Watch CBS News

Westerlund: Meet Fred Hoiberg, The Anti-Tom Thibodeau

By Cody Westerlund--

CHICAGO (CBS) – The contrast was as stark as could be.

There Fred Hoiberg sat, smiling in every direction and calling reporters by their first names. Off to his left and just out of the sight of the cameras were his wife, Carol, and four children. At one point, Hoiberg joked how crazy it was that his daughter had just graduated high school and was heading off to college.

To Hoiberg's immediate right was Bulls general manager Gar Forman, the man primarily responsible for bringing Hoiberg to Chicago. It was just five days ago that Forman and the Bulls fired coach Tom Thibodeau, who wore on many in the organization after five successful and drama-filled seasons.

If you forgot why, Forman explained in nearly every praise he heaped upon Hoiberg.

"We feel strongly that we've got a guy with a skill package of a winning coach, a guy who is a natural leader and a great, great communicator," Forman said in what was literally the opening to his opening statement.

The Bulls introduced Hoiberg as their 19th coach in franchise history Tuesday afternoon at the Advocate Center in what also served as the second eulogy in six days for Thibodeau's coaching tenure. All the traits Thibodeau didn't display as coach of the Bulls – most notably a willingness to communicate with the front office and also lower-level organizational staffers in general – were lauded in Hoiberg, who reportedly signed a five-year deal worth about $25 million.

"A big part of coaching's the human element, getting guys to buy in, to play together, to play hard, to accept roles and put them in the right system," Forman said. "I know we have 100 percent confidence that Fred's going to be able to do that.

"You've got to have a high, high level of communication to build trust. And when that breaks down, the trust breaks down and thus there are problems. I'm extremely confident we're going to have a high level of communication with Fred and us."

In sports and life, it's only natural to go with the different, the new after a previous plan didn't work out. The Bulls have taken that to the extreme, both from a personality standpoint and on the coaching spectrum.

Hoiberg is charming, doling out one-on-one interviews for hours Tuesday after his initial press conference. Thibodeau was largely reticent in the public eye and often lost himself for hours upon hours alone in the film room.

Hoiberg, 42, had a 10-year NBA playing career and landed his Iowa State coaching job without ever having been an assistant at any level. Thibodeau, 52 when the Bulls hired him in June 2010, didn't have an NBA playing career but did spend two-plus decades as an assistant in the league.

Hoiberg's renowned for his offensive ingenuity, his Cyclones ranking among the NCAA leaders in scoring, offensive efficiency and pace during his Iowa State tenure. Thibodeau revolutionized how the NBA plays defense, and his Bulls were among the league leaders in points allowed and defensive efficiency during his Chicago tenure.

Hoiberg admitted Tuesday that sometimes you just need to give your players a day off during the rigors of the season. Thibodeau attacked the game with a relentless, structured approach, once saying he couldn't ever remember missing a game for any reason in his coaching career that dates back to 1981.

You could go on and on.

The larger point is the Bulls finally got who and what they wanted Tuesday, and after the trying 2014-'15 season and uneasiness surrounding Thibodeau's tenure, everyone's cheerfulness was easy to understand.

"A rival GM called me last night, first of all to congratulate us on Fred becoming our basketball coach," Forman said. "It's a guy who had tried to hire Fred in the last year or two. Quite simply, what he said to me is you are getting a special coach and you're getting a special person. And he couldn't have said it any better. We know we're getting a special coach and special person."

On the backburner for this day was that judgment will come on the court. It's where Thibodeau excelled, compiling a .647 winning percentage in Chicago and making the Bulls relevant for the first time in the post-dynasty era. Hoiberg excelled as well in revitalizing alma mater Iowa State, leading it to a 115-56 mark (.673) in the past five seasons after he spent the previous four seasons in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office.

Hoiberg's Cyclones found success with a style of play that was unique to a college game that's seen scoring go by the wayside. His Iowa State teams pushed the ball consistently, heavily utilized drag screens for secondary transition looks and were predicated on spacing the floor in the half-court. Hoiberg typically utilized at least one big man with 3-point range – opportunity awaits you, Nikola Mirotic – and stressed finding the mismatch to create chaos in the defense.

Hoiberg's Iowa State teams also relied heavily on the 3-pointer, and he disdains the mid-range jump shot. He'll embrace analytics with open arms in taking over on the sidelines for an organization that utilizes analytics yet is led by front office men with an old-school approach.

"Nobody on our roster took more than 12 percent of their shots in the mid-range," Hoiberg said of his 2014-'15 Cyclones. "That's something we look at very closely. We do shoot a lot of threes, but we don't live and die by it."

At its core, Hoiberg's will be a system less regimented than Thibodeau's, which often worked inside-out last season.

"We had the second-fastest pace of play in all of college basketball last year," Hoiberg said. "We like to get out and play with pace and spacing. I think we ran more pick-and-roll than anybody in college basketball last year. We really like to flow into an offense instead of coming down and getting set every possession. You know, it's something that's always been my philosophy."

Perhaps the only tie to bind Hoiberg and Thibodeau on Tuesday were Hoiberg's recollections of and compliments to the man he's replacing. Twice, Hoiberg referenced Thibodeau.

The first was to call Thibodeau an "excellent, excellent basketball coach" and to point out he instilled good habits in the Bulls. The second was in response to a direct question on Thibodeau, with Hoiberg speaking fondly of a meeting several years ago when he chatted basketball in Thibodeau's office while on a recruiting trip.

It was more praise than Thibodeau had received in the past year from Bulls ownership and management, which have come under national scrutiny for their harsh handling of Thibodeau's exit.

Like Thibodeau, Hoiberg will encounter championship expectations, internally and externally. Given his superior people skills and relationship with the front office, the quest will involve less drama too -- but given the circumstances, the spotlight now burns brighter than ever.

Hoiberg knows this. So too does Forman after luring the man the Bulls wanted to Chicago.

"Knowing our players and knowing our team, we felt when we sat down with him this weekend ... this is a perfect fit for this team not only this coming year but many years to come," Forman said.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.