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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Del Negro never stopped being a pro

By Nick Friedell

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The usual pep was out of Vinny Del Negro's step on Tuesday afternoon.

It's not hard to figure out why. Getting fired will sap all the joy out of you quickly.

Still, having covered Del Negro almost every single day for seven months the revelation was a bit disconcerting.

Vinny Del Negro
Even at the end of his time in Chicago, Vinny Del Negro never publicly snapped amid all the chaos of the season.
The NBA lifer was almost always the most positive guy in the room. He always figured that he could turn lemons into lemonade. His belief was that if he kept working hard he would find a way to succeed and push past whatever obstacle stood in his path. That's what he continually preached to his team. That's what he continually preached to the media. And there's no doubt that's what he continually preached to himself even at his lowest points.

Does that make up for the fact that he was a mediocre coach who still seemed to struggle at times with certain intricacies of the game? Of course not. But it should shine a little more light on the person whom many didn't get to see on a daily basis.

No matter what you thought of Del Negro as a coach you can't question that work ethic. He wanted to succeed badly. He wanted to prove to everyone who had ever doubted that he could be successful as a head coach that they were wrong. He enjoyed the day-to-day grind that comes with being a head man in the NBA. That's why the scene, albeit one that everyone seemed to know was coming for months, was so strange to see on Tuesday. It was the first time I can recall seeing Del Negro wearing an article of clothing without a Bulls logo on it. He seemed kind of lost as he briefly spoke to the media in front of the Berto Center and then continued the process of packing and wheeling out boxes from his office.

After all the speculation that he endured over the past few months regarding his job status, the realization that he wouldn't be driving into work at the Berto Center anymore finally must have hit him.

It was over. There would be no more chances to prove that he could succeed in Chicago.

But there is one thing that Del Negro can hold his head high about, and it's one thing I don't think he is getting nearly enough credit for as people deconstruct the short Vinny era piece by piece.

Through all of the ups and downs that he dealt with this season, never once did he publicly go after the organization. He handled himself professionally at seemingly every turn and refused to take any shots at his employers even when it became clear that he wasn't going to be part of the team's future. That didn't change on Tuesday, either, even after the news of his demise became official.

For all the shortcomings Del Negro might have had as a coach you have to give him credit for calmly dealing with all the scrutiny that came his way day after day. When the red light came on and it was time to go to work his demeanor never changed. He could have snapped at any point, he could have decided that he had heard enough and blasted the Bulls for not offering some show of public support, but he never did. That will serve him well down the line no matter what he decides to do from here.

As for what the future holds for the 43 year-old at this point is anyone's guess. Despite the public handling of his Chicago tenure, he certainly will have to answer questions as to why things went so bad so fast while he was coaching the Bulls. He'll have to deal with question after question about why his relationship with the front office deteriorated to the point of no return in just two years. But knowing Del Negro, that is a challenge he won't mind tackling. He poured a lot of time and effort into coaching, and he doesn't want to abandon the dream of becoming more than just a mediocre one just yet.

As he said over and over this season, he'll keep working. The thought of going out on this kind of note eats at the core of who he is. That's why by the time almost everyone else had cleared out of the Berto Center on Tuesday, he had already slipped back into his familiar black Bulls' work clothes, loading up his stuff for the next new beginning.

The jury's still out as to whether Del Negro can ever be a solid head coach in this league, but there is no debating that he already has mastered one key character requirement that all good coaches must have during an NBA season: He can roll with the punches.