Art Cullen
Art Cullen

April 6, 2017

Storm Lake

Fred Hoiberg is a winner treading water in Chicago. He is one person who cold bring all Iowans together.

For the sake of Iowa, Fred Hoiberg needs to come home. The Mayor needs to become The Governor.

Republicans are running roughshod over collective bargaining, workers compensation and home rule. The state is broke after six more years of Terry Branstad. His lieutenant, Kim Reynolds, promises more of the same. More property tax hikes. More strangled school budgets. More closed nursing homes. Community colleges in fiscal crisis. The most polluted groundwater in America.

The state’s leading Democrats have been standing aside in hopes that the public some day will rise up.

They aren’t, because the followers have no leader.

Any number of Democrats are running to replace Branstad/Reynolds in 2018. None of them are crying “Fire!” They aren’t crying at all except in their beer.

I like Andy McGuire, who married into the Holstein auction/farming clan. And Todd Prichard, nephew of Storm Lakers Jim and John, is a great guy with a sincere heart. Who would walk over hot coals for either one of them in Sioux Center?

Fred Hoiberg is a Democrat. He is the most beloved living Iowa hero. Funny. Understated. Self-deprecating. Smart. Smart. Smart.

Everybody loves him, chiefly me. Even most of Sioux County adores him.

Hoiberg shagged balls in Beyer Hall. He led Ames High to the state title. He was Johnny Orr’s pride and joy, the best shooter at Iowa State since the Roland Rocket Gary Thompson. He played for the Timberwolves and learned from the genius entrepreneur, Glen Taylor, in the Wolves’ front office. And then, bless him, he came back to turn around the Cyclone basketball program. He was going to take us to the Final Four. He was going to put Kansas in its place, once and for all.

But he heard the siren call of the NBA, his lifelong dream to coach at the highest level. For the Bulls. For a Trump-like owner named Jerry Reinsdorf. The guy who fired Ozzie Guillen, who brought the World Series to Chicago before Theo Epstein ever thought of it.

Hoiberg has a losing record nearing the playoffs in his third season, and there is plenty of grumbling in the tough Chicago sports press. He has to listen to underperformers on the Bulls publicly complain about the classiest guy in Chicago. It has to give him heartburn.

Why put up with it? Can it be worth the money? Reinsdorf isn’t bringing back Michael Jordan and certainly not bringing in LeBron.

Some Iowa State girls started a petition to hire Hoiberg as the next president of Iowa State. Steve Leath, thankfully, is off to Auburn and Alabama (they didn’t learn from Gene Chizik). The girls think The Mayor is cute. It would be good to have a cute president.

Hoiberg would be a great president. His gramps coached at Nebraska. His dad taught at ISU. His roots are land grant.

Everybody loves him. But the Board of Regents doesn’t want someone with that much charisma and power. The governor doesn’t want anyone more popular than him eyeing his flank. Hoiberg could raise tons of money, the faculty would give him a free ride and Cy would be in his heaven.

But it won’t happen. Not right now.

If the Democrats had two ounces of sense in their heads, they would beg and grovel for Hoiberg to come home and run for governor. The entire state central committee should buy tickets to a Bulls game — there are lots of empty seats — and urge him to run with big placards in the stands.

He is a Democrat. He allowed himself to be seen in public with Tom Vilsack. Even with Barack Obama.

Nobody would have to offer him money. It would pour in at $10 and $20 a pop on its own. Plus, he has his own money.

Nobody could buy him.

He is honest. He is affable.

Again, everybody loves him.

He could campaign on Iowa being a winner. He is the guy who can bring western Iowa Republicans and eastern Iowa Democrats together on the same team. He could remind us that a great public education put him at the top of the Sears Tower, and it can do the same for that Latino kid in Storm Lake.

He would not need to attack. He can just be Fred.

Pragmatic. Friendly. Never brags. Always thinking, charting a new play that nobody has thought of before. A guy who has a finance degree from Iowa State.

Nobody but nobody hates losing more than Fred Hoiberg. Reinsdorf is not allowing him to win.

And I suspect that Hoiberg feels he might have left some unfinished business at home. You have to think that he was looking far beyond basketball.

Fred Hoiberg could win Iowa.

He could go down as the man who brought Iowans back together, who showed us a way forward together.

The Mayor is just 44. He would be 54 after two terms. The sky is the limit.

It’s a no-brainer. This game is more important, even, than the most graceful sport. Fred Hoiberg could pull Iowa back from a one-way wreck and back into the middle of the road. To date, no other Democrat or Republican could make the same claim.

I can hope, just like that for that Final Four.