An Ode to Thibs
I never wanted it to happen. But this decision needed to happen.
The Bulls finally fired Tom Thibodeau last Thursday with 2 years and $9 million left on his contract, with the organization willing to absorb in order to part ways with Thibs which speaks volumes to the heavily reported rumors about the amount of tension between the Bulls front office and now the former coach.
Here is what Bulls Chairman Jerry Reisndorf said during the press conference announcing Thibodeau’s departure:
“The Chicago Bulls have a history of achieving great success on and off the court. These accomplishments have been possible because of an organizational culture where input from all parts of the organization has been welcomed and valued, there has been a willingness to participate in a free flow of information, and there have been clear and consistent goals. While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions. These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private. Teams that consistently perform at the highest levels are able to come together and be unified across the organization — staff, players, coaches, management and ownership. When everyone is on the same page, trust develops and teams can grow and succeed together. Unfortunately, there has been a departure from this culture. To ensure that the Chicago Bulls can continue to grow and succeed, we have decided that a change in the head coaching position is required. Days like today are difficult, but necessary for us to achieve our goals and fulfill our commitments to our fans. I appreciate the contributions that Tom Thibodeau made to the Bulls organization. I have always respected his love of the game and wish him well in the future.”
When Thibodeau was hired in the summer of 2010, few Bulls fans knew who Thibs was, let alone knew how to correctly pronounce “Thibodeau.” An assistant coach under then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers, he was the mastermind behind the ’08 Celtics defensive prowess as well as the years following their Championship campaign.
He took his revolutionary defensive schemes (many of which the majority of teams around the league have adopted today) to Chicago 5-years ago and quintessentially changed the entire organization’s mindset. Normally, it’s superstars and all-stars that dictate NBA teams nowadays, like LeBron in Miami and Cleveland. But with Thibodeau and the Bulls, Thibs no-nonsense, hard-working, “We got to be better” attitude took the Bulls to a level they had not reached since the 90’s with Jordan, Jackson and Pippen.
His first season as the Bulls head coach was nearly a dream one. 62 wins, Rose won the MVP, 1st seed in the East and a trip to the Conference Finals. And although they would eventually fall to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the Bulls knew under Thibodeau that they had something special in the making.
But you can describe Thibodeau’s tenure with the same two words that you could describe Derrick Rose the past four years.
What if the front office renewed Thibs’ (and the NBA for that matter) best assistant and good friend Ron Adams, instead of leaving him out in the cold? What if Rose didn’t plant wrong in Game 1 agains the 76ers in 2012? What if LeBron James didn’t hit that Game 4 buzzer-beater to basically win the series (I firmly believe that if he misses that, the Bulls are still playing right now, thus the Thibodeau era would live on) but of course, all of those things happened, and then some.
In five years, he went 255–139 (.647) made the postseason each year (two #1 seeds) and only had Rose healthy for two of those postseasons, imagine if he were healthy for the majority of those seasons? Thibodeau though, never thought about it, at least as far as we know. He took what was on his roster, and still won.
C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson, John Lucas III, Amir Asik, Marco Belinelli, Kyle Korver, D.J. Augustin and Aaron Brooks. The list of guys who came under Thibodeau for a season or two, and revitalized their careers. “Next man up” was the Bulls motto from 2012 to 2014 and no man suffered more injuries to his team in those five seasons than Thibodeau and the Bulls.
Sure, there were the nights during those seasons when the Bulls would get blown out of the building by Denver or Phoenix, but under Thibodeau, when the Bulls were injured and all but done, they were at their best.
Two games come to mind when I think about Thibodeau and the Bulls:
1. Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat, March 27th, 2013. “The Streak Stoppers”
2. Chicago Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets, May 5th, 2013. Game 7
In both those games, the Bulls had many guys out to injuries, but they still found a way under Thibs, they always did.
Yet, when the Bulls were as healthy as possible (as in these playoffs) they still couldn’t push through and beat LeBron. A lot of that has to do with LeBron being a transcendent player, but it was obvious that the Bulls had quit, something THEY NEVER did in the years before. That’s when you knew it was time.
