Nebraska has built some of the best basketball facilities in the country the last decade and plays in a sold-out arena. Now the Cornhuskers believe they have the missing piece to turn the starved-for-success program into a Big Ten contender.
Fred Hoiberg was officially introduced as the Huskers’ new coach on Tuesday, and a packed news conference at Memorial Stadium resembled a pep rally with 300 in attendance and cheerleaders greeting him as he stepped off the elevator and made his way to the dais.
“We’re all in on basketball, I can tell you that,” athletic director Bill Moos said afterward. “I think people will walk away from here today feeling all in as well. It’s going to be a great time.”
The 46-year-old Hoiberg is back in the college game after being fired by the Chicago Bulls four months ago. He starred at Iowa State, played 10 years in the NBA and had a front office job with the Minnesota Timberwolves before he returned to ISU and coached the Cyclones to four NCAA Tournaments between 2010-15.
He said he had contact with other schools that have or will have coaching vacancies but was drawn to Nebraska because of his ties to the state and university. His maternal grandfather, Jerry Bush, was head basketball coach from 1954-63, his parents are graduates and his paternal grandfather was a longtime professor. Hoiberg was born in Lincoln and a niece was a student manager for the Huskers this past season.
“It’s such a thrill for me to be able to walk — even though in a different building — on the same sideline as my grandfather did,” Hoiberg said. “We want this to be our last stop. We feel we can build a program that consistently wins.”
Hoiberg, who signed a seven-year contract paying a total of $25 million, brings with him an exciting brand of basketball with an up-tempo offense featuring lots of 3-pointers.
He takes over a program that has won just seven regular-season conference championships in 123 years — the most recent in 1950. Nebraska also is the only school from a Power Five conference that has never won an NCAA Tournament game. Moos said he wants the Huskers finishing in the upper half of the Big Ten consistently and be positioned to challenge for the championship occasionally. Being in the top seven should get Nebraska into the NCAA Tournament many years, Moos said.
Hoiberg and Moos had a get-acquainted session in Chicago on March 4, and Hoiberg said he liked the AD’s vision for the program.
“I do see great potential here,” he said. “If you can get kids on campus, there is a lot of great things to sell. That’s something we’re going to do.”
The Hendricks Training Complex opened in 2011 and is considered one of the top practice facilities in the country. The 15,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena opened in 2013, and the Huskers have ranked in the top 15 in attendance the last six years.
The infrastructure hasn’t yielded the desired results. In eight seasons in the Big Ten — the last seven under Tim Miles — Nebraska has finished higher than 10th just twice and made one NCAA appearance.
The Huskers will lose three, and possibly as many as all five, starters from this season’s 19-17 team that finished 13th in the Big Ten. Hoiberg said he met with the team Tuesday, and he plans to begin recruiting in earnest when the NCAA dead period ends after the Final Four this weekend.
“I wouldn’t take this job if I didn’t fully expect to turn it around and win consistently,” Hoiberg said. “Tim did a great job of making basketball exciting here at Nebraska. It’s our job now to go out and be a consistent winner.”