Tom Thibodeau terminated as Bulls attempt to “repair culture”

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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reacts after a call during Game 4 against the Cavaliers at the United Center. (Nuccio DiNuzzo - Chicago Tribune)

Five years is a long time for some relationships. For boyfriends and girlfriends. For talk show hosts and producers. For basketball coaches and management.

The Chicago Bulls ended their five year relationship with Tom Thibodeau on Thursday by announcing that he will not be retained as the team’s head coach. Thibodeau was the first coach to experience perennial success since the Michael Jordan era expired in 1998, but there were too many cracks in the organizational sidewalk. Four playoff series wins in five years didn’t exactly help the case either.

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf boldly issued the following statement this morning: “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. 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.  To ensure that the Chicago Bulls can continue to grow and succeed, we have decided that a change in the head coaching position is required.”

Talk about kicking a man when he’s down.

So essentially, Thibodeau didn’t play by the rules and that was that. Forget the two years and $9 million left on his contract, the bosses couldn’t stand any more toxicity.

“Relationships are difficult,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.  “When you have different personalities, there has to be a situation where you can have open dialogue. Where there are no barriers, walls are taken down. It’s all about what’s in the best interests of the organization.”

The rift between Thibodeau and Bulls management — namely Paxson and general manager Gar Forman — has been well documented. Feathers first became ruffled when Forman dismissed assistant coach and Thibodeau favorite Ron Adams in June 2013. Three months later, the volcano neared eruption when the Bulls hired Jen Swanson as the director of sports performance. Swanson’s job was simple: help mediate minutes for often injured stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Even though intentions were fair on the Swanson hiring, Thibodeau almost blew a gasket.

Management wanted the Bulls roster to be healthy for a championship chase. Crutches, braces and casts were commonplace during several Chicago postseason runs. Forman and Paxson were on board with Thibodeau’s regular season record, but disappointed with the lack of postseason success.

In Thibodeau’s eyes, he was being undermined by his superiors. Control freaks are wired that way. Thibodeau grew more and more frustrated over the coming months. The feud between coach and front office seemingly boiled over this past January. ABC and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, a longtime Thibodeau confidant, blasted Bulls management on a national broadcast. This incensed Paxson. In his eyes, Van Gundy was echoing Thibodeau’s thoughts on Bulls brass for the entire country to hear. Even though Paxson told the media this afternoon that a championship would’ve changed things, Thibodeau was likely gone either way.

The 2011 NBA Coach of the Year gave this team everything he had every single day. That mentality rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but it’s all Thibodeau ever knew and he was too stubborn to change his ways.  Derrick Rose became the league’s youngest MVP under Thibodeau’s watch. Joakim Noah developed into a two-time All-star and won the Defensive Player of the Year. Jimmy Butler’s stock skyrocketed as he took home this season’s Most Improved Player. The anti-Thibs crowd will counter with zero playoff series wins against LeBron James, zero appearances in the NBA Finals and zero championships due to injuries, questionable rotations and a lack of offensive creativity.

Today’s decision has somehow divided the Bulls fan base.

So now what?

Forman and Paxson invoked the “Five D’s of Dodgeball” quite a bit over their near 25 minute press conference in the United Center basement. They didn’t want to elaborate on any coaching candidates, time frames or conversations they had with Thibodeau. Instead, they spoke of the team’s desire for an “open and creative learner.” Management wants somebody that will comply with a “culture of communication that builds trust within the organization.”

How quickly everybody forgot about Thibodeau’s ability to continuously bring the best out of a battered and bruised roster. In fact, Thibodeau only had Derrick Rose in the lineup for 210 of a possible 445 games.

Sources have told WGN Radio it’s a slam dunk that Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg will lead the Bulls into the 2015-16 season. The Ames Tribune reported that Hoiberg has been telling recruits he cannot completely commit to a return for next season. It’s also no secret that Hoiberg has longed for a chance to coach in the professional ranks.

As for Thibodeau, he could realistically sit back and enjoy a two year, $9 million vacation, but that’s not how he operates. Thibodeau once joked that he was married to the game of basketball, so it’s hard to picture him sipping umbrella drinks on a beach. We’ll learn more in the coming days about the current coaching openings and perhaps some more jobs that could open up given today’s developments.

The Tom Thibodeau era in Chicago was the ultimate “maybe” era. If Derrick Rose didn’t tear his ACL in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, maybe there’s another banner hanging in the rafters on Madison Street. If Thibodeau swallowed his pride and loosened his grip on the colloquial rope, maybe this relationship doesn’t completely deteriorate. Maybe management could have landed bigger fish in free agency for Thibodeau to use at his disposal.

All things considered, this was one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory because of all the side shows and fireworks. It was awkwardly entertaining to watch a man try and coach a basketball team while knowing his personal finish line was getting closer and closer.

Thibodeau’s teams prided themselves for years on preparation, hard work and effort. And ironically enough, he was shown the door exactly two weeks after the Bulls quit on him in the final game of their season.

The times they are a-changin’.

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