Blog Entry

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

Posted on: March 26, 2011 6:42 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2011 11:14 pm
Tom Thibodeau is the talk of the town in Chicago. But as his Bulls meet the Bucks tonight, he'll face a coach who follows in his model, and should serve as a warning of when to let up on the pedal. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Tom Thibodeau is red hot right now. As much as people credit Derrick Rose and his MVP season with the rise of the Bulls, Thibodeau gets the other half of that credit. Consider for a moment that a key starter and heavy-minutes player for Thibodeau is Carlos Boozer, who Marc Gasol breezed by Friday night in the Bulls' nail-biter win over Memphis. Despite Boozer's defensive shortcomings and Rose's inexperience, the Bulls' defense is tops because of Thibodeau's coaching. It's his system combined with his notorious intensity that makes him such a fierce challenge to face across the scorer's table. 

But if Thibodeau wants a warning sign about where that intensity can sometimes lead, he need only look across the table Saturday night at Scott Skiles, who knows not only the team Thibodeau's coaching, but what can happen when a coach pushes his team to the point where his team tunes out his intensity. 

It's forgotten now as all such things are in hindsight, but Skiles was very similar to Thibodeau on the eve of the season opener in 2007. Despite the formation of the Boston Big 3, no one knew how that team would gel. What they did know was that the Bulls had been on the upswing every season and were in line to challenge for the Eastern Conference Finals. They were a young team with talent at multiple positions, a star guard in Ben Gordon, and defensive talent out the wazoo. They had toppled the defending champion Miami Heat in the first round, and lost to mighty Pistons in six games in the semis. 2007-2008 was supposed to be their year, behind stellar guard play and incredible defense led by Skiles' intensity.

Yeah, not so much. 

The Bulls plummeted out of the gate and never recovered. It was like watching debris fall of a crashing airplane. You would see bits and pieces and know there was no recovery. By Christmas, actually, on Christmas Eve, Skiles was fired by the Bulls.  He had quite simply lost the team. That's the cost of pushing your team verbally and physically. If things start to come undone, they come undone quickly, violently, and are nearly impossible to recover. When things go right for a coach that pushes like that, things are great, you're considered a genius, everyone respects you, and you're lauded as a top-notch disciplinarian coach. When things go badly, you run the risk of your players quitting on you, tuning you out, and once that happens, the effectiveness is over. From there it's just a matter of time until the pink slip comes in the mail. 

Hmmm... great guard play... excellent defense... questionable offense... great run in the playoffs spelling a good chance for the future... followed by a plummet out of the gate and an eventually disappointing season in which people start to question if the coach has lost the team. If this sounds like what has gone on in Milwaukee this season to you, congratulations, you're solid at recognizing patterns. 

Skiles was supposed to take the Bucks to the next level this season. GM John Hammond loaded up on offensive weapons like Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden to supplement Skiles' defensive prowess, and with Andrew Bogut coming back from surgery and Brandon Jennings entering his sophomore season along with a loaded frontline of versatile, athletic defenders, there was no reason to think the Bucks couldn't secure a strong playoff spot and make some progress towards contention. Instead? The offense is somehow, magically, even worse, and it's not all Andrew Bogut's slow-to-heal elbow and the injury woes of Brandon Jennings. The Bucks simply cannot score. 

While the Bucks remain a top five team defensively, the offense is second to last in the league. They have never found that extra gear. Even with Bogut's injury, the team had enough talent to contend. This could just be a down year, something they'll bounce back from. But more than one person has suggested that Skiles has already started to lose the team.

Meanwhile, the media can't write enough feel-good pieces about Tom Thibodeau and his intensity leading to the Bulls' incredible season. That their offense is middle of the pack is overlooked in a barrage of "check out what Derrick Rose did" commentary. Things are great for Thibodeau right now, and it's entirely possible that this is the start of the next great career coach for the Bulls. The Bulls winning the title is not outside the realm of possibility.

But as much as the Bulls players may love playing for a coach who is constantly looking to improve, to find new ways to win, and to challenge his guys, there's always that possibility that at some point, it just stops. There aren't warning signs when a team stops listening. There aren't red flags, public comments, and it's impossible to predict when. If it was, Stan Van Gundy would have been fired seventy times by now. It just happens. It may never happen to Thibodeau. But just as he enjoys the good times and looks forward to making the Bulls the best they can possibly be, there's always that shadow of possibility looming overhead that he should keep an eye on. And if he wants to look it in the eye, just look his opponent's coach in the eye after they shake hands Saturday night.

Since: Oct 7, 2006
Posted on: March 27, 2011 4:56 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

I think it's more egregious that moore referred to ben gordon as a "star guard."

Since: Dec 27, 2007
Posted on: March 27, 2011 4:32 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

Who wrote this article? Has this guy ever met either Skiles or Thibs , Has this guy ever witnessed a practice
Bravo! This writer is a moron. Thibs is incredibly respected as a coach. When you have no talent, this us where you go.

