The former Boston Celtics assistant was hired by the Bulls in June 2010, replacing the fired Vinny Del Negro.
During his first season in Chicago, Thibodeau guided the team to the NBA’s best record and picked up Coach of the Year honors as well. Not bad for a rookie year, right?
Last season, Thibodeau’s squad grabbed the top record in the league once again. Superstar Derrick Rose would tear his ACL during the postseason opener, though, causing the team to lose in the first round.
Rose hasn’t logged a single minute thus far this season. And other key players like Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson have each battled injuries as well. Despite injuries and lack of scoring (ranked 29th), Chicago currently owns the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference.
So how has Thibodeau managed to keep the Bulls relevant?
Suffocating defense has to be the main reason. If you follow Bulls basketball, you’re well aware that Thibs is infatuated with defense.
Chicago is currently holding opponents to just 92.3 points per game, which ranks third in the league. The team ranked first in that department last season and second during Thibodeau’s first year (2010-11).
Thibodeau’s Bulls completely shut down the Atlanta Hawks this past January, holding them to only 58 points. Yes, that’s 58 points for the entire game. Atlanta scored a franchise-low 20 points in the first half, including an unbelievable five points in the second quarter.
Now that’s what you call amazing defense.
Following the game, Bulls center Joakim Noah spoke about that morning’s shootaround with Thibodeau (via ESPN).
"Early this morning, Tibs was going crazy on us at shootaround. Just waking up early in the morning and having Tibs just screaming at you and screaming at you and screaming at you. We didn't want that to happen to us again.”
Thibodeau obviously knows how to prepare his players, even if it involves screaming to get his message across.
When you watch Bulls games, you can’t help but notice Thibodeau’s intense sideline demeanor. It’s easy to see that he means business. He wants to win.
Thibodeau has earned the respect of his players, which is another reason for his successful Bulls tenure.
A perfect example of this came after a loss against the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this season. Noah, who was benched by Thibodeau in the game, blamed himself rather than criticize his coach (via the Chicago Tribune).
"Thibs would never talk bad or say anything bad about us in the media, but that was all me. He took me out. I was emotional about it. I was pissed off. I said some things I shouldn't have said. You learn from it and move on. That's the mindset I wanted to have. It was my fault. There are so many games. I didn't want it lingering. I have the ultimate respect for my head coach."
While Thibodeau has put together a great career in Chicago, a few other Bulls coaches like Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright haven’t fared well since Phil Jackson left.
Tim Floyd, who replaced Jackson following the team’s sixth championship in ’98, struggled mightily with a horrific 49-190 record in four seasons.
Unlike Thibodeau, Floyd certainly wasn’t respected by his players, especially Charles Oakley. The outspoken power forward was fined $50,000 in 2001 for his negative comments regarding Floyd’s substitution strategy.
Floyd may not have been the greatest NBA coach, but neither Jackson nor Red Auerbach could’ve won with those expansion-type rosters either.
Cartwright compiled a forgettable 51-100 record during his three seasons on the Bulls’ bench. His players respected him for the most part, but the team just wasn’t talented enough to win many ball games.
No, Jalen Rose, along with the two underachieving big men in Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, weren’t enough for Cartwright to keep his job.
Talent isn’t an issue for Coach Thibs. His Bulls squad includes an elite point guard in Rose (once he returns) as well as a pair of 2013 All-Stars in Noah and Luol Deng.
Expect nothing but success for the Bulls as long as Thibodeau is in town.