The Bickerstaff Bulls: Chicago Hires a Couple Assistants, But Has the Lead Assistant Arrived?
The Bulls finally hired their head coach. Well, sort of. The acknowledged plan upon hiring Our Coach Vinny was to get him one or two former head coaches to help him (dare I say, teach him how to) coach. The cynic in me thinks Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided he could save a lot of money by paying a low-ball head coaching salary and then getting two head coaches at assistant coach prices.
When Vinny was signed, he was singing the praises of his old Spurs coach, Bob Hill. He said Hill was ready to be his lead assistant. Well, guess what? Hill hasn’t been hired. That would lead me to think either Hill was vetoed by Reinsdorf/Paxson or Hill actually wanted to get paid in proportion to the elevated levels of duties the lead assistant is likely to have.
So who did they hire? Bernie Bickerstaff and Bob Ociepka. Bickerstaff you might know as presiding over the end of the McDaniels/Ellis era in Seattle and the Webber era (such as it was) in Washington. More recently he was caretaker for the expansion Bobcats. Take away his time in Charlotte (expansion team = guaranteed losses) and his record is 337-350 for .491 (rounding up). Not horrible. As a coach he’s had good years and bad years, but 13 years of experience is a respectable thing. Not a disappointment, but nothing to make me jump up and down, either. As a bonus, Bernie’s got some front office experience, which isn’t a bad thing at all. If Vinny and Paxson were ousted at the same time, Bernie’s qualified to be interim head coach and GM, concurrently. (Has Reinsdorf calculated how much he could save by combining positions? If so, Paxson should tread lightly.) Overall, I’m fine with Bernie on the bench.
Much like myself, Bob Ociepka has not yet rated a page on Wikipedia, so you may not be familiar with him. He’s pushing 20 years as an assistant coach, has been pretty much everywhere and is most likely there for player development. Player development and the Bulls? What a concept. Hopefully, he has expertise in developing big men. If not, would somebody please bring Mark Aguirre in for training camp to teach Noah and Thomas how to score in the post? (Gray and Gooden already know how.) If you’d like to learn more about how Ociepka thinks, you might try his books: Basketball Playbook and Basketball Playbook 2.
As that stands, Bernie and Bob are a tremendus upgrade over Pete Myers and Ron Adams, the main assistants as the season ended. However, for me to feel something approaching pacified, I want to see two experienced head coaches on the bench, and I want a little more pizazz than Bernie.
When the assistant coach hunt began, there were a couple other names prominently thrown out: Paul Westphal and Del Harris. I’ve been all for Paul Westphal and his running style since the head coaching search began. I also have a lot of respect for Del Harris. They’re both winners. Westphal, though with the least coaching years between him Del and Bernie, has a .627 record and got to the Finals. Del is .549 over 14 years and got the Rockets to the Finals way back in ’81.
The Tribune says talks with Del hit a snag, but he things might get smoothed out. Westphal’s status seems unclear. Bob Hill is out.
The Bulls land Del or Paul for lead assistant, with Bernie and Bob as experienced back-ups working with the latest incarnation of “Baby Bulls,” and I’m pacified. They don’t get another head coach for the bench and I’m going to have a (more) jaundiced eye towards management. And they better bring in a big man specialist for the third assistant if that isn’t 100% Bob’s specialty.
Now before you accuse me of being too hard on Coach Vinny and his youthful inexperience, please consider that Vinny’s going to be coaching the summer league. Yes, apparently you can use the summer league to break in rookie coaches, as well as rookie players. For that matter, a lot of the starters for the Bulls will be in the league, as well. This leads me to think two things:
First, while you have to commend Vinny for being willing to go out there, take the public ridicule for coaching the summer league, and hopefully get some of his “adjustment to coaching” errors out of the way, the fact that the Bulls hired a coach who needs to break himself in during the rookie league is still pathetic for such a large market team.
Secondly, if the Bulls are losing games with the summer league while playing with a fair number of starters and regular rotation players, it will not bode well for the regular season.
So until the Bulls hire another assistant as their lead, or Vinny really starts asserting himself, forgive me if I’m calling this year’s team, The Bickerstaff Bulls.