Earlier in May, a report suggested Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek could leave the team for a job at Iowa State, assuming one became available.
A lot of dominoes needed to fall first, but it was essentially this: the Chicago Bulls would fire head coach Tom Thibodeau and tab Iowa State leader Fred Hoiberg as his replacement.
Then, needing someone to replace Hoiberg, the school would seek out Hornacek, who played for the school from 1982-1986.
It makes sense on some levels, and is a puzzling idea on others.
Still, the wheels may have been set in motion Thursday, as the Bulls officially parted with Thibodeau, their coach of the last five seasons.
Bulls are locked in on Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, league sources have repeatedly said. Question is: Is Hoiberg ready to leave Ames?
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 28, 2015
If Hoiberg takes the job, chances are Hornacek’s phone will ring. Will he answer it?
I can’t comment on that,” Hornacek told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday. “I’m the coach of the Suns. It’s an interesting coaching carousel that goes on around the league and even down to the college level. So, if those things ever come about and the timing was right, yes, but as far as I know I’m the coach of the Suns.”
The 52-year-old Hornacek has been the head coach of the Suns for two seasons. After leading the team to a surprising 48-34 campaign in 2013-14, the team slumped to 39-43 in 2014-15.
When asked, Hornacek said his plan is to be in Phoenix for a long time.
“I hope so,” he said. “When Ryan (McDonough) and I came in here we wanted to get this team from 25 wins and a lot of stuff that was going on to back to the level that the Suns are used to.
“We had a good start the first year, had some things not go as well last year, but even with that we’re still about what we were the year before that.”
The coach added that had the team not suffered some injuries down the stretch, their record probably would not have dipped as much as it did. He may be right.
But while Hornacek has given no indication he is looking to leave the Valley, the allure of returning to lead his alma mater — as well as take over one of the best programs in the country — would have to be at least a little appealing. And the paycheck certainly wouldn’t hurt, as NCAA jobs are known to offer more in salary than NBA teams.
Hornacek is currently working under a three-year deal worth a little less than $6 million that carries a team option for a fourth year.
In comparison, Hoiberg’s salary averaged about $2.6 million per year at Iowa State.
“I think colleges have gone that way, and I think it’s on all levels it’s sometimes surprising when you see how much money the college coaches are making, even on the assistants’ level,” Hornacek said. “I’ve seen some of those assistant coaches’ salaries and thought, ‘Holy crap, I think that’s more than probably what some of our assistants make.'”
Meanwhile, Hornacek noted that the average salary for an NBA head coach is less now than it was six years ago. It’s starting to rise a bit, he said, but it’s still less than it used to be.
The Iowa State job, if it is indeed offered to Hornacek at some point, would offer a competitive roster as well as a likely bump in salary. That may intrigue Hornacek, though would it be enough to entice him to leave the NBA?
If he does go, that could be part of the idea. After all, he admitted that there tends to be a little less stress in terms of expectations at the collegiate level. Lower expectations then tend to lead to more job security.
“There’s probably some because they’re longer contracts, usually, in college,” he said. “They know that guys come and go and you have recruiting classes that you’re in charge of as the coach.
“So you usually get a good six, seven years before they get panicked. In the NBA it’s a little different. They expect things right away, so there is that way. But there’s also a lot of things on the college level that you don’t necessarily have to do in the pro level in the recruiting, so there’s pros and cons.”