By Argie Grigorakos
In any working environment the most critical and important factor that can’t be overstated is the chemistry that must exist at all levels within the respected organization. Cohesiveness and the sense of togetherness must exist in order for any working relationship to be successful. No more is that most crucial than in team sports. Not only are the relationships between players and coaches vital for ultimate success, but ownership along with upper management must be on the same page with their head coach, as an organizational culture must be developed in order for everyone to fully understand the approach that will be taken. Since the first day Tom Thibodeau was named the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, it was clear from the start that his well known reputation of defense would be the staple of the Windy City’s team. Very few would argue that Tom Thibodeau is not a defensive guru, as his teams annually are usually ranked as one of the best in the league in that department. His hard work and dedication is very evident as Coach Thibs has spent over 2 decades on an NBA bench as either an Assistant Coach, or Head Coach and has developed defensive schemes that have been celebrated due to their effectiveness. As the current coach of the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau has proven to be an outstanding teacher that can help any ballclub reach their fullest potential as his attention to detail is very sound.
The last few years the Chicago Bulls have been plagued with major injuries, most noticeably to their star player Derrick Rose, and Tom Thibodeau has been able to continuously lead the wounded team to multiple playoff appearances despite the major adversity. He has helped rosters overachieve, and help individual players reach rewarded success. Be it Derrick Rose winning an MVP award, or Joakim Noah winning Defensive Player of the Year, players have seen their level of play improve immensely under Coach Thibs, and the winning culture that has been established within the franchise may be a direct result of his impact. Even though the Chicago Bulls franchise has been a very competitive team under the regime of coach Thibs, many will say that a major price is being paid for the success the Bulls players have had under the great demand of their orchestrator. It has been well documented that there has been a tug of war between Tom Thibodeau and upper management in regards to minutes being distributed among the players by the coaching staff. It is believed that the bitterness that both parties have for one another will end in a parting of ways this upcoming offseason between both sides. The feud has become public as national media members have chimed in to voice their displeasures, and support for Tom Thibodeau. Jeff Van Gundy, an ESPN Analyst and a good friend of Tom Thibodeau, has been very critical of the Chicago Bulls organization, as he feels management hasn’t fully supported their Coach. Prominent Beat Writers, such as KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, have gone on record to say the relationship between Thibs and upper management is not salvageable and a divorce in their business relationship is most likely inevitable, maybe even as soon as this summer. It is very clear that major tension exists in this relationship and a discontinuation in partnership is required. What then? Tom Thibodeau is possibly a top 3 coach in the Association, and no longer having him on the sidelines orchestrating Chicago’s attack may potentially be very crippling for the team if an appropriate replacement isn’t hired. There may be no ideal candidate on the market who can come close to the type of elite coaching Tom Thibodeau provides, but there might be one who can merge all levels within the organization flawlessly together with quite possibly no threat of future disconnect. The only logical replacement for Tom Thibodeau for the Chicago Bulls is Doug Collins.
Now many readers may be lukewarm on the idea of Doug Collins being the next Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls as the furthest he has gone in an NBA season was to the 1989 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, almost 30 years ago, but what can’t be overlooked is the special relationship he has with team owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his former player John Paxson, the current Executive Vice President of basketball Operations. In a piece for ESPN.com on April 28, 2012 Scott Powers reflected with Doug Collins on the relationship the Coach has with Jerry Reinsdorf and John Paxson which clearly shows the fondness he has for both. He was quoted saying, “Absolutely the Bulls give me a special feeling…It was my first chance. It’s interesting Jerry Reinsdorf and I have become best friends. We spoke about a month ago on the phone. He’s reached out to me and maybe we’ll get a chance to go out to dinner while we’re here (in Chicago facing the Bulls with the 76er’s). He’s been a very special person. John Paxson has been like a son to me. I have very strong feelings for him. Jerry through his years has shown loyalty to the people. This is a special organization”. In 2010 the Chicago Bulls saw their business relationship end abruptly with then head coach Vinny Del Negro, as he and John Paxson got into a physical altercation weeks before the dismissal. As the case with Coach Thibs, the friction was over minutes as Del Negro played Joakim Noah more minutes than the medical staff had demanded. Joakim Noah was just coming off an injury. There is a sense that the Bulls organization are at a point right now where the next Head Coach must be someone they can trust and has already established a great relationship with management and ownership. Who better than Doug Collins. Potentially Doug Collins would “their guy”. Having a very close personal relationship with their next head coach may be the number 1 priority for the Chicago Bulls, as it is very clear that as constructed the relationship between Management and Coach Thibs is very strained, as it has lacked communication and cohesiveness for numerous years. Even though Doug Collins has downplayed the idea of entering the coaching ranks again due to the demanding lifestyle it provides, it would be difficult to see him turn down this offer as the opportunity to help guide a team headed by close friend Jerry Reinsdorf would be hard to resist. Also he would potentially be coaching the most complete basketball team in his coaching career with great championship aspirations, and be striving to address “unfinished business”.
In 1989, after taking the young Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls sought to go into another direction due to “philosophical differences” and fired Collins and quickly hired his assistant Phil Jackson. Obviously in hindsight it was the right move as the Chicago Bulls went on to win multiple titles in the 90’s. Even though at the time Doug Collins was a young man just getting into the NBA coaching ranks, it must kill him that he wasn’t given the opportunity to see the chase of the title play out. As the years went by Doug Collins had time to mature and develop into a great coach with stops in Detroit, Washington, and most recently Philadelphia. He has accumulated a 442-407 regular season record and a 34-48 playoff record for his coaching career, also showing a knack to help improve the play of young teams in a short amount of time. With the Chicago Bulls, he would finally have a chance to guide a veteran ballclub, a true contender, with a serious mindset something he values greatly, to possibly a Finals birth. That would be hard for Doug Collins to resist. Ironically, the philosophies the Doug Collins lacked almost 30 years ago, he shares with the organization now which consists of team basketball, discipline and a no nonsense approach. The defensive identity that Coach Thibs has established in his tenure as Bulls coach will continue under the tutelage of Doug Collins. With a less talented group in Philadelphia, his last stop as coach, the 76er’s were ranked 8th in defensive efficiency in 2010-2011, and 3rd in 2011-2012. Clearly Doug Collins understands and values the concept of strong defensive principles, and therefore the concern of moving away from what was most important the last few years will not be lost. Doug Collins is also underrated for developing young talent as he helped young players such as Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Allan Houston reach their fullest potential under his coaching. He can do the same for players like Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic as they have shown glimpses of their special talents, it would only be a matter of time for them to reach their ceiling under Doug Collins.
Before the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau, many described the long time assistant as a introvert, who had an abrasive personality. As the years have gone by, the rumours may actually prove to be facts. With Doug Collins they would be getting a person they are very familiar with, who understands the importance of strong relationships within an organization, and someone who would be motivated to achieve the one thing that he lacks from his resume, an NBA championship. How fitting would it be if Doug Collins was able to achieve something he strived for 26 years ago in Chicago with the greatest player of all time, but now with a new cast of motivated characters in the same familiar settings.