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Will Tom Thibodeau Be Leaving?

Celtics Associate Head Coach and now legendary defensive guru Tom Thibodeau is being strongly considered for the open New Orleans Hornets head coach position according to and other sources. 

Update: Marc Stein reports that a formal offer has been made.

Rumors also place New Jersey and Chicago as very interested in talking with him for their openings. Could this finally be Tom’s year to move on? His resume makes him an intriguing option.

I believe he is an anomaly as the only Associate Head Coach in the NBA. Celtic management, players and fans may soon be debating what life will be like around here without him.  While the Celtic players and coaches are focused on getting back the NBA title, they are aware of Thibodeau’s possible departure when the season ends.

Can you envision this team without Tom Thibodeau?

Ray Allen

" No, I can’t. No, I can’t. But at the same time, he as a coach, as a person that has competed his whole life to get to the level he’s at. You know at some point he deserves taking over the helm somewhere else, too.  So it’s almost like…Tom, go get that job. You deserve it."

In a completely different conversation with Tony Allen, Tony brought up Thibodeau himself when answering a question about what makes this team special in its quest for another title…

" When everybody’s focused in and understanding what Tom Thibodeau wants and executing Doc Rivers game plan, that all (joins) together and get us these wins."

Now that you mentioned him, what do you think about the possibility of losing Tom to the Hornets or someone else?

" I’m not thinking about losing Thibodeau. (emphatically) Thibodeau’s a Celtic."

To be sure, losing Thibodeau would bring a deep cultural adjustment for everyone here. He has cast a wide shadow with the players and organization. But as Ray said, he has earned the chance to run his own ship.

Tom would have to expand his own world in doing so. A head coach has far more responsibilities than an assistant (or associate HC) does.

It has been an unusual relationship between Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau. Not many head coaches would accept someone with the title of Associate Head Coach. Doc has had no problem with it and Thibodeau’s role has been large in the defensive success of this team.

But knowing your Xs and Os are only part of the job.

A head coach has to have good, or at least, effective relationships with his players. With few exceptions, the General Pattons don’t usually last long in the NBA. It was said to be an area of weakness for Scott Skiles in his first gig as head coach of the Suns. Thibodeau seems to have a great relationship with the players here. Translating that to the head coach role is his challenge.

Head coaches have to be able to deal with the media on a daily basis. It’s been reported that one of the reasons the Nets were interested in Avery Johnson is his ability to deal well with media. It is a highly image conscious business.

Some former assistant coaches thrust into interim head coaches have not enjoyed that part of the job. Chicago assistant Jim Boylan is one that comes to mind. When asked what was the hardest part of being a head coach at the end of his year there, he was joking when he said…

"Talking to you guys every day."

But there is a skill to it, especially when things aren’t going well. It surely isn’t the number one skill team management looks for, In fact, it’s probably way down the list, but it is a consideration.

If Tom is offered and takes the New Orleans job, there is a solid core of talent there with premiere point guard Chris Paul, David West, Emeka Okafor, Darren Collison, and Marcus Thornton.

The Hornets aren’t going to be big free agent spenders, and they are locked in with salaries for next year at the moment. Yet, a healthy roster should field a winning ball club. CP3 missed 37 games last season.

Nationally Known?
Thibodeau is probably the best known non-player, non-head coach currently coaching in the league. With his resume of enormous defensive success in his 19 years of coaching in the NBA, you wonder why it hasn’t happened sooner.

In an already successful career, his work with the Celtics catapulted Tom to national attention. How many other assistant coaches does the general basketball public even know?

The Celtics set the league abuzz in 2007-8 with their crushing defense. Having Kevin Garnett meant everything. But getting the rest of the team to buy into a system of trusting defensive rotations had Tom’s signature on it.

The Celtics were the top defensive team in 2007-8 and managed to keep the Celtics in the top 3 last season even without Garnett for 14 games and KG playing injured in a number of games before that.

Thibodeau has been in rumors before and it hasn’t been established that he will take the position if offered. My own feeling is he will take it. While the New Orleans franchise definitely has some challenges, it is a relatively good situation. You get to coach (arguably) the top point guard in the league and there is a decent core there.


Mr. Tibbs resume is impeccable as a defensive coach. In 19 seasons, his teams have finished in the top ten in team defense 16 times.  In his tenure with the Knicks, his team set the then-NBA record of holding teams under 100 points 33 straight times in the 2000-01 season. His Houston teams were strong defensively.

Smart Man
And who can doubt that Tom is a smart man. Before coming to Celtics, he walked out on a Wizards job… after just a single day there.

If he goes, it will be sad to know that Thibs isn’t on the sidelines barking out orders to the Men In Green any longer. He helped create one of the league’s most incredible defenses. But he has earned a shot at running the whole show.  

Even when the Celtics weren’t playing that well this season, it was the offense more than the defense that was out of whack. With all their issues, the Cs still played a pretty fair defense.

ESPN has added its name to those who say that New Orleans is looking to grab him up.

I wish him the best if it happens – wherever he goes.

But first, help these guys get title 18.

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