The last time someone called Tom Thibodeau their head coach was in 1989. At his alma mater, Salem State (Div. III) he began his life-long affair with basketball; as a player, assistant coach, and ultimately as head coach for three seasons, he brought the same fire, passion, and work ethic that has earned him the NBA’s Coach of the Year award this 2010-2011 season.
For years he toiled away, working tirelessly in the film room and in the gym with players, always going the extra mile, putting in the effort to improve his team. “He’s the first one here. He was there for me all summer working me out. I felt like I really improved as a player because of him.” Bulls center Joakim Noah said after hearing of his coach’s new honor.
Tibb’s, as he’s affectionately known by his players and colleagues, most certainly put in his time before getting his shot as a NBA Head Coach. After stints at Salem State and Harvard he bounced to Minnesota, San Antonio, Philly, New York, and Houston, all the while his reputation as a workaholic and defensive mastermind grew.
His next stop would be Boston. As assistant head coach to Doc Rivers it was Tibbs’ defensive intensity that instilled fear into the NBA when the Celtics came to town (that and Kevin Garnett whispering things under his breath that would frighten even the most hardened criminal). From 2007-2010 Tibbs and Doc formed the perfect coaching pair. Doc concentrating on team chemistry and motivation for his veteran team, while Tibbs honed the defense, making accountability and team defense the staple for the Celtics.
It was his defense that stymied Kobe in the ’08 Finals (and the ’10 Finals), and not discounting what Doc Rivers has done (he’s a great coach in his own right) but Tibb’s has been credited (though he’d never publicly take any credit) for building the championship defense that shut down superstars Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose (Derrick is happier than anyone to have Tibbs on his side now), Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.
When Chicago fired Vinny Del Negro before the start of this past season it wasn’t because Vinny had failed at his job (Vinny got hired by the Los Angles Clippers, although that’s far from an upgrade). Vinny had coached the Bulls to consecutive 41-41 seasons (.500 ball), or mediocrity. So, when Jerry Reinsdorf (owner) and Gar Forman (General Manager) went looking for a coach to take the Bulls to that next level it was a very short list.
Tom was almost snatched up by the New York Knicks the season prior to this one; but they went another way (to many-a-Knicks fans chagrin), they decided to go with Mike D’Antoni (who without Steve Nash is a lot like Vinny Del Negro). Luckily for the Bulls, the Knicks can’t make sound decisions in their front office, and Tom stayed in Boston for another year (another Finals appearance) then came to them in the off season.
The situation couldn’t be better for Tom, he’s got the MVP of the league in Derrick Rose (the most exciting and humble young player in the game), a fiery defensive anchor (like KG) in Joakim Noah, the deepest bench in basketball full of players who fit their roles and give everything on both ends of the floor, and an owner and general manager that: A: will spend money to improve the team, and B: communicate with their head coach openly.
He left Boston for another crazy sports town starving for success. Since Michael left there’s been a void at the United Center, along with banners collecting dust in the rafters. When Derrick showed up there was new hope, and Tibb’s is, they hope, the last piece (yeah, they could use another playmaker on the parameter and a power forward who isn’t named Carlos Boozer, but they’re right on the cusp of greatness).
20 years in waiting, six different franchises, countless players and coaches in his rear view; Tom is happy where he landed, humble and hungry, and ready to continue taking Chicago to new heights. “If it meant waiting 20 years to get this job, it was well worth the wait.” I think Tibb’s said it best.
About the Author
Written by Frank Sullivan
Frank is a graduate of Old Dominion University, sports fan, author, and founder of TheBloosh.com. He's been working with prosportsblogging.com since April 2011, and has covered the Chicago Bulls, Baltimore Ravens, Virginia Tech Hokies Football, and the Washington Wizards. Frank can be reached @franksullivan on twitter.