DEERFIELD, Ill. -- After being passed over for several NBA head coaching jobs the past few years, it would be easy to understand if Tom Thibodeau stood in front of the assembled media every day and gloated just a little bit.
After all, his team came into Wednesday night 17 games over .500 and 13 games up in the Central Division. In just a few short months, the veteran coach has turned the Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the league and has gained the type of trust from his players that usually takes several seasons to earn.
But when you see the way Thibodeau carries himself day in and day out, you realize one thing very quickly. It's the same thing that his players have grown to learn and appreciate about him since the day he was hired. Thibodeau is a lot of things, but a self-promoter isn't one of them.
When the topic of Thibodeau's potential candidacy for the coach of the year award came up after Wednesday's practice, the veteran coach looked more disinterested than Jay Cutler on the sidelines of the NFC Championship Game. (I know he was hurt, Bears fans ... but come on, you can't argue that he looked disinterested.)
"I don't worry about any of that stuff," Thibodeau said. "I just worry about us getting better. Whatever's in front of us, that's all we concentrate on."
Maybe so, but Thibodeau's players know better. They know that the first-year head coach has earned the right to be in discussion for the top honors.
"He's as consistent a coach as I've had," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said after practice. "And I've some pretty good ones in my day. Very consistent. Every day focused, on the grind, always has the big picture in mind. And you need a leader like that. You need a guy who always has the big picture in mind. So when you have some slippage here or there, he gets on us. And we're like, 'Why are you getting on us?' [He says], 'I want one of those,' [a championship banner]. That's why I'm getting on [you]."
Thibodeau's players trust him implicitly. They totally believe that he will put them in the right positions to win and they feel confident in his ability to take them where they want to go.
"Every time I'm here, he's here," Bulls veteran forward Kurt Thomas said. "He's one of the first guys here and one of the last guys to leave. I'm amazed he doesn't have a cot up in his office."
After a few seconds, and some laughter from the press corps, Thomas concedes the same thing everyone either said or was already thinking.
The word on the street when Thibodeau was hired was that he was a work-a-holic who lived in the gym. When you talk to people around the team, and you catch short glimpses of practice each day, those whispers appear to be accurate. Thibodeau lives for practice; he's usually the only voice you can hear on the Berto Center floor, and he enjoys the challenge of getting his team prepared for each game. It's one of the biggest reasons why his players have so much respect for him.
Boozer, who has spent time with two other Hall of Fame head coaches in his career in Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and the Utah Jazz's Jerry Sloan, believes all three men are very similar in their approach.
"They all have a huge passion to win," Boozer said. "They have a plan in mind. Different plans. But they have a system they believe in. And they're great motivators, they find ways to get their guys on the same page. They have a lot of guys from different places, guys that have been in the league for a long time, young guys that haven't been in the league that long, different backgrounds, whatever you want to say, but we're all on the same page every night. It's not easy to do when you've got grown men to deal with. You've got to give coaches a lot of credit."
Whether Thibodeau wants to admit it or not, his players feel like he's earned it.