At Boston Celtics Media Day, Joe Mazzulla spoke to the media for the first time since being named interim head coach.
Brad Stevens and the Celtics appointed Mazzulla to the position following the news that Ime Udoka would be suspended for the entirety of the 2022-23 season. When asked about the situation, Mazzulla stressed the importance of giving people time to heal.
“The message is, first, to give people space and time,” Mazzulla said. “Not just for the players but for everybody. It’s an unfortunate situation for everybody involved, so you have to give people the time and space to feel and the time and space to heal. And so, that’s key. You can’t rush anything.”
When asked whether or not he’s spoken to Udoka since the news, Mazzulla said that he’s spoken to everyone he felt it necessary to speak to.
“I’ve talked to everyone in the organization and I thought it was my job to listen and give people space and time & ask people what they need. I’ve spoken to everyone I felt like needed to be spoken to and I’ve built relationships with, so yes,” Mazzulla revealed.
Udoka was suspended from the team following an investigation into a relationship he had with a team staff member. Stevens and Wyc Grousbeck discussed the situation in a press conference of their own on Friday.
In tandem with his comments on the Udoka situation, Mazzulla noted that the team already has the formula they need to be successful. He said that his goal is to focus on that in order to help the players succeed.
“The great thing about this organization, the players that we have, and the season last year - we have a formula for what we know we need to do in order to get better every single day and get back to where we want to get to. And so, as much as we can focus on that, we’ll be in good shape.”
One of the first questions asked when Mazzulla was named head coach was about his past. When he was a college athlete at West Virginia University in 2009, Mazzulla was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery. It was the second of two alcohol-related incidents that led to arrests.
When asked about the incident, Mazzulla acknowledged his past wrongdoings but said that his focus has been on using his past mistakes to help shape him as a person moving forward.
“I’ve made mistakes. I’m not perfect. I’ve hurt people and I’ve had to use the situations I put myself in as a younger man to learn from and become a better person,” Mazzulla stated.
He also emphasized the fact that, when he was younger, he didn’t have an identity, and as he’s grown up and learned from his mistakes, he’s been able to form one and improve as a person.
“I know who I am. I know why I got into coaching. I know my why,” said Mazzulla. “Especially growing up, if you don’t have a compass, it’s very hard to direct yourself. I’ve had to learn that several times. For me, my identity has become my faith and my focus.”
At 34 years old, Mazzulla is one of the youngest head coaches in the NBA, tied only with Will Hardy, who was Udoka’s lead assistant last season. He accepted a job with the Utah Jazz this summer to be their head coach, a gig Mazzulla finished as a runner-up for.
Stevens spoke highly of Mazzulla when asked about his decision to name him as the interim head coach. The 34-year-old joked about Stevens having a concussion when the subject came up but noted that he’s just as confident in the team heading into the season.
“He had a concussion that day, I think...I am as confident as he is, but I can’t focus on that,” Mazzulla explained. “Regardless of what has happened, we have a great roster and great opportunity.”
Mazzulla first joined the organization in 2016, when he became an assistant coach with the Maine Red Claws, now known as the Maine Celtics. After leaving to be the head coach at Fairmont State, he eventually re-joined the Celtics in 2019 as an assistant on Stevens’ staff. He was the only coach from Stevens staff that remained once Udoka took over last offseason.
Despite the great opportunity, Mazzulla said that his primary focus is helping the team and its players grow and improve. He wants the team to be successful, and in order for that to happen, his fixation will be on the players rather than himself.
“If I want the Celtics to be successful, if I want our players to be successful, I shouldn’t be focused on what I’m trying to do,” Mazzulla explained. “It’s only my job to focus on the execution standpoint. How do we execute our togetherness, how do we maximize our roster.”