Why Chicago Bulls Need Tom Thibodeau to Return as Head Coach Next Season

James Davis@@JDouglasDavisAnalyst IMarch 7, 2015

Tom Thibodeau's future with the Chicago Bulls seems up in the air.
Tom Thibodeau's future with the Chicago Bulls seems up in the air.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There is chatter that the enmity with the Chicago Bulls’ front office and the sideline is so insurmountable that head coach Tom Thibodeau is on the outs when the 2014-15 commences. Tensions between these camps are not new, but it seems like things are reaching critical mass. Regardless of how the involved parties feel about each other, having Thibodeau remain in his post serves the best interest of the team next season and beyond.

This issue received new life back in January when ESPN announcer and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy proclaimed on national television that the Bulls’ management had a history of undermining its coaches, and Thibodeau was the latest victim of the long-running seedy practice. Van Gundy was insinuating that reports concerning Thibodeau’s job security were done at the behest of Chicago’s front office.

While both management and the fifth-year coach himself have downplayed such talk, the fact that it will not go away makes it seem like there is some shred of credibility to it. If such a widening rift exists between these camps, they need to quickly find a solution. There is a lot at stake if one isn’t reached.

Thibodeau has had great success with developing players.
Thibodeau has had great success with developing players.Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Thibodeau’s budding legacy

If Thibodeau either chooses or is forced to give up his position, he would be leaving behind for his successor the biggest pair of shoes to fill this side of Phil Jackson. He is second in all-time win percentage and third in total wins. It is possible for him to surpass Dick Motta and move into second place for most wins by a Bulls head coach should he play out the rest of his contract.

Winning games has been the norm since Thibodeau took the reins back in 2010. The Bulls posted the league’s best record in his first two seasons; that included a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals as well. Chicago was mired in eighth-seed mediocrity before Thibs came along and put it back into the championship conversation.

Even when the team lost Derrick Rose for two consecutive campaigns, it still managed to finish with winning records and earn playoff berths. Racking up victories is only part of the story, however. Thibodeau is also a great teacher of the game.

Under Thibodeau’s tutelage, many of his players have ascended to levels that very few could have predicted. Joakim Noah was an MVP candidate back in 2013-14. Jimmy Butler has taken the whole league by storm with the exponential leap he has made. Don’t forget all of those reserve point guards who played well and went on to increase their earnings elsewhere.

Thibodeau is a master at getting the most out of his guys.

But more than that, he has resuscitated Chicago basketball. The franchise plummeted to the bottom after Phil Jackson’s departure. It took years before the team started playing games beyond the regular season, but it was apparent that the ceiling was still pretty low.

Even when Thibodeau took over, the roster was considered talented enough to be a middle-of-the-pack playoff club that maybe could get to the second round. That perception was quickly shattered. Chicago's rapid ascendancy was a direct result of quality coaching.

A sudden break after this year would leave a leadership vacuum that could have lasting effects.

If Thibodeau is out, who's in?
If Thibodeau is out, who's in?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The post-Thibodeau choice

In a March 5 write-up, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune called a would-be Thibodeau exit a “mutual parting of ways” and went on to say that it is his personal belief that a split will happen. Having a media personality so close to the situation giving credence to what the team has dismissed as rumor does not help to quell the speculation.

Strangely absent from these reports about Chicago’s imminent changing of the coaching guard are names of possible replacements. ESPN college basketball analyst and former Bulls player Jay Williams relayed via his Twitter account that Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg was garnering interest, but there have been no other names floated by any of the major media outlets.

The lack of replacement candidates suggests that while there may be some real issues present within the Bulls organization. The conjecture about Thibodeau’s future might actually be little more than talk. But let’s briefly entertain the Hoiberg point.

What does this team stand to gain by removing a proven winner who excels at the highest level of basketball competition and replacing him with the NCAA’s wunderkind of the moment? The short answer is nothing.

Back in 2013, when former Butler University coach Brad Stevens made the leap to the NBA with the Boston Celtics, Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com composed a piece that looked at the success rates of college coaches who moved up to the NBA since 1993-94. Of the eight men who made the transition over that time, the final combined record was 559-900 with a 3-12 playoff tally.

Granted, a lot of those coaches jumped into rebuilding situations and couldn’t right the ship in time, but would a better roster really make that much of a difference if the coach has to adjust to a more grueling schedule and whole other level of competition?

Bulls fans of a certain generation remember the last time the organization hired a successful Iowa State coach as their new sideline general. The result was Tim Floyd at the helm a little more than three seasons between 1998 and 2001 to the tune of 49-190. No one wants to relive that.

Thibodeau and Forman are both good at what they do.
Thibodeau and Forman are both good at what they do.Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Too much to lose

Whether it be a firing or letting him walk, allowing Thibodeau to leave would mean more than just needing to find a new coach. So many other factors are also influenced.

Recalling the link where general manager Gar Forman dismissed the media buzz about the rift between him and Thibs, the front-office man also commented that everyone in the organization was just focused on the goal of winning games. If it was really that simple, then there would be no job security rumors because Thibodeau has done that since his first season.

The ultimate goal here is restoring the Bulls to their championship glory.

If a Thibodeau departure is permitted, then the team’s championship window resets. More time would be needed to bring in someone new, gain the players’ confidence, establish a new system, cultivate a new culture and hope that the jelling happens sooner rather than later. That’s a pretty big gamble.

Considering his body of work, replacing Thibodeau with anyone who is or has not been an established, highly successful NBA coach would be step down. Championships are not won by ousting the man who is considered one of the best by his own contemporaries.

Serious problems may very well exist within this franchise, but if winning is the ultimate goal, then a solution can be reached. On a pure basketball level, the combination of Forman and Thibodeau is fantastic. The general manager has put together a great team, and the coach has figured out how to maximize the talent.

If nothing else, all accomplices in this brouhaha need to set their differences aside and turn their attention to the on-court product. Everyone wins when the team does.

All Chicago Bulls coaching data via Basketball-Reference.


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