Hoiberg’s worst enemy? Time

Last year, Fred Hoiberg became one of the less experienced college basketball coaches to ever be hired as an NBA coach. If history is any indication, that may not be a bad thing. This season though, the question is whether or not the Bulls will be as generous as other franchises have been in affording adjustment time for coaches who are new to the NBA.

For those unfamiliar with the fate of Hoiberg’s college predecessors moving to the NBA, the history is rather bleak. Here’s a rundown of the history since 1993, when hiring college coaches into the NBA started to increase, up until 2015 when he was hired.

From 1993-2005, college coaches hired to the NBA:

  • Have gone a combined 624-999 as head coaches
  • Are a combined 3-16 in the playoffs
  • Six of nine coaches never made the playoffs
  • Average less than 2.5 seasons before being fired

If not for Brad Stevens’ success in Boston, those numbers would be even worse.

Many Bulls fans have blamed Hoiberg’s relative inexperience as a reason for his struggles both on the court and with player relationships. However, with seven Final Fours between the nine college-turned-NBA coaches since 1993, college experience hasn’t been that indicative of NBA success, as shown by guys like Rick Pitino (192-220), John Calipari (72-112), or Mike Montgomery (68-96).

If any Final Four coach has exceeded expectations in the NBA, it would be Brad Stevens, who had just seven years of college head coaching experience before being hired by the Boston Celtics in 2013. Young and well regarded like Stevens, Fred Hoiberg was hired with just six years of college coaching experience. It goes without saying that the Bulls would be happy if Hoiberg progresses as well as Stevens has thus far. However, before getting carried away with comparisons, it should be noted that Hoiberg actually started off his NBA coaching career doing something Stevens and other predecessors couldn’t do: finish a season above .500.

Now, 20-21 at the halfway mark, most couldn’t have expected Hoiberg to adjust any smoother given the odds history says he’s up against. Also given that Stevens’ second season win percentage was the same as Hoiberg’s thus far, the numbers give hope that Hoiberg could be the next in a line of coaches who have changed the stigma of hiring college coaches in the NBA.

But while Hoiberg may be meeting reasonable goals for a second-year coach, patience will be hard to come by until growth is imminent. After going above .500 last year and acquiring Dwyane Wade, many question how the Bulls can be an effective if Hoiberg can’t lead a successful offense. For Gar Forman and the front office, the belief may be that Hoiberg needs a change of personnel for the Bulls to be effective. Others may look at Hoiberg’s 5-1 record against the Cavaliers and believe that he has everything he needs to succeed. And yet despite the reasonable expectation that things would take time, very few seem content with chalking up Hoiberg’s struggles to growing pains. 

Amidst rumors of shopping the team’s best scorer, it’s clear that the standard Hoiberg will be held to is increasingly shaped by his team’s present standing. With pressure mounting as Dwyane Wade celebrates his 35th birthday on Tuesday, the Bulls have thrust Fred Hoiberg into a “win now,” scenario. If he can’t adapt to the urgency of the situation, the Chicago Bulls may not have more patience, even if Hoiberg deserves more time.

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