Tom Thibodeau was an old school coach. His players often praised him and pledged allegience to his style of coaching. He also had their back.
In November 2014, Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, was recovering from major surgery. He drew harsh criticism from fans when he said that his decision to sit out several games was partially based on ensuring he has a healthy life ahead. He especially mentioned not wanting to be sore when attending post-retirement meetings, or “his young son’s college graduation”. His son was a toddler at the time.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau came to his defense. “He’s a lightning rod right now. The same people that were praising him in his MVP year are the ones that are criticizing him now and, when he starts playing great again, will be the same people praising him again. The only person he really has to answer to is himself.”
Thibodeau was named the NBA Coach of the Year on May 1, 2011, after tying the record for most wins by a rookie head coach with 62. He also led the Bulls to their first 50-win season and first division title since the Michael Jordan era.
Bulls center, Joakim Noah, also had a tight relationship with Thibs. When Thibs won Coach of the Year, Noah commented “I feel like I really improved as a player because of him.” And he did!
In 2014 Noah was awarded the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for the first time in his career. He is the second Chicago Bull to win the award, after Michael Jordan who won it in the 1987–88 season.
On June 4, 2014, Noah was named to the 2014 All-NBA first team. Upon accepting the award, Joakim turned to his coach and said “Thibs, we’ve definitely had our hard times, our ups and downs, but without your system this wouldn’t be possible.”
Thibodeau’s teams excelled defensively, ranking first in the league in points per game (92.6) and field goal percentage (43.2). In five seasons, he had a .647 win percentage in the regular season (255-139) for Chicago, and that was with star point guard Derrick Rose playing only 181 of 394 games because of injuries.
One can argue that Gar Forman’s need to meddle in Thib’s coaching decisions was the eventual nail in his own coffin, as the next two Bulls coaches could come nowhere near Thib’s production.
Thibodeau moved on in high demand and scored a gig as both head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota T-Wolves. That also didn’t turn out so well as Thib’s could not reproduce the same defensive stats with the young T-Wolves. He also started turning the team into what looked like the second coming of his Bulls. Rose, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler all spent time there. In January 2019 Thibs was once again let go.
He tends to look out of shape, barks a lot and forces his players to play defense. Yet, he has proven he can win and lift his players to new levels of performance.
Was it a mistake by Minnesota to give him so much power? Should Thibs be given an opportunity to be a head coach again or has he become a jalopy?