The roller-coaster ride that led to Jim Boylen’s firing by Bulls

Even in the final days, Boylen was confident he would be the coach for the start of the 2020-21 season. He found out Friday just how wrong he was.

SHARE The roller-coaster ride that led to Jim Boylen’s firing by Bulls
The Bulls fired coach Jim Boylen on Friday.

The Bulls fired coach Jim Boylen on Friday.


Extreme confidence or delusions of grandeur?

It’s tough to figure out what coach Jim Boylen’s mindset was before the news Friday that the Bulls were firing him after two seasons.

Maybe it was both.

Because while everything around him screamed he wouldn’t see the final two years of the three-year contract extension he received after the 2018-19 season, a source told the Sun-Times that Boylen remained confident — even into last week — he would be the Bulls’ coach when next season began.

The reasoning? Boylen didn’t think the new regime of executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley wanted to remove him and start the clock on their own job security.

The problem was that not everyone thinks like Boylen. Survival 101 likely was a mentality he learned under former GM Gar Forman.

Karnisovas, however, has made it clear he’s not into surviving; he’s into winning.

‘‘Ultimately, my responsibility is to move this organization on a trajectory of success, and from the beginning this has involved making changes,’’ Karnisovas said after Boylen’s firing was announced. ‘‘I’m dedicated and committed to cultivating a culture that breeds winning and has its sights set on championships.’’

That definitely wasn’t the culture before Friday — at least from what Bulls players were saying.

The latest shot at Boylen came last week, when guard Tomas Satoransky made some interesting comments on a Czech radio show when asked about his then-coach.

‘‘How would I say it diplomatically?’’ Satoransky said. ‘‘It definitely wasn’t an easy season for the coach because . . . nobody was doing well, so there was huge pressure on him. The fans do not forgive, and the coach is generally the one who’s the first on the firing line. They just don’t forgive Jim, and I certainly don’t want to throw dirt at him because I know how hard he works to win games. But the season wasn’t a successful one, and unfortunately that’s the only thing fans see.’’

But Satoransky, like many of the Bulls, also thought Boylen would be back next season, telling that to the Czech media.

So why was Boylen’s offseason roller-coaster ride filled with so many twists and turns? Fluid situations usually are.

May 8, 2020: The Chicago Sun-Times reported that while chairman Jerry and president Michael Reinsdorf wanted Boylen to get a fair look from the new regime, they empowered Karnisovas and Eversley to make the decision on their own.

The paper also reported early Zoom calls conducted with players quickly damaged Boylen’s standing, with Karnisovas and Eversley getting enough mixed feedback that they were said to be leaning toward starting with a new coach once the NBA decided how to resolve its season.

May 20, 2020: The Sun-Times broke the news that longtime trainer Jeff Tanaka was fired and that Boylen had been empowered by the new front office to make such decisions. That was confusing not only to Bulls personnel but to the players, who liked Tanaka.

June 3, 2020: The Bulls were told they wouldn’t be invited to the NBA’s bubble restart in Orlando, Florida. But with more players expected in and out of town during the next six weeks, Karnisovas wanted to see firsthand the interaction between Boylen and the players.

June 5, 2020: The Sun-Times reported 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was the leading candidate to replace Boylen, according to several NBA scouts.

July 29, 2020: Several Bulls told the Sun-Times there was a growing concern they weren’t being heard by the new regime, despite Karnisovas and Eversley insisting they were a ‘‘players first’’ front office.

Meanwhile, Karnisovas and Eversley continued observing Boylen, knowing there were some red flags in his file, including a run-in with a team chef that required a meeting with lawyers several years ago.

Aug. 6, 2020: In the wake of Jerry Reinsdorf telling USA Today that he was losing ‘‘nine figures’’ combined between the White Sox and Bulls because of the coronavirus shutdown, the Sun-Times learned all bonuses and pay increases temporarily had been frozen.

The paper reported there was ‘‘growing thought that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 season will keep Boylen and most of his staff on the Bulls’ bench.’’ That soon was squashed.

Aug. 14, 2020: In the wake of Boylen’s firing, Karnisovas dismissed the idea of finances ever being a concern but admitted the opinion of the players was a component in the decision.

‘‘Players are always a part of it,’’ Karnisovas said.

As far as Boylen’s red flags, Karnisovas took the high road.

‘‘The decision was based on mainly the basketball part of it, so a basketball decision was made,’’ he insisted.

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