The Chicago Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau on Thursday, saying a change was needed from the strong-willed coach who took his team to the playoffs in each of his five seasons.
Thibodeau went 255-139 with the Bulls, good for a .647 winning percentage that ranks seventh in NBA history among coaches with at least 200 games. He led the Bulls to the top seed in the playoffs his first two seasons and was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 — the same year Derrick Rose became the league’s youngest MVP.
Chicago advanced to the Eastern Conference finals that season, but it’s the only time the Bulls have made it past the second round under Thibodeau, whose relationship with the front office was under constant scrutiny.
“When Tom was hired in 2010, he was right for our team and system at that time, and over the last five years we have had some success with Tom as our head coach,” general manager Gar Forman said. “But as we looked ahead and evaluated how we as a team and an organization could continue to grow and improve, we believed a change in approach was needed.”
Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was blunt:
“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,” he said. “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.”
The coach chafed at minutes restrictions placed by management on Rose and Joakim Noah, who was coming off knee surgery, along with veteran Kirk Hinrich.
The idea was that the Bulls would be in better shape for the playoffs and not run out of steam the way they seemed to the previous two years. But it also went against Thibodeau’s belief that good habits are developed through repetition.
Adding to the tension, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy accused the Bulls of undermining their coach during a game at Dallas in January. It wasn’t the first time he had criticized the organization. But to many, whether it was true or not, it seemed he was serving as a messenger for Thibodeau, his former assistant.
Thibodeau is not the first successful Bulls coach to lose in a clash with management. Phil Jackson lost to Jerry Krause after winning six championships in eight years, and the dynasty was dismantled.
The Bulls were expected to make a run to the NBA Finals this season with the signing of Pau Gasol and the return of Rose after missing most of the previous two years because of injuries to each knee. Instead, Rose was inconsistent. The Bulls fought through injuries and lacked continuity. Their effort wavered at times, and they wound up with 50 wins — not bad, but not what they anticipated.
“I think this team has more potential,” Gasol said after the season.
The question is who will be coaching them for the next run.