“Still the Same”
Boylan remains true to himself, his roots
“You're still the same … I caught up with you yesterday … Moving game to game … You're still the same … You still aim high.”
These lyrics were featured in the track, “Still the Same,” recorded by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band on their 1978 hit album, “Stranger in Town.” The single reached No. 4 on the pop charts.
Just a few months earlier, Jim Boylan and his Marquette University basketball teammates reached No. 1 in the college basketball world. They cut down the nets at The Omni in Atlanta after defeating the University of North Carolina 67-59 in the NCAA championship game – the final game of the legendary Al McGuire’s coaching career.
Boylan, whom McGuire once described as “a hardscrabble kid from Jersey,” became a starting guard – and some will tell you the heart and soul – of Marquette’s national championship team. He was not the inspiration for Bob Seger’s hit song, but today he possesses some of the characteristics in Seger’s masterful sketch.
Boylan’s NBA coaching career began in 1992 as a video coordinator/advance scout and assistant coach under Lenny Wilkens with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has served as an assistant to Wilkens, Mike Fratello, Brian Hill and, most recently, Scott Skiles.
Boylan finished the final 56 games of the 2007-08 season as interim coach of the Chicago Bulls, and he became the 12th head coach in Milwaukee Bucks history Jan. 8, 2013, after Skiles and the Bucks made a mutual parting of the ways.
Boylan’s duties have changed since he moved over one seat on the Milwaukee bench, but according to several Bucks players, Boylan himself is, without a doubt, still the same.
And they like and respect that.
"To tell you the truth, I really haven't noticed any differences,” forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “I think that's the right way to approach it -- stay the same, stay humble, stay who you are. I think he's doing a good job of that.”
Forward Ersan Ilyasova agreed.
"He hasn't changed,” Ilyasova said. “He'll still go around giving high fives during games. That's really motivational to the players.
“He's been with the team for a long time. He knows the players and what they're capable of. And he knows how to get all of the players on the same page and motivate them.”
Forward/center Larry Sanders, who has been one of the most improved players in the National Basketball Association this season, credits Boylan’s motivation as one of the key contributors to his progress.
"Coach Boylan is a real personable guy,” Sanders said. “I think he really believes in having personal relationships. He knows it's important to think positively on the court. He likes communication, which is great for all of the players.
“And he's a real passionate guy, too. He's not afraid to show it, especially in certain situations in games. He's like that in practice, too. He's always been like that.”
Boylan admits that his life has changed some since he slid over one chair, but he has tried to maintain consistency in who he is.
“I hope that I can stay the same person,” Boylan said. “There’s more pressure, obviously, when you’re in the seat I’m in now.
“When I feel pressure or something’s really bothering me, I just try to take a step back and take a deep breath. I think about how thankful I am to be where I am and have the opportunity that I have, and then I go back about my business and try to straighten out my approach, how I have to handle things and what I have to do.”
Fans can observe Boylan’s approach to his new job when they are watching the Bucks play at the BMO Harris Bradley Center or on television, but they can’t go into the huddle or see him at work at practice or off the court.
His players can.
"He's cool,” Mbah a Moute said. “He's been the head assistant coach. There was a clear difference between him and the rest of the assistant coaches. He had different responsibilities. A lot of times, he'd have more to say in practices than in games than the other coaches did. I noticed that. And I think his transition to head coach has been a good one for him.
"He's a good guy off the court and that carries over onto the court. His personality is the same. I think a coach has to have a mix of being able to understand his players on the court and off the court. If he develops kind of understanding, it can really enhance his coaching. He can get his message across better and get the best out of his players."
Ilysova has seen Boylan do exactly that.
"This is my fourth year with Jim Boylan as one of my coaches,” Ilyasova said. “He kind of rolls with the team and helps us as far as understanding the game plan. His strength as an assistant, and now as the head coach, is his way of getting with a player on or off the court and trying to do whatever he can to help him. He does his job really well.
"So far as head coach, he's done a good job of just putting in a few new plays so he doesn't confuse everybody. We play together more. We share the ball more."
Sanders has experienced Boylan’s positive reinforcement.
“For example, he doesn't chastise me and say I've taken a bad shot,” Sanders said. “He tells me to work on it, become better and believe I can do it.
”That confidence that he shows in me makes me believe I can do it. That drives me in a lot of ways.”
One change Boylan made was giving veteran center Samuel Dalembert more minutes in the rotation. Dalembert, who didn’t play at all in 16 of the Bucks’ first 33 games, responded with three consecutive double-doubles spanning Feb. 5 through Feb. 9, his first such stretch since the 2010-11 season.
Dalembert came off the bench during the team’s Feb. 5 game at Denver to play 27 minutes and deliver 35 points, 12 rebounds and a blocked shot, becoming the first player in NBA history to accomplish that, according to Elias.
“Getting opportunities to play feels good,” Dalembert said. “Coach Boylan has been changing things little-by-little, and he’s been doing well. He has his own style, but I don’t think he wanted to implement a lot of new things right away when we’re halfway through the season. And he has stayed his own guy.”
Boylan said his transition to head coach has changed his job description and his daily routine.
“You’re a lot busier,” he said. “You have a lot more responsibilities. You have a lot more details to take a look at and make decisions on. The changes are significant, especially in the beginning.
“It has calmed down some. You kind of get into a routine of what you need to do. But when you first step into it, there are a lot of things that you’re not used to during. You know that the head coach does those things. I’d done them before in the past in Chicago. It’s just a matter of kind of organizing your day and getting your times down and in order so you can flow through it all more easily. Once you do that, it’s OK. It’s not too overwhelming.”
He knows, having been an NBA assistant coach for so many years, how valuable his staff can be.
“You really need to have good assistant coaches,” he said. “There are a lot of things to handle, and you can’t handle all of them by yourself, so you need to delegate. It’s nice when you have confidence when you delegate things that a guy’s going to do the job right. You know that whatever task it is will be done properly.”
Boylan, through all the pressures that come with his new job, has even brought some levity to it that some longtime coaches never have.
During the Bucks’ 109-102 home victory over the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 26, Boylan was assessed his second technical foul since taking over as head coach. He was asked afterwards what prompted referee Tony Brothers to “T him up.”
“I just told him a good place to get a burger here in Milwaukee, and he disagreed,” Boylan said. “I said, ‘No, it’s the best,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s not.’ I said, ‘Yes it is,’ and he said, ‘OK, that’s a technical on you.’
“We’ll argue about it again later. I’ll see him down the road.”
No matter where that road leads, expect Jim Boylan to be still the same.