Among them is a plaque on the ground in front of Hankins’ office at the NU Coliseum. It’s of Jerry Bush, Hoiberg’s grandfather, who coached the Nebraska basketball team in that very building in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The other reasons stem from a friendship between Hankins and Hoiberg that dates more than 25 years.
A native of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Hankins attended Iowa State University and met Hoiberg, who grew up in Ames, Iowa, while playing basketball at the school’s rec center. Their girlfriends at the time – Hoiberg’s wife today, in fact – were good friends, and eventually, Hoiberg and Hankins shared the same apartment.
“I always knew he was fond of Nebraska,” said Hankins, the Nebraska men’s golf coach. “When I lived with him, I knew he was from here, his parents worked here. Now his brother lives in Omaha, his agent has a connection to Scott Frost …
“He just came into my mind right away.”
Hankins told Nebraska Director of Athletics Bill Moos about his friend and former roommate, a story Moos shared Tuesday when he introduced Hoiberg as Nebraska’s newest men’s basketball coach.
Turns out, this isn’t the first time Hankins casually dropped Hoiberg’s name to an athletic director.
When he was head golf coach at Iowa, Hankins visited with Iowa State Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard in the parking lot before an Iowa State football game. Pollard was trying to convince Hankins to return to Iowa State to lead its golf program. Hankins, meanwhile, happy with his job in Iowa City, tried steering the conversation toward Hoiberg, and how he’d be a perfect fit to coach Iowa State’s basketball team.
“Again, I thought it was kind of a no-brainer, because Iowa State, since Tim Floyd, had kind of lost their way,” Hankins said. “They needed someone to get the fans kind of excited, and Fred was the perfect guy for that.”
Hoiberg had played in the NBA for 10 years and was serving in the front office for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’d played for well-known coaches like Johnny Orr, Floyd (both at Iowa State and with the Chicago Bulls), Larry Bird, Larry Brown and Bill Cartwright.
“He had a lot of background,” Hankins said. “He didn’t have a coaching background, but he had a ton of coaching and experience, and obviously he knew Ames.”
Of course, Pollard hired Hoiberg, who elevated the Iowa State program to a level of success it’s still sustaining today.
Over the years, Hankins and Hoiberg have remained close friends.
“I talk to him all the time,” Hankins said. “I talked to him when he was getting beat up by the Bulls. We talk basketball, we talk golf. His kids are golfers. He sends me videos of his sons hitting golf shots, ‘What do you think?’ ”
That includes Jack Hoiberg, a walk-on basketball player for Michigan State, who’s playing in this weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis.
“I know Jack, his older son, very well,” Hankins said. “I was able to watch him play golf and grow up. I know his entire family. They were obviously here for the Michigan State game.”
Hankins, in his first year at Nebraska, is among the five head coaches Moos has hired in his year-plus on the job.
“I keep telling people this is a bigger Iowa State – not bigger in numbers, but you’ve got the Big Ten Conference, it’s a very similar vibe, being an agricultural, engineering, science school, with a pretty passionate fan base,” Hankins said. “I think Pinnacle Bank Arena is amazing. We put 15,000 people in there without a problem.”
Hankins said Hoiberg had other coaching opportunities – he mentioned the Timberwolves and UCLA – and that Hoiberg didn’t have to return to coaching immediately.
But Lincoln, he said, made sense, just as Ames once did. Now, Hankins is eager to his friend work the same magic.
“At the end of the day, it had to be the right fit for him,” Hankins said, “and I couldn’t be happier to have him aboard.
“When you have his combination of skills, and you’re motivated by a fan base that really wants to win, whether that’s Iowa State or Nebraska, you will do everything you can to work as hard as you can to get it done.”