AMES, Iowa (AP) — It sounds like a made-for-TV movie: A homegrown hero nicknamed "The Mayor" returns to resurrect the team he once led to glory as a golden-haired, sharp-shooting star years ago.
The reality is that Iowa State is gambling on Fred Hoiberg, a rookie head coach, to turn around a once-exciting program that has fallen to the bottom of the Big 12 after four straight losing seasons and looks nothing like the one where he starred in the 1990s.
The Cyclones have given Hoiberg a five-year contract to do just that, introducing the former Iowa State player as its new men's basketball coach Wednesday.
"If I thought I was going to fail, I would have never come here," said Hoiberg, whose base salary is $800,000 per year.
Hoiberg is an Ames native who married his high school sweetheart, Carol, and became one of the most popular players in school history Hoiberg scored nearly 2,000 points during his career at Iowa State from 1991-95, leading the Cyclones to three NCAA tournament appearances. The school retired his jersey in 1997.
Hoiberg later played 10 seasons in the NBA with the Pacers, Bulls and Timberwolves before a heart issue forced him to retire in 2006. He spent several years in the front office for the Timberwolves before the Iowa State opened up with Greg McDermott's departure for the job at Creighton.
"We will miss Fred Hoiberg dearly. He was on track to become president of an NBA team because of his broad range of skills and ability to connect with people," Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said in a statement. "But we recognize this opportunity is a dream come true for Fred and are happy and excited for him."
Athletic director Jamie Pollard said Hoiberg contacted him four years ago about the Iowa State job but that the timing wasn't right.
Pollard reached out to Hoiberg on Sunday night when it looked as though McDermott might be headed to Creighton. When McDermott made it official Monday, Pollard drove to Minnesota to meet with Hoiberg face-to-face.
"I've have all these mentors, all these role models," Hoiberg said. "I'll take a piece from each one of those guys and put that into my plan."
Hoiberg promised to run an uptempo style and said hiring a top staff will be his first priority. He will keep assistant T.J. Otzelberger, promoting the Cyclones' lead recruiter to associate head coach. Former Cyclone great Jeff Grayer, who was hired by McDermott just last week, will stay.
"I'm going to learning a lot this year, so I'm going to really, really have to lean on these guys," Hoiberg said.
He is walking into a program that's been in upheaval for months. The Cyclones, who were expected to contend for a postseason berth last season, finished 15-17 and were hit hard by player defections this spring.
Craig Brackins declared for the NBA draft, and fellow standout Marquis Gilstrap had his appeal for an extra season of eligibility denied by the NCAA. Three others, including starting center Justin Hamilton, have announced plans to transfer.
Hoiberg met with the players late Tuesday and the early returns are positive.
"He has a lot of credibility. He's played in the NBA, he's worked in an NBA front office, he's played for multiple Hall of Fame coaches," Cyclones guard Scott Christopherson said. "From my standpoint, how can't you trust a guy that has had all those successes?"
Hoiberg was one of the players credited for helping create "Hilton Magic," a term used to describe the Cyclones' home gym during its rocking heyday. There hasn't been a lot to cheer about of late, but Iowa State is banking on Hoiberg to rebuild the program.
"I hope and I think I can get the arena filled again, and get the magic back to this place," Hoiberg said.
Pollard believes the hire is not the risk it might appear to be, though Hoiberg's legacy as "The Mayor" could be at stake.
"I said to him ... the day you accept this job, you'll never have as great a legacy as you had before you accepted it," Pollard said. "The day you get announced, before you even say one thing, they'll be people that say you can't do this, you can't do that.
"The first time you coach a game, they'll say you don't do this, you don't do that. And Fred knows that, and I'd argue he's taking a bigger risk than we are."