Editor's note: Being next isn't easy. And this season, there are plenty of high-profile replacements all over college basketball. This week, we take a look at some of the most notable ones. Today: replacing Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State.
If you ignore the Disney-like storylines and just focus on Fred Hoiberg’s impact, it’s easier to understand the challenges Steve Prohm accepted when he left Murray State in June to become Iowa State's head coach. No coach or player or incoming recruiting class will encounter a greater task than Prohm’s quandary. He’s following "The Mayor." He’s following a man who lifted a program, the most demanding and perplexing aim of any leader at this level, after years of mediocrity.
You’d have to take a trip down Interstate 35 -- past Ellsworth, Randall and Story City -- to understand.
There, at the intersection of cornfields and civilization, it’s clear that only a special maestro could lure elite talent to Ames, Iowa, a great college town once you get there. The Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley eras were wonderful, but the chapter that followed? Don’t ask Cyclones fans about it.
The 18-46 Big 12 record in the four years before Hoiberg’s arrival. One NCAA tourney appearance from 2002 to 2011. The empty seats at Hilton Coliseum.
That dry period was a reminder of the inherent difficulties in the pursuit of progress for teams that lack fruitful legacies. A few bad years and the good crop is forgotten. More rebuilding.
Prohm does not have to rebuild. Yet.
By the time Hoiberg left for the Chicago Bulls, he’d elevated Iowa State to No. 20 in overall attendance. He’d led the team to four straight NCAA tournaments with a concoction of second-chance transfers (Royce White, DeAndre Kane), unheralded recruits (Wooden Award candidate Georges Niang), consistent and durable contributors (Monte Morris, Melvin Ejim) and gritty junior college kids (Dustin “Hov” Hogue). Iowa State defeated Kansas and won a pair of Big 12 tournament titles during Hoiberg’s reign. The Cyclones often fell short of their postseason ambitions, though.
But they attained critical momentum.
Forget the Hoiberg mystique for a moment. They loved him and cherished him in Ames only because he delivered. If he’d arrived and lost more games than he’d won, they would have called him "The Alderman" and asked for a new coach.
That didn’t happen. Instead, he created a winner.
Prohm will be asked to maintain that mojo this season and beyond. His 2015-16 squad will vie for the Big 12 title, and if it all comes together, a deep run in the Big Dance seems feasible and perhaps expected. The Cyclones should crack the top 10 in every preseason poll.
So Prohm’s early missteps will be subject to skewed scrutiny. That’s not fair, but it’s the reality. He’s just a few stumbles from a “We want Fred!” cry that cascades throughout Ames’ city limits. Again, that’s not fair. But it’s the reality.
He has a squad that can win big, a squad that should win big.
A year from now, however, Niang, Morris and Jameel McKay could all be gone. That’s the most difficult phase of this transition.
Will Prohm build on whatever happens this season and lead Iowa State into another successful chapter? Will he attract top-100 kids and star transfers?
Prohm helped Murray State compete with some of the best teams in America. He helped Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne reach the NBA.
Ask his colleagues about him and they’ll tell you that he’s a good coach who supports his guys. He loves this challenge.
And that’s a good thing.
Prohm will design his own formula for success, recruit the players who fit his system and develop talent according to his own strategic vision.
If Iowa State fans and supporters cultivate patience and allow Prohm to operate under a fair standard, then the coach’s run will commence with the strong backing every leader demands.
But those folks in Hilton Coliseum won’t be fair because they don’t have to be.
"The Mayor" restored the program’s name. He proved that it was possible to turn Iowa State into a hub for top college talent again. They have a top-10 team that should aim for the stars.
For five seasons, Hoiberg sent a dozen roses to this fan base every Monday. So they’re spoiled and ready to see this upcoming group reach its goals and make a run in March. A batch of carnations once a month or so won’t suffice. The program hopes to avoid another dark stretch. And the Cyclones will need another round of talent in 2016 to make sure they don’t experience that again in the near future.
That’s on Prohm.
It's difficult to achieve, but that’s the expectation.
Hoiberg brought talent and victory to Ames again. The seasons preceding his arrival were proof that those highs are not guaranteed.
Prohm, however, has a strong legacy to stand on and a rich recent past to use as a pillar.
But he’s succeeding a man who put his hometown program and alma mater back together and positioned it to compete for a national title.
That's not an easy act to follow.