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“Who Are Those Guys?” – Background Checks on the Latest Rumored Chicago Bulls Coaching Candidates

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“Who are those guys?”
-Butch Cassiday
Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid

After royally screwing up two potential high-profile head coaching hires (Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins both walked away), there’s buzz that the Bulls are about to announce a new coach from the short list of Dwayne Casey, Chuck Person and Vinny Del Negro. “Who are those guy,” you might be asking. They’re lower profile candidates, especially when you’re thinking of them in terms of coaching. I’ve gone to the trouble of digging through their backgrounds, both from coaching and from their playing days, so you can get acquainted with your new coach, prior to the announcement. 

I’ve also thrown in Tom Thibodeau, just because his name frequently pops up and, let’s face it, every other time the Bulls have indicated a hiring was imminent, said hiring has not taken place.

Dwayne Casey

Casey was head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves for about a year and a half. Not exactly a roaring success, he had a 33-49 record his first season and was fired 40 games into the next season with a 20-20 record. If he’s hired and you’re a Bulls fan, you have to hope that T-Wolves GM Kevin McHale gave him a raw deal. Casey has a pretty good reputation in Seattle, where he was an assistant coach for a staggering 14 years and has a reputation for developing Rashard Lewis, who went to Seattle straight out of high school. If the player development reputation is well-founded, that and actually having some head coaching experience probably puts him at the top of the list.

It’s also worth noting, along with the rhetoric about the importance of defense being spouted by Bulls management, there’s also been talk about wanting a coach who played in the league. Dwayne Casey was not an NBA player. Could be a strike against him.

Chuck Person

One year as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. Prior to that, two years as an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. Prior to that, two years as a “special assistant” to the CEO/president of the Pacers, where he worked with players for both the Pacers and the WNBA Fever. That gig involved the phrase “both on and off the court,” so it’s hard to tell exactly what it entailed. So that’s 3 years of formal assistant coaching experience and 2 years of less formal coaching-esque experience. Bonus points: one wonder if having six children might make Person more qualified for the temper tantrums of the current Bulls?

Light on coaching? Ah, but if you want somebody who was in the league, Person played for 13 seasons and had a reputation as a long distance threat as a forward. His high scoring days were mainly during his tour of duty with the Pacers and he was known as “The Rifleman.”

Vinny Del Negro

Zero coaching experience for Vinny. One year with Phoenix as Assistant General Manager. One year prior to that as Director of Pro Personnel. Prior to that, he was in the broadcast booth. It’s worth noting he didn’t get hired to coach the Suns. Mind you, I happen to agree with Steve Kerr’s hang-up about only wanting candidates with head coaching experience.

If you’re looking for the player experience, well, that’s really what Del Negro brings to the table. 13 season in the league, with some time playing (early in his career) in Italy, where he won a championship.

If the Bulls are as high on him as the media thinks, he must have given one hell of an interview, ‘cause his resume is light. That or prior playing experience is the number one criteria.

Tom Thibodeau

Technically speaking, Thibodeau isn’t on the last list of coaches about to announced as hired. On the other hand, D’Antoni and Collins were supposed to be done deals here, too. Thibodeau’s only head coaching was one year at Salem State College. That would be a D-III school. In the NBA, Thibodeau’s been around for 18 years. A couple years under Mussleman with Minnesota as an assistant coach, followed by a year scouting in Seattle, then a couple years with the Spurs as an assistant coach, a couple years with the 76ers as an assistant coach, and then he got on the Van Gundy train and joined the Knicks as an assistant coach. He ended up following Jeff Van Gundy to Houston and you’ve already heard about how he’s in Boston this year. He’s supposed to be a defensive guru, but the cynic in you might say “hmmm… David Robinson in San Antonio, then working under Jeff Van Gundy… and now he’s got Kevin Garnett in Boston… of course his teams had good defensive numbers.” And I’d have to say his circumstances have been very conducive to good numbers. He has been around, though, and he’s coached some very good defensive teams.

Thibodeau has no NBA playing experience.

And that’s who those guys are.

Are the Bulls going out of their way not to interview Avery Johnson and Flip Saunders? The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson points out that Terry Porter’s deal to coach the Suns is being placed at 3 years, $7 million, which would likely establish the ballpark figure for the above 4 possible candidates. An established coach like Doug Collins would have been more like $5 million a year. A hot property like Avery Johnson might be closer to $6 million/year. Remember, D’Antonio got PAID by the Knicks. Are the Bulls being cheap? The circumstantial evidence seems to be pointing in that direction.

Just for giggles, here’s a list of the top 10 coaches not in a head coaching position, based on head coach winning percentage (with a tip of the hat to Basketball-Reference.com):

  1. Avery Johnson, 194-70 (.735)
  2. Kurt Rambis, 37-24 (.649) – Rambis finished up the season for the ’98-’99 Lakers
  3. Paul Westphal, 267-159 (.627)
  4. Flip Saunders, 587-396 (.597)
  5. Rudy Tomjanovich, 527-416 (.559)
  6. Del Harris, 556-457 (.549)
  7. Mike Fratello, 667-552 (.547)
  8. Doug Collins, 332-287 (.536)
  9. Allan Bristow, 207-203 (.505)
  10. Brian Hill, 298-315 (.486)

And on this list, who have the Bulls talked to? The Doug Collins fiasco, and if they didn’t actually talk to Rambis (much like Thibodeau, he’s in the finals), then they talked about wanting to talk to him. The other 8 people on the list? Nope. Oh, wait. Would Rambis be the only one on that list likely to accept a Porter-level salary? And Collins called the Bulls to put his name in the hat. Oh, that darn circumstantial evidence. Why is it whenever I talk about the Bulls and their coaching search I have visions of Mike Meyer’s old “if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap” skits?

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