A lot of press has been given to Fred Hoiberg and how his first three years at Iowa State have been the most successful in the last decade. Hoiberg inherited a program left in shambles by Wayne Morgan and Greg McDermott and quickly brought it back to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons.
Even more press has been given to how Hoiberg accomplished this feat: transfers. We all know about the big transfers he brought in with Royce White, Chris Allen, Chris Babb, Korie Lucious, and Will Clyburn, but we often forget that he inherited Scott Christopherson from Greg McDermott and brought in Jake Anderson in a one and done situation for 2010.
The press has been mostly positive. National pundits acknowledged the risk of taking a group of transfers and getting them to mold into a successful team. Doubters (iowa fans) called them thugs and felons. What is undeniable about the "transfer experiment" is that it worked all three years.
Anderson brought senior leadership and a defensive edge that kept an out manned and out gunned team in a top heavy Big XII competitive in Hoiberg's first year and the remaining transfers infused enough talent to bring the last two teams to top five finishes in the conference and back-to-back NCAA berths since the Larry Eustachy's teams in 2000 and 2001.
Hoiberg is only in his third year of coaching and certainly has his faults, but his ability to resurrect a program this quickly is hard to ignore. Coaches in all sports are often judged in what they can do in their first three or four years at the helm and Hoiberg's success certainly shows progress but how does it stack up against the other coaches and how they began their tenures at Iowa State?
Johnny Orr took over Iowa State in 1980 after receiving a phone call about his assistant, Bill Frieder. To say the program was in dire straits would be an understatement. Orr took over a program that had won 44 games over four years and was lacking in talent to compete in the Big 8 Conference. This is what Orr returned in experience and production in his first season (all charts courtesy of Kirk Haaland and Encyclonepedia.com):
Orr was lucky enough to return half of his point production and three starters, but outside of Lefty Moore this team was not good. Orr finished below .500 and last in the Big 8 with a 9-18 (2-12) record. Recruiting was obviously quite a bit different in the early 80s but while Orr landed Barry Stevens for the 1981 season it took even longer to really get the Flint Pipeline going. Despite Stevens' contributions to the team Orr only went 32-50 (12-30) in his first three years but rebounded with trips to the NIT, NCAA, and Sweet Sixteen the next three.
Orr's teams took a dip as the 80s turned into the 90s but he had a slight bit of resurgence once Fred Hoiberg joined the Cyclones in 1991. Eventually Orr retired and left incoming coach Tim Floyd with a treasure trove of talent:
Loren Meyer only played 12 games in Orr's final season due to his train accident, but returned his senior year for Floyd. What is eye popping about the chart above is the amount of experience that Floyd inherited from Orr. 90% of the team's points, 83% of the rebounds, 93% of the assists, and 83% of the main defensive statistics. What made Floyd's feat of going 23-11 (6-8) and making the second round of the NCAA tournament impressive was how he managed to do it while completely changing the philosophy of the team.
Orr's final team averaged 85.1 points per game while allowing 76.1 and Floyd took a high scoring squad and shaved nearly 10 points off the allowed average down to 67.6, but also shaved the scoring output down to 76.7 points per game.
What happened the next two seasons should seem familiar. Floyd used transfer and JUCO talent to keep the team from dropping off and brought in key contributors Dedric Willoughby, Kenny Pratt, and Kelvin Cato. This group powered the team to the final Big 8 tournament title and two straight NCAA berths with the 1997 run culminating in a Sweet Sixteen loss to UCLA. All in all Floyd went 69-29 (25-19) in his first three years in Ames. The temptation was too great for Floyd as he left after the 1998 season to coach the Chicago Bulls. However, the cupboard wasn't completely bare and McDonald's All-American Marcus Fizer provided a solid foundation for Larry Eustachy to build on.
That first Eustachy year was rough. Similar to Floyd's last year this was a team that lacked a difference making point guard and quality shooters. Enter 1999 and the arrival of Jamaal Tinsley and Kantrail Horton to the backcourt. The rest is history. Regular season and conference tournament championship in 2000 along with the Elite Eight run, and a regular season championship in 2001. Easily the most successful two year run in Iowa State history and the 2000 squad is credited with most of Iowa State's school records.
