Pollard, Hoiberg refute Ames Tribune report of turmoil in ISU basketball program

Fred Hoiberg continuously showed support of ISU fans, acknowledging them at the 2015 Big 12 tournament. 

Ryan Young, , By Max Dible

Travis Hines, a reporter for the Ames Tribune, made waves Wednesday when he published a story detailing what he described as an “at-times troubled relationship” between the ISU basketball team and the ISU Athletic Department during Fred Hoiberg’s five-year tenure as head coach.

Hoiberg left the program in June for a head coaching job with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, signing a five-year deal worth $25 million to captain a team for which he once played professionally. 

The lucrative nature of the position combined with its rarity — only 30 such jobs exist in professional basketball — appeared the primary motivating factors for Hoiberg’s leap to the next level. 

But the recent article from The Ames Tribune suggests that a rocky relationship with the ISU Athletic Department, namely ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, at the very least helped push Hoiberg out of Ames — a city that has lovingly dubbed him “The Mayor.”

The article suggests that the men’s basketball team was “nickel and dimed” by Pollard and the athletic department repeatedly, and that this at the very least contributed substantially to Hoiberg’s departure.

In a radio interview conducted Wednesday afternoon, Hoiberg took exception to the insinuations. 

“I have absolutely zero issues with how [Pollard] ran our basketball program. I have a great relationship with Jamie,” Hoiberg said on KXNO-AM. “For somebody to try to paint one of the reasons I left Iowa State [as being] because of how our basketball program was handled is absolutely false.”

The story also describes an incident in December 2013 after the team won the championship at the Diamond Head Classic tournament in Hawaii.

One anonymous source claims that the team went without hotel rooms in order to save the athletic department from paying an extra night’s rate while it waited to return home.

Hoiberg disputed the incident, however, saying that it wasn’t an issue and was misrepresented in the story.

“We had to find five hours of stuff to do in Hawaii, big deal,” Hoiberg said on KXNO-AM. “My twins were going out and swimming in the pools with the players. It was a really fun thing to watch them interact with our players. It’s not a big deal. It was not a big deal to me, and I honestly don’t even remember that happening.”

Questions have been raised by Pollard as well as other skeptics about the reporting that went into the Tribune’s story, which cited “near double-digit sources” depicting the rift between Pollard and Hoiberg, all of whom were quoted anonymously. 

While the nature of the information is highly sensitive — potentially lending itself to a necessity of anonymity for those who provided it, especially if they remain employed at Iowa State — Pollard’s primary question is simple. 

Why quote nearly 10 sources anonymously and then choose not to include Hoiberg when he was willing to go on record refuting what those sources claimed?

Hines asserted in his story that he reached out to Hoiberg on several occasions and received no reply.

But Pollard said he first learned about the article during the week of the Iowa State and Iowa football game after Hoiberg informed ISU athletic department spokesperson Mike Green that Hines had contacted him for comment. 

Pollard then referenced a conversation he had with Hoiberg at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the day before the article ran in the Tribune, saying that Hoiberg called him from the car as he drove to his first practice with the Bulls.

During that conversation, Pollard said Hoiberg directly refuted Hines’ claims in the story that Hoiberg was “unavailable” for comment.

The following quotes attributed to Hoiberg and Hines — denoted in italics — are Pollard’s recollection of his conversation with Hoiberg on Tuesday morning.

HoibergI’m hearing Travis is going to run the story this week, and I want you to know I talked to him and told him this is wrong, you can’t do it. I just want you to know, Jamie, that if he runs it, I’m going public and I’m going to refute the whole story.

“And this is Fred telling me this, OK? So I believe it,” Pollard said. “Fred’s not one who makes things up.”

Pollard said Hines told Hoiberg what he was going to write about, and that Hoiberg relayed the conversation in detail for Pollard in their Tuesday morning conversation.

HoibergTravis, none of that’s true. You can’t write that. None of it’s true.

HinesI’m going to stand by my sources.

HoibergIf you write that, I’m going to have to go public and refute everything you say.

HinesI’ve got my job to do. You’ve got your job to do.

“So if Fred Hoiberg told you three weeks ago it wasn’t true, doesn’t it make you kind of scratch your head and say, ‘Gosh, what’s the motive to all this?'” Pollard said.

And motive isn’t the only reasonable question raised by the conversation Hoiberg had with Hines and later detailed for Pollard.

One final comment Hoiberg told Pollard that he made to Hines is as follows:

HoibergYou have unnamed sources? I’m a source. Source me. Put me in the story.

In the interest of fairness and credibility, it would be common practice to quote Hoiberg, especially if being quoted was something he requested after refuting information provided by sources too afraid to attach their names to their assertions.

Pollard said he believes the anonymous sources had an ax to grind, speculating they likely no longer even worked at Iowa State.

Pollard added that the only reason he didn’t comment himself was because Hines didn’t contact him until Wednesday in what Pollard believes essentially was an attempt to ambush him. Hines said in the story he reached out to Pollard on several occasions before Wednesday. 

During a radio interview Wednesday afternoon, Hines stood by his story and his claim that Hoiberg never made himself available for comment.

“I absolutely stand by the story all the way,” Hines said on KXNO-AM. “I stand by the reporting that went into it, and I stand by the sources that I talked to for the story.

“The allegations and facts there that are presented aren’t traced back to one single source. All of the things in there are attributed to multiple sources. I think it’s a fair concern for people reading the story about anonymous sources, but that’s the way we decided to … proceed in writing the story.”

Pollard said that beyond all of the anonymous sources, some of the information in Hines’ story was simply inaccurate, namely that assistant coaches had to pay for home game tickets for their guests in 2014-15 — tickets that were previously provided free of charge. 

“Not true,” Pollard said. “[Assistant coaches] do not pay for their home tickets. Nobody does. So that’s not even a true statement.”

Another statement Pollard contended was false was the aforementioned assertion that ISU players were made to sleep on their luggage in Hawaii in 2013.

“So both of those just make you scratch your head,” Pollard said. “Those are things that could easily have been verified by talking to people if you really wanted to get the true story.”

Finally, Pollard said he had no part in the alleged altercation depicted in the story among himself, Assistant Athletic Director David Harris and former assistant coach Doc Sadler at Hoiberg’s home — a conflict Sadler said himself he could not recall.

The argument was detailed by another anonymous source who said it dealt with ISU staff members’ families being required to pay their own way to San Antonio, Texas for the NCAA tournament.

“Wasn’t me. I asked David, and David said he didn’t remember that at all,” Pollard said. “I remember being at Fred’s house, but I don’t ever remember that. My interactions with Doc Saddler were pretty slim and none.”

Pollard said it is not his place to question motives of the sources, Hines or the Tribune for the story, but wondered aloud if the timing of the story’s release may have had something to do with Hoiberg officially beginning his tenure with the Bulls only a day before.

“Who knows?” Pollard said. “What I do know is there were several significant facts that were inaccurate. [Hines] was told they were inaccurate three weeks ago and went with the story anyways.”

Pollard backed Hoiberg’s comments that the two continue to share a good relationship, and expressed disappointment about how a story by the Tribune that Pollard asserts to be erroneous will affect the basketball program. 

“As Fred said on the radio interview, he characterized [our] relationship as outstanding on the radio. That’s why I think Fred and I are both taken aback by this,” Pollard said.