A few Bulls players and several media members got a jolt of déjà vu late Monday night.
Scott Skiles is out and Jim Boylan is in as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, who play the Bulls at the United Center on Wednesday night.
It felt familiar to Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich because they were with the Bulls in 2007 when Skiles was fired as coach on Christmas Eve and Boylan filled in for the rest of the season.
“It's not the first time I've seen that,” Noah said with a laugh. “They run pretty similar things. I was always a big Boylan fan because he gave me my first opportunity to play. I wish him nothing but the best, except against us.”
Skiles ended up coaching seven more games with the Bucks than he did with the Bulls from 2003-07. In both cities, Boylan was the lead assistant, and when he led the Bulls it was his first head-coaching job in the NBA.
It didn't go so well, as Boylan finished the 2007-08 season with a 24-32 record and was let go. Of course, the lack of success led to a turning point for the franchise because the Bulls won the draft lottery a few months later and grabbed Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick.
If Boylan had won more games, who knows where the Bulls would be today.
Noah was a rookie when the Skiles-Boylan changeover took place, and he has all kinds of bad memories from a tumultuous season.
Ben Wallace was traded away, Noah was suspended for yelling at assistant Ron Adams, then his teammates voted to increase Noah's suspension to two games.
“Yeah, I think about it sometimes,” Noah said Tuesday at the Berto Center. “How I was almost out of the league, basically. I wasn't getting any playing time. I remember coming into the game a few times getting booed at the UC.
“You can't make this stuff up. That's really what happened. It was tough. There were a lot of things going on around that time I wasn't used to. A lot of learning experiences that year.”
The Bulls' current head coach, Tom Thibodeau, coached Skiles briefly in Philadelphia and had nothing but positive things to say.
“It's unfortunate,” Thibodeau said. “Scott, I know him. I coached him. I think he's a great coach. You hate to see anyone leave in the middle of the season. I guess that's the nature of he business. I'm sure he'll do well.”
Then the topic turned to the shelf life of an NBA coach. During Skiles' final weeks with the Bulls, it was clear that he'd grown tired of the players — or the players were tired of him, or some combination of the two — because the relationship clearly stopped working.
“The way I measure him is whoever he has, he gets the most out of. I know what it's like to coach against him,” Thibodeau added. “If you have serious-minded players, Scott's going to be a great coach with them. He's proven that.
“I don't buy all that other stuff. I saw some of that when I had the opportunity to work with Doc (Rivers) in Boston. Unfair criticism that went his way and after being around Doc and seeing what a great coach he is, it said a lot about, I think, the Celtics organization — (general manager) Danny Ainge, the ownership — they saw what Doc was doing every day and they didn't fire him because he had a bad record. They knew he was a great coach.”
Rivers had some disappointing years in Boston before Thibodeau arrived. But the Celtics' patience paid off when Rivers led the Big Three to an NBA title in 2008.
“If you watch a guy every day, you can tell whether he's a great coach or not,” Thibodeau said. “Scott Skiles is a great coach. Sometimes everyone wants to pin something on the coach. Sometimes it's circumstances.”
Skiles was in the final year of his contract in Milwaukee and may not have been planning to stay with the team, which is one way to explain what happened. This is the third time in three head-coaching jobs Skiles has ended his tenure in the middle of a season.
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