CHICAGO - In his three full seasons and 24 games as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, I promise you that on any given game day, Fred Hoiberg was easily one of the nicest guys to walk the halls of the United Center.
He didn't say much, nor did he talk like a politician flashing a fake smile while offering a warm handshake. All he did was exude knowledge, class, and dignity. He also showed grace under fire when the sky above him was falling.
Hoiberg, 46, possessed admirable traits ideal for someone entrusted to run the basketball side of a business that, according to Forbes, is worth $2.6 billion as of February 2018.
Unfortunately for Fred, his security of tenure did not depend on niceties alone. It was measured, as do others are in the NBA workplace bearing the same job description, by the scales of wins and losses.
And his numbers were brutal.
Since his hiring last June 2, 2015, he amassed a 115-155 record and managed just one playoff appearance. The Bulls upper management gave him a long rope but it snapped when they lost to the Rockets last Saturday, their sixth straight and 10th in 11 outings.
As the Bulls, a proud brand steeped in winning tradition, languished with a 5-19 record and ranked 27th among 30 teams, Hoiberg was fired.
Such is the harsh reality of the coaching life: Pile up wins or pack up your things.
Since his five-year $25 million contract was guaranteed, Hoiberg, who earns about $60,975 a game, will still be paid the remainder of his salary this season - roughly $3.5 million - plus the full $5 million for next season.
For the Bulls, that's the price for a new voice, a new direction.
For Hoiberg, it's a great financial windfall, obviously. But the firing still stings. It is, after all, a form of rejection.
Recruited to replace the irascible but tremendously successful Tom Thibodeau, Hoiberg coached five seasons at the college level where he led his alma mater, the Iowa State Cyclones, to the Sweet 16 in 2014.
But he never really found his traction with the Bulls, who were transitioning after a great run under Thibs and a healthy Derrick Rose.
Ultimately, multiple player injuries, especially in this hellish season when Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markannen were sidelined for long stretches, impeded Hoiberg's success.
While he was generally well-liked and respected in the locker room, Hoiberg, whose 10-year NBA playing career was derailed by a heart ailment that now requires him to wear a pacemaker, had his share of run-ins with his star players.
In his first year as head coach, he argued with Joakim Noah about the former All-Star center's unfamiliar role coming off the bench. In his second season he was thrown under the bus by Jimmy Butler who said he wasn't coached "hard enough." This season, Zach LaVine has complained over play calling and told The Chicago Sun-Times last October 22, "We gotta run the right sets out there."
Unless a fired coach has some gravitas, like a proven track record and a high winning percentage (see Tom Thibodeau, Dwane Casey. David Fizdale, Mike Budenholzer, to name a select few), the NBA coaching door rarely opens once it closes.
But the future is, for a lack of a better term, bullish, on Hoiberg.
He has the temperament, the know-how, and the balls to be an NBA coach. He was assistant GM and director of basketball operations for three years for the Timberwolves and Minnesota could be a landing spot the day Thibodeau runs his course.
Unlike other dismissed coaches, who were polarizing figures within the organization and the fan base, Hoiberg was a sympathetic one. He will get another chance, a fresh start, a better set of circumstances.
It's hard to see a good man down. But life in the work force is tough. Unless you're the Pope, you don't get to be employee for life.