Bulls commit to Jim Boylen; Boylen commits to cleaning up his rep
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It was important to the Bulls that the word “interim” was nowhere near Jim Boylen’s name Monday.
With Fred Hoiberg fired as head coach, the team chose not to waste time with a drawn-out coaching search, instead promoting longtime assistant Boylen from associate head coach.
“Jim is our head coach, and we expect him to be our head coach going forward, and we’re going to give him every opportunity to succeed here,” vice president of basketball John Paxson said.
Asked if Boylen was expected to be head coach next season, Paxson was clear.
“Yeah, we want Jim to be our head coach next season,” he said.
Boylen, who joined the Bulls staff on June 17, 2015, takes over Hoiberg’s seat with 33 years of coaching experience, including 20 years in the NBA. He served as an assistant coach with the Rockets, Warriors, Bucks, Pacers and Spurs. He also was head coach at the University of Utah for four seasons and earlier coached under Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo in two stints as an assistant at Michigan State.
The feeling from the Bulls is that Boylen has a strong voice with the players and shows passion — even confrontationally. He has had several heated discussions with his players, including one with guard Rajon Rondo in December 2016 that resulted in Rondo throwing a towel at Boylen, earning himself a one-game suspension.
Boylen’s promotion comes with a few red flags — the first being the defense the Bulls have been playing. It has gotten progressively worse, to the point the front office wanted Boylen to have a more consistent defensive concept going into this season.
The other red flag is off the court. Several sources told the Sun-Times that Boylen has not been shy about wanting an NBA head coaching job and that some players have been concerned about how close he has become with general manager Gar Forman over the last few seasons.
Boylen said he found out Sunday night about Hoiberg’s firing, but Hoiberg didn’t know until he showed up for practice Monday morning. Asked about how that might look to outside observers, Boylen stressed his close relationship with Hoiberg.
“The perception may be there, but I’ve proven every day on this practice floor with this team my loyalty and devotion to Fred,” Boylen said. “And I busted my hump for him. Rightfully so — that’s my job as his soldier in this thing. So, from my summers going to Finland, to going to see [Kris] Dunn, to traveling to California to spend two weeks with Jimmy Butler in our first couple years, whatever it is, I was going to do to help Fred be successful. And he knows.”
If the Bulls move on from Jim Boylen after this season, here are three candidates to keep an eye on:
1. Monty Williams: There have been whispers about Williams since the summer, and he has the same Notre Dame pedigree as Bulls vice president John Paxson. Now serving as an assistant with the 76ers, Williams is considered a players’ coach but is also a disciplinarian. When he was part of the Team USA staff, the players raved about his ability to communicate on many levels.
2. Jay Wright: If the Bulls decide to go the college route again, Wright should top their list.
A two-time NCAA champion at Villanova, Wright is hard-nosed and gets the most out of his players. He might be the perfect fit for Year 3 of the rebuild.
3. Becky Hammon: Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf loves diversity and giving proven assistants a chance. Would he be the one to break the glass ceiling and hire the first female NBA head coach outside of the Summer League?