The End of the Fred Hoiberg Era in Chicago

The timing of Fred Hoiberg's firing was a bit odd. Why did the Bulls decide to pull the plug now? Was there justification for his firing?

The Chicago Bulls have moved on from Head Coach Fred Hoiberg in a somewhat surprising firing by the Bulls’ front office.

While most probably expected the Bulls to move on from Hoiberg sooner rather than later, the timing of his firing is still a little confusing. At the time of Hoiberg's firing, the team was tied with the Hawks at 5-20 for the worst record the Eastern Conference (the Bulls are now 6-21). With this being only the second year of their rebuild, there is no desire to win games. The team is still hoping it can land another high draft pick to round out their young core. It just seems a little odd for the front office to decide that the 25th game of a tanking season was the right time to move on from Hoiberg.

So what justification is there for deciding that this was the right time to make a coaching change?

Trouble in the Locker Room?

Given reports that have come out since Hoiberg’s firing, the issue did not lie in the front office not believing in Hoiberg’s pace and space coaching system, but in his ability to control and lead the team.

It is one thing to have a system but it is only effective if the players respect the coach and buy in. Seemingly, Hoiberg’s lack of control and respect among the players in the locker room played a large part in his firing along with what the front office viewed as being too laid back of a coaching style.

The following is a press conference with Bulls executive John Paxson on the Hoiberg firing.

Its seems that Paxson is trying to explain that he viewed Hoiberg as too passive in his approach to the job and was demanding enough from the players. Such reasons seem to be a fair enough reason to move on from Hoiberg.

But how does his firing really help? If the plan is to lose games this season they have been doing a pretty good job of that. Why not wait until the offseason? The interview with Paxson provides some explanation but still doesn't adequately give a full explanation for the timing of his firing.

In Hoiberg's Defense

Whether or not Hoiberg could have helped make the Bulls a competitive team again is now a moot point. However, it should be said that he was never put in a position to succeed.

Hoiberg started out when the Bulls were dealing with the end of the Derrick Rose-Joakim Noah-Pau Gasol-Jimmy Butler team in 2015-16. Despite a 42-40 record, the team missed the playoffs.

The following season, Hoiberg was tasked with reigning in retooled roster featuring the “Three Alphas” of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler. This “big 3” seemingly never respected Hoiberg enough to let him coach them. Even so, the team had a 41-41 record and made its only playoff appearance during Hoiberg’s tenure as head coach but lost in the first round.

2017-18 marked the start of the current rebuild for the team after buying out Rondo and Wade and trading Butler. This was Hoiberg's chance to mold a team of young players into his system.

However, the team dealt with several injuries during that first year of the rebuild and the same is true for this season with a slew of injuries to several important players such as Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine.

It was thought that giving Hoiberg the chance to mold a new young core into his system would be easier than trying to establish a pace and space system than trying to do so with poor to average shooters like Rondo, Wade, and Butler. Hoiberg may not have had the most aggressive coaching style but he was also never really given the chance to coach to his strengths as he was hired to do. He was hired because to bring a modern playing style to the team but either what either never given a team with enough shooters or was forced to work with a heavily injured roster. Working around such problems comes with the job of a coach. Yet, one has to acknowledge the difficulties he dealt with during his time with the team because of the poor decisions made by the front office.

Moving Forward

Who knows for sure whether Hoiberg could have been a successful coach for the Bulls, or whether he is a good NBA coach to begin with? He had a 115-155 record with the team, only one playoff appearance, and ultimately lost control of the locker room. Maybe the answer is simply that he isn't. And yet, it needs to be acknowledged that coaching the Bulls over the last few seasons would have been a challenge for any coach given the roster turnover and going from a middling team to a rebuild.

Perhaps new Head Coach Jim Boylen can lead the team and get the players to buy into his system. If the front office felt he was failing in this aspect of the job perhaps it was the right time to change things up. He already seems to be demanding more from players, especially when it comes to practices. It is too soon to tell if Boylen will have more success with the team moving forward, but given the team's deliberate tanking, it might be a while before we get a real grasp on his coaching ability.

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