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Thibodeau calls COY honor a 'team award'

“Obviously, I’m flattered, humbled and honored to receive this award,” said Thibodeau of his NBA Coach of the Year award. “But I think it represents a lot more than just me. It certainly reflects our team winning and our entire organization.”

“I think it’s more of a team award,” said Thibodeau. “When you win the way we’ve won this season, and hopefully we still have some more winning to do, individuals end up being recognized. But I think it’s a lot more about the team, the players, the organization and the entire coaching staff. You don’t achieve by yourself in this game.”

>> Bulls' Thibodeau named NBA Coach of the Year
>> Sam Smith: Thibs is Coach of Year and Zen Master
>> Making the case for Thibodeau:
See what the Bulls sent members of the media prior to Coach of the Year voting

By Adam Fluck | 05.01.2011

Prior to last June, Tom Thibodeau’s only head coaching job was at Salem State University, a Division III school in Massachusetts.

It was 26 years later, including 20 seasons which he spent as an assistant for six different NBA teams, when he finally was given an opportunity to be a head coach in the league.

After receiving the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year award on Sunday, one has to ask, what took so long?

“If it meant waiting 20 years to get this job, it was well worth the wait,” said Thibodeau, the fourth head coach in franchise history to win the award, joining Johnny "Red" Kerr (1967), Dick Motta (1971) and Phil Jackson (1996). “I was very fortunate to have great jobs along the way and to be with great teams. I always felt deep down that it would happen. I never doubted it would happen. I knew I had to be patient and I recognized that these jobs are hard to get. I was hopeful I’d get a chance and I wanted to make the most of it.”

The honor comes as Chicago enters the second round of the NBA Playoffs, having earned the top seed in the postseason with an NBA-best 62 wins, a 21 game improvement from last season.

“Obviously, I’m flattered, humbled and honored to receive this award,” said Thibodeau, who recognized his coaching staff individually during the news conference at the Berto Center. “But I think it represents a lot more than just me. It certainly reflects our team winning and our entire organization. And it starts at the top.”

Thibodeau also recognized several of the coaches who he worked for in the past, naming the late Bill Musselman, Jerry Tarkanian, John Lucas, Don Chaney, Doc Rivers and Jeff Van Gundy, who Thibodeau called his “strongest advocate.”

“All coaches are a sum of their past experiences,” said Thibodeau, 53.

Though it’s an individual award, Thibodeau spent most of the news conference deflecting the attention to others.

“I think it’s more of a team award,” said Thibodeau. “When you win the way we’ve won this season, and hopefully we still have some more winning to do, individuals end up being recognized. But I think it’s a lot more about the team, the players, the organization and the entire coaching staff. You don’t achieve by yourself in this game.”

Thibodeau also praised Bulls management for assembling the current roster. When he introduced Thibodeau on Sunday, General Manager Gar Forman discussed the atmosphere that Thibodeau spoke of creating when he was hired, one that would focus on defense and rebounding. Perhaps he didn’t envision how quickly that would be accomplished.

“When you look at the numbers this year, it’s easy to see the impact that Tom made on this basketball team,” said Forman, citing Chicago’s league-leading defense.

“Tom has created a culture on the floor with this team of professionalism, work, unselfishness, teamwork, communication and trust,” added Forman. “Through that, he has laid a foundation that will not only serve this team this year, but will continue to serve this team as it grows for years to come.”

Thibodeau’s honor marks the seventh time in NBA history that a first-year head coach has been named NBA Coach of the Year, but it comes as no great surprise to Forman.

“I knew the first couple weeks that he was here that we hit a grand slam,” said Forman. “You could see the way he related to our players and the amount of work he put in, the knowledge that he had. Tom has been everything we knew he would be and more.”

EVP-Basketball Operations John Paxson echoed Forman’s comments in an interview last week.

“There are a lot of good coaches who did great jobs this year,” stated Paxson. “But how many first year coaches can come in and have the impact that he’s made? We went from 41 to 62 wins. We had no identity defensively the past two years, but he came in and created one for us. He develops roles for each player that they embrace. A lot of guys have done great jobs, but he’s done the best by far.”

Paxson applauded Thibodeau’s ability to stay focused on the task at hand, as well as his day-by-day approach. But he said what he’s been most impressed with is Thibodeau’s ability to teach.

“A lot of times when teams are playing, you can see that there is a level of indecision as when the information is being relayed from the coaches to the players, often there is a gray area out there,” explained Paxson. “Rarely, if ever, is there a gray area with our group. And that’s the way he teaches it. It’s made our defense better and in a lot of ways, it’s made our offense better. He’s just really good, and he’s deserving of Coach of the Year, there’s no question about it.”

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