- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau was presented with the NBA Coach of the Year award Sunday afternoon.
The first-year head coach led the Bulls to a 62-20 regular season and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"I'm flattered, humbled and honored to receive this award, but I think it represents a lot more than just me," he said. "And it certainly reflects our team winning and our entire organization."
Thibodeau, 53, replaced the fired Vinny Del Negro in June, and with a rebuilt roster, the Bulls breezed to a mark that matched their best record since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen completed their second championship three-peat at the end of the 1997-98 season.
"I knew in the first couple of weeks that he was here that we had hit a grand slam," general manager Gar Forman said.
Thibodeau's only other head coaching job was for one season at his alma mater, Division III Salem State, in the mid-1980s. He got that after three years as an assistant.
He then spent four seasons on the staff at Harvard before going to work under Bill Musselman with the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989. He won an NBA title while on Doc Rivers' staff with the Boston Celtics in 2008, where he made a name for himself outside of the inner circles of the NBA. Thibodeau tied Paul Westphal (1992-93 with Phoenix) for most wins by a rookie head coach.
"I knew I had a great job with Boston," Thibodeau said. "And I realize how hard these jobs are to get. I felt each of those opportunities was a great opportunity, but I felt this was the best one. After being here for a year, I realize how fortunate I am to be here. It's a great city, great fans, great organization, great players. And if it meant waiting 20 years to get this job, it was well worth the wait."
Rivers texted Thibodeau Sunday to congratulate him.
"[Thibodeau] came in and did his job," said Rivers. "No. 1, he was so prepared for it. More importantly, I thought he followed through on what he came in to do. I think a lot of times, you come in there and you have some thoughts, but the first time there's adversity, you kind of change up and go another direction.
"We talk a lot, obviously, and one of the things I kept seeing was that he kept standing for his beliefs. I know when you play the Bulls, you can see his beliefs through the team. That's always the mark of a hell of a coach."
Thibodeau received 475 points and 76 first-place votes from a media panel. Philadelphia's Doug Collins got 18 first-place votes and 210 points, and Gregg Popovich of San Antonio finished third.
"No wonder why he was all fired up in practice today," Luol Deng joked on Sunday. "No, that's great. I know it's Coach Thibs' name on it, but that makes all of us feel great. Every time one of us wins something, that's just an award for all of us, really. It's been a great year. He's an awesome coach. He deserves it. He puts so much into it, and as players, if he gets that award, I'm really happy, I'm really excited that ... it's been one of those years. We put in a lot. We believe in what he's trying to do."
Known for his defensive prowess, Thibodeau quickly proved he could handle the duties of a head coach. He spent his summer working with players individually at the Berto Center, and the team quickly adapted to his style, which included long, focused practices and extremely detailed shootarounds before games.
They also dominated the Central division at 15-1, the lone loss coming at Indiana. On defense, they ranked among the stingiest.
No team held opponents to a lower shooting percentage or outrebounded them by a wider margin than the Bulls, who were also second to Miami in average scoring differential. That was hardly a surprise, given their coach's reputation.
Players, meanwhile, mention Thibodeau's presence, his ability to command their attention. And, of course, his work ethic, his attention to detail.
Star Derrick Rose would always see the light on in Thibodeau's office when he worked out at the team's practice facility in the summer. On bus rides, Thibodeau's up front examining the video even in the wee hours.
"[I'm] very happy for him," Noah said Sunday. "Very well deserving. Coach is one of the hardest workers I've ever been around. He stays in late. He's the first one here. He was here for me all summer, working me out, and I feel like I really improved as a player because of him in just one year. Very tough coach. And I'm happy for him."
"Fundamentally, he has not changed," said forward Brian Scalabrine, who played for Thibodeau in Boston. "His grind is just let's get this win today, let's focus on Game 1 in the Atlanta Hawks series. What are they going to do and then the adjustments we have to do. It's not about Boston, Miami or whether the Spurs lost."
The MVP award is expected to be announced Tuesday. If Rose wins as expected, Rose and Thibodeau would be the 12th duo to win both awards.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. Information from ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell, ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Tom Thibodeau was presented with the NBA Coach of the Year award Sunday afternoon.