If the Chicago Bulls close the deal on Fred Hoiberg as their new head coach, it won’t be the first time the franchise has turned to Iowa State for leadership.
Tim Floyd jumped right from coaching the Cyclones to running the Bulls in 1998 and it was a disaster. In four seasons of trying to win with a stripped-down roster minus Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and other championship pieces, Floyd was cut loose with a record of 49-140.
Among the other busts in making the leap from college coaching to the NBA are John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton. Tark the Shark only lasted 20 games as coach of the San Antonio Spurs because he got sick of ownership trying to set his lineup.
So why the trend among NBA franchises to dip back into the college ranks with increasing frequency?
Billy Donovan to Oklahoma City makes some sense because he won a couple of national titles at Florida and was a Final Four regular but still it’s a gamble.
Brad Stevens, meanwhile, is gaining some traction with the Boston Celtics. He made the playoffs in his second season after making the jump from Butler. That’s encouraging, and follows with his pattern of efficiency in twice reaching the NCAA championship game with a mid-major team.
Hoiberg never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in his five seasons as Iowa State coach but he did play 10 seasons in the NBA and later served as a vice president with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Put it all together and it looks as if NBA owners increasingly want coaches who are still willing to learn, who have sharp technological skills and who are willing to bend.
That means giving in to management in ways that Tom Thibodeau didn’t believe he should have to do after earning a .647 winning percentage in five seasons as the Bulls’ coach. It means giving in to veteran players on occasion, too.
The players, remember, are the real celebrities here. That’s how two rookie NBA head coaches – David Blatt and Steve Kerr – could wind up in the 2015 NBA Finals this week. That’s how Erik Spoelstra won two NBA titles in Miami.
Dan Jennings’ step from the front office to the dugout in Miami can still go in any direction. It was the same with Jim Fanning, who late in the 1981 season became the manager of the Montreal Expos after previously serving as the team’s general manager and director of scouting.
Fanning, whose easy manner and courtesy made lots of friends back when the Expos trained in West Palm Beach, didn’t bother giving a pep talk when he first stood before the team as manager.
“I gave them a fact talk instead,” said Fanning, who shockingly replaced Hall of Famer and
two-time World Series champion Dick Williams. “I told them they had 27 days to win it.”
That’s how many games remained in the regular season and Montreal won 16 of them. How much or how little Fanning had to do with that is difficult to tell. He was, however, the only manager in Expos history to reach the playoffs, losing in the 1981 National League Championship Series when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game.
Fanning, who died April 25 at the age of 87, had managed 20 years earlier in the minor league system of the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.
Jennings’ story is still being written, but if he can match Fanning’s 116-103 record as Expos manager, that would be far more than anyone expects.