I will always be a Thibodeau defender, I love the guy and thought he was an incredible coach for the Bulls. But the NBA is an ever-evolving game, it changes at a hyper-speed, Tom Thibodeau doesn’t change, for better or for worse. He refuses to listen to all the theories on how players should rest during blowouts and meaningless games in March.
Even with a deep bench, he rides his star players, even a little too much at times (the Bulls were up 40 in an elimination game against the Bucks earlier in the postseason and all the starters were still in) and rarely allows NBA rumors to effect his attitude towards coaching.
The constant rift between Thibodeau and Gar & Pax was completely unhealthy for the Chicago Bulls organization and its players. Even some players reportedly were unhappy with Thibodeau as his reign came to a crashing end:
But there is something to be said about how this divorce went down. While I have chosen to be quiet about Gar & Pax for quite sometime (due to their ability to draft well and develop late round draft picks aka Jimmy Butler into max contract talent) but what they did to Thibs was completely atrocious.
You know that scene in Oceans 11 when Danny and Rusty go to Reuben’s house to talk to them about robbing Terry Benedict’s Casinos and he freaks out and goes on this rant?
“He will kill ya, then he will go to work on ya.”
That’s exactly what the Bulls front office did to Thibs, they killed him, then they blamed every little mistake in the past 5 years on him. They completely attacked his character, attacked the way he coached and how he handled the team.
Are you kidding me? Do they not remember who coached the Bulls before Thibs? Vinny Del Negro led the Bulls to the most average record possible in two years (82–82) the combination of Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan were under .500. Meanwhile, Thibodeau not only led the team to its most successful period of basketball since the Jordan years, but gave the Bulls the reputation of tough, hard-working, never-say-die attitude that was talked highly of by opponents each night. I grew up with Bulls teams that would quit midway through the 3rd quarter and get blown out the gym by 30 points.
I’m not saying Thibs shouldn’t been fired, but the manner in which the Bulls organization handled this is embarrassing and now have obtained the national reputation of being cheap and unprofessional. Thibs will be fine because he is a Top-3 coach in this league although remember when he was the top candidate for Orlando and New Orleans? Well they now have new head coaches not named Tom. Coincidence?
Both parties are at fault for the failure to bring a championship back to Chicago, but Gar & Pax are right, communication and trust are indeed necessary for a professional sports team to be successful. Sure, people will draw comparisons to the Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson debacles that went on back in the 90’s but no one cared because they were all too worried about the two of the greatest players ever along with the winningest coach ever and their six rings, this is far different.
As for the future, I will save my breath over Fred Hoiberg for a different time. Let me just say, I didn’t enjoy the last time the Bulls hired a guy out of Iowa State, regardless Hoiberg can become a good fit for the Bulls.
Don’t let this messy break up overshadow all that Thibodeau did for the Bulls. He resurrected this franchise in just one season. His best player (Rose) played 210 out of a possible 445 games and he still posted one of the best records in a 5-year run in NBA history. He backed Rose, Noah or any player for that matter with the utmost support when they were caught under fire by the national media, because that is what you do, you’re loyal to your guys and they were loyal back.
Did he win a championship? No, but he brought it every night. For a guy who had been a assistant for 20-years before his hiring in 2010, he made sure no one ever out-worked him in any facet of coaching and beyond. Yeah he did run guys into the ground, but he did it with every intention of winning. The last four teams in playoffs were the two top-seeds, so when he is making sure he gets that W against Detroit in the middle of February by playing his starters all the way through a 15-point rout, he knows that it goes a longer way than most think.
Coaches like Thibodeau don’t come around too often. He literally devotes his life to this game. No wife, no kids, no outside life, just coaching and basketball. He gave the Bulls every ounce of knowledge and effort he had in him and knowing Chicago fans they respected him for it. He will find greener pastures and hopefully an organization that appreciates his talents and is willing to work out the differences unlike here in Chicago.
I will miss his animated personality on the sideline and his thunderous hoarse voice that filled the United Center every night. No championship came of his tenure, but they were the most successful years I can remember as a Bulls fan, majority of that is thanks to Thibodeau.
So thanks, Thibs. I fear the first time the Bulls have to face your defense for a change.