It's been a little over a month since Fred Hoiberg has been named head coach for the Cyclones, and the Mayor's homecoming has not been without its speedbumps. LaRon Dendy and Antwon Oliver chose to leave the program of their own volition. Charles Boozer ran afoul of the law and came to a mutual decision with Hoiberg to leave the program. What is left is a basketball team that brings reminders of the Indiana Hoosiers after the carnage of Kelvin Sampson, except with a couple of guys that remained in Diante Garrett, Scott Christopherson and Jamie Vanderbeken.
It's a tough situation to step into, for sure.
But Coach Hoiberg has handled the transition in a manner that makes him look like a natural at the job.
Starting with his press conference, Hoiberg stressed continuity, while also offering a fresh start. He talked about the importance of keeping TJ Otzelberger on staff for both recruiting and player purposes. He talked about playing to the strengths of his players that were returning - from Garrett's ability to spread the floor to Vanderbeken's knack for hitting the three. For a fanbase that was tired of hearing about "one of the largest playbooks" in America, this was music to the collective ears of the Cyclone fanbase. It's often discussed whether or not Cyclone coaches "get it", in terms of the situation in Ames. Many feel that Gene Chizik, for example, didn't get it. But, it sure looks like Hoiberg got it from the start.
The retention of Otzelberger paid off in terms of keeping together what looked to be one of the most promising of Greg McDermott's recruiting classes at Iowa State. DeMarcus Phillips and Melvin Ejim both have a chance to contribute immediately, while Jordan Railey, Calvin Godfrey and Eric McKnight will both have an opportunity to earn major minutes from the outset as well. It's clear that while most Cyclone players didn't seem to relate all that well to McDermott, Otzelberger was one of the coaches that the players did seem to not wish ill upon. T.J. is an up-and-coming recruiter, and the fact that Hoiberg kept him from following his buddy to Creighton was a good start.
The coaching staff would also holdover Jeff Rutter and Cyclone legend Jeff Grayer. Rutter maintains another bit of carryover, while at the same time allowing for more continuity in terms of the operations part of running a basketball team. I have my doubts as to whether or not Grayer would have been hired by Hoiberg if he had not been picked up by McDermott to fill out the staff, but Jeff will work as a link to the past, as well as a possible connection to Detroit/Flint basketball circles.
But Hoiberg's best move yet may have just come public on Wednesday, thanks to Twitter.
The addition of Bobby Lutz to the coaching staff is an absolutely awesome move. In Lutz, Iowa State gets a guy that is legitimately qualified to hold the head coaching position as the number two assistant coach. Chances are his pay won't reflect that, though his severance package from Charlotte may help him to pay the bills. Lutz was assumed to be a lifer at Charlotte, but was let go after a 19-12 campaign this year that tailed off at the end of the season. Regardless, Hoiberg now has the sort of guy that he said he wanted at his press conference - a former head coach that can help him learn the ropes. If Lutz moves on in a year or two, that's fine. His job is to help teach Hoiberg how to be a coach. If he does a good job of that, he'll have his own head job back soon enough.
The new players keep rolling in as well. Chris Babb will join the team from Penn State, while Darion Anderson comes over from Northern Illinois and will retain immediate eligibility - a replacement for Boozer in the guard court, except with more actual talent. Babb will provide more veteran leadership in the backcourt after Garrett graduates. Both are no-brainer additions.
Even with the few things that have gone wrong since he took over, Hoiberg has shown that he has his finger on the pulse of the Cyclone program and the Cyclone fan base. He'll continue to get a lot of blind love until a tough 2010-2011 campaign is upon us. But until we have some wins and losses to judge him on, he's getting a passing grade so far. Love or hate the hiring process that landed CFH, it's hard not to be happy with how he's done so far. Keep making these right moves into the basketball season, Coach, and the love affair that the Cyclone Nation has with you will continue to grow.