Walk a mile in his shoes

The world’s most common vice is advice.

As smoke bellows from the latest rumors surrounding Fred Hoiberg’s possible NBA departure, the natural tendency — even a habit, if you will — of most fans is to immediately insert their own personal beliefs into the thought process of the beloved Iowa State basketball coach.

How do I know? Because I’ve already done it myself. Guilty as charged.

I started to write a column earlier this week taking the rational point of view. I backtracked and explored a more emotional approach. Then I began listing the pros and cons of staying at Iowa State. Conversely, I looked at the promise and pitfalls of an NBA future. I read articles, quotes, blogs and posts defending the Cyclone camp, and that made all the sense in the world to me. I read articles, quotes, blogs and posts arguing in favor of professional basketball, and it was equally understandable.

That’s when I stopped. Simply put, I can’t get into Hoiberg’s head. I won’t be able to predict the future. And most importantly, my thoughts on the matter — no matter how much it rang true in my own mind — are completely and utterly meaningless.

Of course Hoiberg could continue to build his legacy at Iowa State, where he is admired and revered and everything in between. He’s turned the Cyclones into a national contender, solidifying his stance as one of the athletic department’s most treasured icons.

Sounds idyllic on the surface to you and me. Maybe Hoiberg sees an impossible road to navigate ahead, though, full of unrealistic expectations, potential traps and constant letdowns. Maybe the rock-star image isn’t good for his family. Maybe the in-season emotion and off-season recruiting grind has become tiresome. Hoiberg — a competitor in every sense of the word — looked drained after ISU’s upset loss in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe he just can’t invest in the program at the level he feels it deserves.

Of course Hoiberg could go to the NBA and succeed. He has the demeanor and style that would click at the pro level, whether it be in Chicago, Minnesota or any other stop along the rumor mill. Hoiberg would probably double his current salary at the ultimate level of a sport he loves and a destination of his choice.

Again, sounds idyllic on the surface to you and me. Maybe Hoiberg looks at a 41-game, six-month (minimum) travel schedule and says thanks, but no thanks. Maybe he has no interest in dealing with the egos and attitudes of a league that becomes more player-centric by the minute.

Pop quiz: what is the average current tenure of an NBA coach? Answer: 2.3 seasons. Take Gregg Popovich’s 19-year run in San Antonio out of the formula and it becomes less than two. There are certainly stresses and responsibilities that would be alleviated if Hoiberg left college ball behind, but an entirely new set of both would be waiting with baited breath at his next stop.

It’s easy to pick a side for Hoiberg and pretend to know what’s best. More often than not, it’s not only clouded by our own preconceived notions, but also our own selfish logic as fans. We don’t want what’s best for an athlete or a coach — we want what’s best for our team.

The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what truly makes Hoiberg tick. We have no crystal ball or insight into his own personal cost-benefit analysis. We have no idea how much his health issues factor into the equation moving forward. We simply can’t decide — as easy as it may sound — what will satisfy him most for the rest of his coaching life.

And guess what? Neither can Hoiberg. It’s a leap of faith either way, even for him. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer yet. If he stays, the NBA will continue to loom large as a tempting change of pace. If he goes, I’m sure there will always be a part of him that will miss Iowa State dearly.

This is a man with millions of dollars already in the bank. This is a man who is widely regarded as a basketball savant with a natural temperament and approach to the game. This is also a man with a serious heart issue serving as a constant reminder that a career in coaching won’t be a long one.

Drawing conclusions or making assumptions may keep our minds occupied for the time being, but it’s an exercise in futility. Give Hoiberg enough room to make a decision, respect it and move on either way. Letting go of personal bias is the most difficult — yet most important — step in finding the kind of clarity that will bring a fan both peace and understanding.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net