for 2015-16.
But the ISU news of the day came earlier Tuesday when ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard conceded that it's not a question of if Hoiberg will one day coach in the NBA, but when.
That wasn't jarring enough to require a seismometer, but it did hammer home that Cyclone fans should savor the Hoiberg era while it lasts. Because if the athletic director is admitting the coach will one day head to the pros, the coach isn't going to wait 10 years to do it.
While on the dais of Tuesday night's event, ISU women's basketball coach Bill Fennelly got a call on his cellphone. 'It's the Bulls,” he joked, with the obvious reference being the Chicago Bulls might be a suitor for Hoiberg should they decide to cast aside current coach Tom Thibodeau.
Chicago is one loss to Cleveland from elimination in the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals.
Hoiberg spent four of his 10 seasons as an NBA player with the Bulls.
'I think at some point in his life he'll want to do that (coach in the NBA),” Pollard reiterated in Cedar Rapids. 'When and where that happens, I don't control. And in some ways, he doesn't control it. A job's got to open that (Hoiberg and his family) have to want.
'In the meantime, I'm enjoying the ride. If the ride is another five days or five years, I'm going to enjoy it because he has done a great job for us. The last five years have been some of the most fun times in the history of Iowa State basketball.”
But the last two months have been two of the toughest for Pollard and Hoiberg. On March 10, Pollard had triple bypass surgery following a heart attack he suffered in Cedar Falls. On April 17, Hoiberg had an aortic valve replacement at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Hoiberg isn't on the Tailgate Tour, but assistant men's basketball coach Cornell Mann said his boss is back in the office and 'is doing absolutely wonderful.”
'What he had done was mechanical,” said Pollard. 'Now that valve is replaced, he should feel a lot, lot better than he felt during the season.”
'As an employer,” Pollard told the audience Tuesday night, 'you never ask anybody to do anything you wouldn't be able to do yourself. But I think I went too far.”
That was a joke, of course. Dispositions in Cyclone Country should be pretty bright if Hoiberg sticks around at least one more season, especially this coming season. With Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Jameel McKay, Naz Long and more in tow, even Iowa State broadcaster John Walters said it to Mann in front of a ballroom full of people:
'You're gonna be good.”
But the athletic director clearly is not only mentally preparing himself for the day when his star coach leaves, he's getting his program's supporters ready to start accepting the inevitable.
When you've had a heart attack and are back on the job nine weeks later, though, you don't need to be a great actor to urge people to enjoy the present rather than fixate on things they can't control.
Recently, Pollard took his family to an Ames sandwich shop. He said a grandmotherly woman waved him to her table. Pollard said he limped over and expected her to ask him how he was feeling.
'She said ‘Jamie, how's Freddie?' ”
If the Bulls and Thibodeau stay together, an athletic director and an old lady will both feel a lot better.