CHICAGO — What a day to be an American. We all know about the news of the decade that Osama bin Laden is dead and one mam would actually be happy to have the news over shadow his big day.
That man is Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
In a move that was almost as much of a lock as Derrick Rose and the MVP title, the first year Bulls coach was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year today after leading the Bulls to their best season of the decade. With Thibodeau’s leadership the Bulls were able to not only surprise the world and earn the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but they secured the league’s best record while doing it.
The Bulls 62-20 record is their best since (and is identical to) their 1997-98 season in which they won their final title of their 90’s Dynasty. It’s also tied for the fourth best season record in franchise history.
And it was all done by a rookie head coach.
Thibodeau had spent years as an assistant in Boston before becoming a head coach for the first time when Chicago rang his phone after firing Vinny Del Negro.
“I knew in the first couple of weeks that he was here that we had hit a grand slam,” – Bulls GM Gar Forman on hiring Thibodeau
But even in his moment in the spotlight, Thibodeau isn’t taking all the credit and is staying true to the “No ‘I’ in TEAM” mold the Bulls have epitomized this year.
“I’m flattered, humbled and honored to receive this award, but I think it represents a lot more than just me,” he said. “And it certainly reflects our team winning and our entire organization.”
Thibodeau’s only previous head coaching experience came when he was coach of his alma mater Salem State in the mid-80’s. His lack of head coaching know-how didn’t scare Bulls GM Gar Forman when he gave the job to Thibodeau this year.
“I knew in the first couple of weeks that he was here that we had hit a grand slam,” general manager Gar Forman said.
Thibodeau entered the NBA in 1989 and worked for the Minnesota Timberwolves under Bill Musselman but made is name in 2008 when he won a title as a Boston Celtics assistant.
“I knew I had a great job with Boston,” Thibodeau said. “And I realize how hard these jobs are to get. I felt each of those opportunities was a great opportunity, but I felt this was the best one. After being here for a year, I realize how fortunate I am to be here. It’s a great city, great fans, great organization, great players. And if it meant waiting 20 years to get this job, it was well worth the wait.”
His former boss in Boston Doc Rivers had only the best to say about his former colleague.
“We talk a lot, obviously, and one of the things I kept seeing was that he kept standing for his beliefs. I know when you play the Bulls, you can see his beliefs through the team. That’s always the mark of a hell of a coach. [Thibodeau] came in and did his job … he was so prepared for it.”
Thibodeau inherited a mess that had the potential to be something special. The Bulls struck out trying to land one of the big 3 free agents this off-season but have one of the leagues best and deepest rotations instead.
They also shut-out the three men who blew them off for Miami, sweeping the season series with the Heat.
Thibodeau turned what was a messy but talented Bulls team into a defensive force and the league’s best all around team. Even when players went down with injuries, Thibodeau found players who filled in the way no one expected.
His nack for using unused players is equivalent to the way Quentin Tarantino uses actors: Thibodeau finds guys like Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik and uses them in spots that make them look like All-Stars.
He finished one win shy of becoming the NBA’s most winningest rookie head coach, instead tying Pete Westphal who’s 1992-93 Suns finished with an identical record in his first year.
That team made it to the NBA Finals where they were ironically bounced by the Chicago Bulls in their third NBA title in as many years.
“[I'm] very happy for him,” Joakim Noah said Sunday. “Very well deserving. Coach is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. He stays in late. He’s the first one here. He was here for me all summer, working me out, and I feel like I really improved as a player because of him in just one year. Very tough coach. And I’m happy for him.”
The man who Thibodeau is giving a lot of credit to is Derrick Rose who has put together an MVP-caliber season under Thibodeau’s leadership.
If Rose wins the MVP, which is expected to be announced Tuesday, Rose and Thibodeau will be just the 12th duo to win both awards. In his first season as Bulls head coach, Thibodeau already has as many COY awards as Phil Jackson.
He just needs to add some championships to that, which Bulls fans wouldn’t mind one bit.