It appears the Bulls coaching search is about to come to a conclusion.
The Bulls, insiders confirmed, officially tendered a three-year contract offer late Friday night to Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau to be the team’s head coach.
Sources close to Thibodeau said he is considering minor elements of the deal, but expect him to agree without any major issue.
It remains unclear given Thibodeau is involved in the NBA Finals with the Celtics trailing 1-0 whether, or when the Bulls and Thibodeau can make an official announcement.
But both sides independently have signaled they believe the signing is imminent.
As we know in sports, nothing is done until it’s done and signed, and things change and greed can be a mighty enemy. But Thibodeau did what few would have done—including me—in his interest for the Bulls job.
Thibodeau has been an assistant in the NBA for 20 years and in search of a head coaching job for perhaps the last decade. He was the most passed over veteran assistant in the last few years with much less experienced coaches getting jobs.
So what do you do? Accept the first head coaching job that comes along?
I probably would.
But Thibodeau said no to a pretty good New Orleans team with Chris Paul and David West. Then he apparently said no to a New Jersey Nets team with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, the No. 3 draft pick and salary cap room. They are also a team coming off a 12-win season. Heck, I could coach that team and double the win total and win coach of the year.
Thibodeau apparently said no to both offers for just the chance to be a significant candidate with the Bulls. To be honest, I probably would have taken the Nets job if I were him, although I believe the Bulls have a better chance than the Nets to be a great team.
It says something about Thibodeau and what he likely will bring to the franchise that he was willing to pass on his first ever real chance to be an NBA head coach just to have a chance at what he felt would be the best opportunity.
And it was no sure shot, although Thibodeau long was one of the top candidates to replace the fired Vinny Del Negro.
The Bulls had numerous long telephone conversations with Thibodeau and did ample background checks as they avoided the circus atmosphere of 2008 when they did a parade of interviews. But the first scheduled meeting with Thibodeau was cancelled when the Celtics’ series with Orlando was extended. And then there was a mixup in communications while Boston prepared for the Finals. Just this past week the Bulls and Thibodeau got together before the Finals started in Los Angeles.
By that time, Thibodeau had pretty much passed on the Hornets and Nets and had no guarantees from the Bulls. But the meeting went well and apparently confirmed that Thibodeau had the characteristics general manager Gar Forman outlined when he announced Del Negro’s dismissal.
It was basically a basketball guy, a teacher who would be well prepared and someone who could be a leader and hold players accountable. Thibodeau seems to fit a number of those categories.
The long knock against him was a vague notion of his difficulty in personal relationships with players, and while I personally haven’t seen it or heard particular examples, he’s worked hands on for two decades with numerous top players. If it was a problem you’d assume you’d have heard more about it and the teams he had big roles with wouldn’t be in three Finals in the last decade.
In some ways, Thibodeau’s story reminds me of football’s Bill Parcells.
Parcells was a longtime assistant coach who didn’t get his first head job until 20 years after he began coaching and in his 40’s. Parcells isn’t every player’s favorite, but he has a designed system of play, much like Thibodeau on defense, and holds to certain values of what a team should be. You get that sense with Thibodeau, who is a renowned hard worker. Parcells had seven assistant coaching jobs and was head coach at Air Force Academy before getting the head job with the football Giants. Likewise, someone like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who also can be a bit testy, as every one of those TV reporters who do those mindless end of third quarter interviews will tell you. Guys like Parcells and Popovich, the latter an assistant and college coach for more than 20 years before becoming Spurs coach, are the kind of people who, as it’s said, don’t suffer fools well. When you are demanding, you can get a reputation for not exactly being a people person.
Fine with me. Coaches are not there to be loved and to make life easier on the players. They are there to get more from the player than the player thought himself capable of delivering. If Thibodeau had some instances of not exactly being beloved, who cares.
He’s played a major role almost exclusively with big winners and terrific head coaches who are strong supporters of his, like Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers.
And did anyone mention he’s represented by the same agency that represents LeBron James. I don’t believe that had anything to do with the Bulls decision to extend an offer to Thibodeau. But, as they say, it can’t hurt.
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