A night in Thibsland

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
5:20
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
ST. LOUIS -- There are nine minutes and 42 seconds left in an otherwise meaningless preseason game and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can't help but bark out orders to his team as a play develops in front of him.

"Go get it!" he screams in a hoarse baritone. "Go get it!"

Derrick Rose has long since left the contest that the Bulls would win handily over the Memphis Grizzlies, but Thibodeau doesn't care. The man coaches almost every second as if it were his last. It's a fact I've known since Thibodeau started coaching the Bulls over three years ago, but it was one that was reinforced in Monday night's game.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau doesn't let up on the intensity once the whistle blows.
Depending on the arena, the media aren't usually close to the action anymore. At the United Center the media are placed behind the visitor's basket -- a long way from Tom Thibodeau and his staff. Most arenas have started to place reporters farther away from the action. The access isn't close to what it was in years gone by. You can see the frustration on Thibodeau's face sometimes, but you can't hear what he is saying or how he interacts with various players.

Monday night's game at the Scottrade Center was a different story.

My seat was almost directly behind where Thibodeau stood the whole game. To watch the veteran coach pace up and down the sidelines was more fun than watching most of the game.

The funny part is that for a guy who seems so laser-focused all the time, even Thibodeau allowed for a smile before tip-off. As he walked out to the floor he almost got popped in the face by Carlos Boozer as the power forward put on his warmups before the introductions. As Thibodeau began drawing up plays on his white board, the pair laughed before the game began. Once it did, the entire tenor of Thibodeau's personality changed as well.

Thibodeau screamed out orders from the sideline in a familiar pose. After pacing for a few seconds, Thibodeau usually stands in one place with his left hand in his pants pocket and his right hand shaking at his side. The shake continues sometimes throughout an entire possession. The only time it stops is when the Bulls score a basket or get a defensive stop. It's Thibodeau's way of dealing with the constant tension in an NBA game.

The other way the 55-year-old deals with the stress of an NBA game is the same way almost every coach does -- he screams.

He screams at his players. In the second quarter when Taj Gibson is called for setting an illegal screen out of bounds for the second time, Thibodeau cries out, "Stop doing that!" He screams at the refs. Thibodeau rides every one of these poor souls, but he is especially hard on John Goble on this night. The pair exchange in several conversations. At one point, Goble jogs back down the floor while chuckling towards some onlookers at press row because of Thibodeau's persistence. No call goes unseen by the coach that has seen everything.

The most defining characteristic aside from the pacing and the screaming for Thibodeau during the game is the cursing. It's an epic display, really. Granted, cursing during a game doesn't make him much different than many other coaches. But it's the constancy of the dirty words that would make even a sailor blush.

Nobody is immune from the rage and the frustration. Even Rose -- the former MVP of the league and the player who is working his way back from a knee injury -- gets a stern look and a few words after allowing an open jumper. But it's that energy, and that drive to run every play to perfection, that his players feed off of. It's the attention to every little detail that has made Thibodeau one of the best coaches in the league and the Bulls one of the teams to beat.

When asked how he would describe his coach to someone who had never met him, All-Star center Joakim Noah paused for several moments before coming up with an answer.

"Well you can't really compare him to anybody," Noah said. "So unique I guess in that sense -- but very passionate about what he does. I would say passionate."

Underneath all the screaming and cursing, players know that Thibodeau always has their back. They know that he only wants what's best for them and that's why despite all the histrionics they are still playing so hard every night for the coaching lifer.

"It's the same," Noah said of the difference between Thibodeau's demeanor between practices and games. "That's one thing with him -- he's consistent. He's consistent about how he wants a practice run. He's consistent with what he wants. He'll do anything to win."

That's why Rose, the Bulls' leader and superstar, is able to deal with Thibodeau's anger just like the rest of his teammates -- although he had a different opinion regarding the difference between Thibodeau's intensity in practice and in games.

"I think in games he knows that there are TVs and people around,” Rose said. “In practice it's just us, no cameras, no nothing, so it gets very, very crazy in practice."

The more Thibodeau paces during the game, the more I'm intrigued by what those cameras can't see at practice. Media members aren't able to watch any meaningful part of a Thibodeau workout -- the only thing we can hear is his loud voice over the squeaks of basketball shoes running on the Berto Center floor. If, as Rose believes, that Thibodeau is more intense during practices, it must be like watching the Incredible Hulk leap into action.

"I guess you kind of get used to it ... but you don't," Noah said of Thibodeau's intensity. "I don't know. I'm more used to it now than I guess a couple years ago.”

At the heart of all the emotion, Thibodeau still regards himself as a teacher. He may tear into his players at various points during a practice or game but it's because he wants them to be better. He doesn't want them to make the same mistake twice. Plus, as evidenced by the moment with Boozer, even Thibodeau knows when to share a lighter moment with players and connect with them in a different light -- even if you won't see that at many games during the year.

In the end, the Bulls understand that they are a reflection of Thibodeau's intensity and work ethic and the players hope they can bring their demanding coach what he wants most this year -- an NBA championship.

"He's definitely part of (our identity)," Noah said. "I think as players we have our identity as well. But yeah, he brought in a philosophy that has helped us win a lot of games so there's no question the numbers don't lie. His defense is ridiculous; and we've grown together where he knows our strengths, he knows our weaknesses and we've been playing together, a core group of us have been playing together for a long time so right now it's really on us. I feel like our offense is good, we have the right personnel, and now it's on us to jell and make it work as players."

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5