Those of you who followed the waning months of Tom Thibodeau’s tenure as the Chicago Bulls head coach weren’t surprised when the team fired him last week. It was a widely anticipated move from an organization that had reportedly grown tired of Thibodeau’s act. It was also the culmination of a not-so-private rift between the former head coach and Chicago’s front office.
In announcing Thibodeau’s firing, the Bulls’ organization did not hold back from throwing a few jabs in the direction of its former head coach:
“While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions,” Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said, via Fox Sports. “These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private. 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. 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.”
This statement was obviously meant to blame Thibodeau for the organizational issues that the franchise has had over the years. Instead of releasing a fair statement and thanking its former head coach for his time with the team, Chicago decided to take a different route.
This caught the attention of former NBA head coach and current broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy, who had a rather strong take on the Bulls’ organization, owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Gar Forman in particular:
“The statement that they put out when they let Tom go proves once again that every organization needs a vice president of common sense,” Van Gundy said, via Sports Illustrated. “When you have a public relations, high powered public relations business put that out and then you have multiple people have to co-sign it to put it out, and it just absolutely reeked of a lack of class, it shows that you just need somebody to say whoa. Let’s just acknowledge his greatness, Thibodeau’s greatness, and let’s just move on. But it didn’t happen that way.”
A “president of common sense” would probably come in handy for every organization in the professional sports world. However, the Bulls’ inability to even thank Thibodeau was a disturbing culmination of this entire saga. After all, the head coach did win 50-plus games in three of his five seasons in Chicago. He also earned a playoff spot each year.
Van Gundy continued:
“And in some ways, in an odd way, I think it was good because, to me, that statement revealed exactly who each person was,” he continued. “It reveals who Jerry Reinsdorf is. It reveals who Gar Forman is. And Tom Thibodeau’s statement reveals who he is. Everybody had to put their name finally on who they were, and they did. I think that’s great.”
Okay, so that’s a not-so-subtle jab at the hierarchy in Chicago.
It should also be noted that Van Gundy and the Bulls have a history. According to the New York Post, the former NBA head coach had public spat with the team back in January, at which point Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had this to say:
“Tom Thibodeau isn’t being undermined at all. What’s being undermined is the entire Bulls organization by Van Gundy, who has an agenda against our organization for whatever reason and has for years. I guess he thinks he’s trying to protect his friend, but he’s doing just the opposite. It’s pretty pathetic when you think about it, and truth be told, he owes Jerry Reinsdorf an apology for his disparaging remarks.”
That statement was in response to Van Gundy laying into the Bulls for their handling of Thibodeau throughout the course of the past couple seasons.
So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Van Gundy would take his friend’s side in this entire spat. While the drama is all but played out, we are sure to acquire a better understanding of what happened behind the scenes between Thibodeau and the Bulls as the months progress.
One thing is for sure here: Thibodeau’s exit from the Bulls has sparked a lot of emotion on all sides. It might very well be the ugliest divorce we have seen around the association in decades.
Photo: Chicago Tribune