St. John's will reportedly hire Chris Mullin for the head coach position of the St. John's Red Storm, recently vacated by Steve Lavin (after a mutual parting of ways).
And the conversation in the week or two since Mullin's name was floated has centered around the essential question: can he coach?
Mullin's career has been as a player and a front office member with the NBA Warriors, Pacers and Kings. Obviously, he knows something about basketball. But is he able to translate it into in-game coaching? Into making a development plan for his players? Into scouting and landing top players?
Two obvious comparisons are Clyde Drexler, a player who went straight from his playing career to coach at his alma mater - unsuccessfully - and Fred Hoiberg, who spent four years as Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office before taking on the head coaching job at Iowa State, successfully.
We reached out to Cylentbutdeadly (real name, obv) at the Iowa State site Wide Right & Natty Light - WRNL for short - for a sense of how the Fred Hoiberg deal went down, whether it felt like a ridiculous choice at the time, where he struggled, and how he earned buy-in/ convinced fans that he was a solid hire. (Hoiberg is 115-56 as head coach, by the way, with four NCAA Tournament berths.)
Thanks, WRNL. Follow them on Twitter - @WideRtNattyLt. And Rumble fans, Ames, Iowa is actually worth visiting, from what I hear. I mean, I had fun in Davenport, IA, and that place is a hole! Anyway, the questions...
Rumble: What was the thought process in bringing Fred Hoiberg for Iowa State? Desperation? Fundraising? Something else?
WRNL: When it was announced that Iowa State was going to hire Fred Hoiberg, there were mixed emotions amongst all of us Cyclone fans. On the one hand, Fred was, is and forever will be, "The Mayor" and he is undoubtedly Iowa State's golden boy and favorite son. He was going to get support no matter what.
On the other hand, however, it looked like a desperation move at the time and perhaps even a gimmick to drum up support and unite a divided fan base. Greg McDermott drove the Cyclone program into the ground and while a majority of the fan base was calling for his head, there were those that believed he deserved more time on the job.
Regardless, Iowa State basketball was in an awful position at the time and credit has to be given to athletics director, Jamie Pollard, for taking that type of chance.
Rumble: Did you think the hire would be a success?
WRNL: I, like many of us, had my doubts. I knew that Hoiberg was going to get some time to build the program, but considering that he had no coaching experience of any kind, it was tough to fathom how he'd be able to succeed without a lot of help.
Thankfully, Hoiberg hired Bobby Lutz, who had just been let go by Charlotte to be the lead assistant. That alleviated a lot of concerns for most.
Rumble: What did Hoiberg bring to the Cyclones that's unique/ how has he built up the program to be nationally relevant?
WRNL: With Fred Hoiberg, there are two things that you immediately point to for how he's been able to turn Iowa State's program around; 1) Transfers and 2) Offensive versatility.
Hoiberg saw the state of the Cyclone program when he arrived and recognized Iowa State's struggles in recruiting 4-year players out of high school, so he turned to the transfer market to bolster Iowa State's talent level. Guys like Royce White, Chris Babb, Chris Allen, Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, DeAndre Kane and Jameel McKay are all transfers that have made an enormous impact in Ames. Hoiberg has been able to blend in the 4-year types, but every year, he's supplemented the roster by bringing in "free agents" to round out the rotation.
As for the offensive approach, Hoiberg played under some great coaches and he his entire offensive game plan is based on exploiting mismatches. Iowa State is able to accomplish this because Hoiberg has found versatile types that can play inside and out and excel in playing different roles.
Guys like Royce White and Georges Niang, who are both 6'8" have spent just as much time in the low post as they did initiating the offense. Until Jameel McKay became eligible this year, most of the last two years featured starting line ups with nobody taller than 6'8". Rarely do other teams have the personnel where they can step out and guard and face-up forward on the perimeter, especially considering Iowa State has been able to put three of those types on the floor at the same time.
Rumble: Is there anything Hoiberg seemed slow to understand about the college recruiting game?
WRNL: I wouldn't say recruiting has been a struggle for Hoiberg. He went all in on the transfer market initially, but has done a great job of identifying top 100 recruits since. He's also had quality assistants that were seasoned in the recruiting game.
One of them being Matt Abdelmassih, who's a St. John's alum and has been the top recruiter on the staff for the last couple years.
Rumble: At what point did you think "this choice was crazy, but damn, it's working?"
WRNL: During Hoiberg's first year, Iowa State finished 16-16 and dead last in the Big 12, but Iowa State was playing about a 6-man rotation and some how managed to take good teams continually down to the wire. Unfortunately, Iowa State came out on the wrong end of most of those losses, but to see an overmatched team play as hard as they did, knowing that there were major reinforcements coming in for year two (Royce White, Chris Allen, Chris Babb), it didn't take long to start to buy in.
Rumble: Where do you think the learning curve is greatest going from the pros to college? What in Hoiberg's past made the transition work?
WRNL: If there's one thing Hoiberg has struggled with, it's been knowing when to use his timeouts. In the pro game, nobody does a better job then Greg Popovich of knowing when to use a timeout to stop a run.
Hoiberg is a huge believer in letting his players play through good and bad stretches, but there have been countless times where we've seen a 12-point lead go away in the matter to 90 seconds. In NBA, you can trust your players to play through bad stretches, but these are college kids and they sometimes need to be reeled back in.