Since: Mar 27, 2011
Posted on: March 27, 2011 2:59 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

Who wrote this article? Has this guy ever met either Skiles or Thibs , Has this guy ever witnessed a practice ? Skiles is completly over the top with his "hard nosed approach " and Thibs basicly just commands respect and holds players accountable , and they have responded..... I see no similarities between Skiles and Thibs , Skiles is a control freak while Thibs treats his players like men and in return they act like men........ who ever wrote this article needs to get a clue , some one needs to hold you accountable for writing this BS.

Since: Jun 14, 2010
Posted on: March 27, 2011 2:23 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

There is a difference between intensity and just being an a $ $. Skile was too over the top. This article is stupid, I laugh at the part where it said it was supposed to be their year. They were not excepted to be as good as they were. They were a 5 seed and Detroit was a one, why was it supposed to be their year. Main reason Skiles lost his job was his beef with Paxton.

Thibs has a much better team. 07-08 Bulls had no low post precence, Hinrich was a great defender, but average PG. Gordon was streaky, great when hot, but had no D. Of course don't forget about Rose enough said there. Come on Bulls I miss the yearly celebrations in Grant Park, let's do it again.

Since: Oct 29, 2010
Posted on: March 27, 2011 1:50 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

One of the biggest differences in the teams is that under Skiles the Bulls couldn't hold a lead or make a comeback whereas under Thibodeau they do both and that is the difference between a winner and a loser.

Since: Apr 8, 2008
Posted on: March 27, 2011 12:50 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

This article is laughable. Skiles's Bulls team was full of overrated players who had no business making all-star money. Even Skiles knew that and that's why he pushed them hard. To compare Ben Gordon to D. Rose is like comparing Ron Harper to Michael Jordan. To think that Thibodeau is facing the same situation that Skiles did is completely ridiculous.

Since: Feb 5, 2009
Posted on: March 27, 2011 12:36 pm

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors Wrong!!

Thibs and Skiles are very different.  While both might be intense, even their intensity takes a different form.  Thibs is intense, but supporting.  Skiles was a little Napoleon.  Skiles' focus was offense, not defense.  Thibs is defense.  Plus, Skiles didn't have D. Rose.  Rose is intense and has the killer instinct Ben Gordon does not have.  D. Rose will do anything to win. Plus, besides Gordon Skiles had Hinrich in the backcourt.  Sorry, but Hinrich is no better than a back up point guard.  He's too slow and can't really stick with athletic 1 or 2 guards.  Another point, Skiles always wears out his welcome because in the end he's a know it all dick!!  Before the Bulls, Thibs was a career assistant.  He seems to be more of a gym rat and understands today's players better than Skiles, who is old school and inflexible.  Skiles demands his players change to suit him and after awhile they tune him out.  There is nothing in Thibs background that suggests he has the same character flaw.  So while this article may have some superficial appeal it really isn't a very well thought out analysis.  Go Bulls!!

Since: Mar 6, 2011
Posted on: March 27, 2011 10:47 am

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

Another silly article. Yeah, obsessive is Auerbach and Riley and Chuck Daly.....that kind of bad?.....and for the record Skiles is a good coach, who hasnt had quite the players Thibodeau has.  Intensity is GOOD...........but like I said, Moore is simply a trivial journalist.

Since: Oct 20, 2009
Posted on: March 27, 2011 8:04 am

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

I disagree with this article. If you look back at all the greatest teams in history each one of them had "somebody" that pushed the team to the max. Many times it's the star player pushing his teammates but in this case it's the coach. If a team wants to be champions they're going to play with intensity and wanna win.

Since: Feb 20, 2011
Posted on: March 27, 2011 5:02 am

Thibodeau and Skiles: Mirrors of intensity

Matt - while the connection proposed here is solid on the surface, a little more research would have shown you it's a fool's gold comparison to make. There are some key differences which preclude making a strong link between Skiles and Thibodeau.

First, Skiles did not have a player with Rose's caliber, skills, and most importantly of all, MINDSET. He had a defensive stalwart in Ben Wallace, who we've already seen clash with the Detroit coach this year - safe to say Wallace has some coaching issues. Skiles had a tough point guard in Hinrich, who made the most of his limited skills through his approach. And he had one of the biggest defensive liabilities in the NBA in Ben Gordon, whose superlative offensive ability was canceled out by his utter lack of defensive effort. So to summarize, I place some of the blame on the players, for not buying into Skiles' system.

As for Skiles himself, the book on him has been that he's very intense and focused, with an extremely sharp wit. He ends up grating on players after a while because by all accounts, he's somewhat mean and sharp with his criticism. On the other hand, Thibodeau's rep is that he's more adept at building player relationships, and while he maintains the same level of intensity, his edge is not as sharp as Skiles.

Most importantly, Thibodeau has gotten the best player on his team, Rose, to buy into his system. He also has Noah buying in as well (even started talking like Thibodeau). When you have two of the leading players pushing your system on the floor, it's going to make everyone else fall in line.

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