Eustachy didn't inherit as much as Floyd did, but benefited from a once in a generation player in Fizer. In Eustachy's first three years he compiled a 72-26 (33-15) record. Then this happened.
Wayne Morgan walked into a solid situation on the court with returning starters Jake Sullivan, Jackson Vroman, and Jared Homan returning nearly 50% of the point scoring production from the prior year. Freshmen Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock injected even more life into the offense and the squad churned out a 20-13 (7-9) record while reaching the NIT semifinals in New York.
One could only imagine what Eustachy could have done with Stinson and Blalock as Morgan was their lead recruiter during Eustachy's tenure. Neither was on the level of Tinsley and the post was not dominant without a player like Fizer but the team felt more balanced at all five positions. That balance was never fully realized though as it is widely accepted Morgan had the coaching acumen of a fifth grader. Not a fifth grade coach, but an actual fifth grader.
Morgan went 55-39 (22-26) in his only three years on the job and fell victim to Jamie Pollard's coaching butcher shop, but can hardly be blamed for the cupboard that Greg McDermott inherited.
Rahshon Clark was a solid player to have on the court but never the main player in a system and especially not in Greg McDermott's. Blalock and Stinson declared for the NBA Draft after McDermott's hiring and suddenly he was behind the 8-ball to start his tenure. McDermott did what little he could in that first season and brought in JUCO transfer Mike Taylor. Despite the clear lack of depth McDermott managed to finish his first season with a 15-16 (6-10) record.
This is probably the most succinct way to sum up McDermott's tenure: Three of his recruits, Christopherson, Brackins, and Garrett, rank in the top 25 of Iowa State's all-time scoring list. Christopherson is 24th, Garrett 17th, and Brackins 12th. Yet only Brackins had his best scoring season under McDermott.
Enter The Mayor.
The cupboard was this bare when Hoiberg arrived. Brackins went pro and the majority of McDermott's players had either exhausted their eligibility or never saw the court the prior season. Hoiberg was literally dealing with two starters and Jamie Vanderbeken. Everyone after that was unproven.
It's hard to determine what Hoiberg's smartest move before that 2010 season was. One could argue the hiring of Bobby Lutz. Someone else could argue the retention of T.J. Otzelberger and subsequent recruitment of Melvin Ejim, and someone else could argue the experience and on-court leadership Hoiberg brought in with Jake Anderson.
But the most significant decision may have been recognizing that 2010 was a culture establishing year and this program needed to get back on the right track and fast. Hoiberg has talked publicly that Garrett was a redshirt option that first year but the team would have taken it in the pants in a bad, bad way.
Instead Hoiberg fought that season and showed fans that his teams had the ability to play with just about anyone in the conference. It was only a matter of time before Hoiberg restored Hilton Magic and lead this team back to the NCAA tournament, but no one realized he'd do it in year 2 on the back of Royce White.
Then he did it again in year 3 with an even more hodge podge group of guys that appeared to have a higher ceiling than the 2011 team, but took longer to gel. But what sets Hoiberg apart is how his own recruits have already worked their way into the program. There were misses but all of them ended up catching on at other schools (Tavon Sledge at Iona and Eric McKnight at Florida Gulf Coast, for example), but the man who was not a miss was Georges Niang. In Niang's first year he had more points than 8 of the top 12 scorers in ISU history did in their freshman campaigns. Including The Mayor's. Now enter Monte Morris and Matt Thomas to the fold this fall and you have the makings of a young, but dangerous, team that will only get better as they get older.
Hoiberg already ranks 8th on the all-time Iowa State wins list and with a 20-win campaign next fall will pass Tim Floyd for 5th on the list in only his fourth year, and starting with much less than Floyd had when he took over for Orr. Looking at the chart below it's easy to see who benefited from the previous coaches and who was hurt.
We already anointed the man Dictator for Life but what we didn't realize is it might actually ring true. The Mayor has already accomplished more in his short tenure than the majority of ISU coaches have in their entire career and with another group of Top 100 recruits coming in the future is certainly bright for a man who is blending the influences of Johnny Orr, Tim Floyd, and the NBA on the court while maintaining the leadership and discipline off of it.