Bulls Commit To Jim Boylen, Praise His 'Strong Voice'

Boylen was named the Bulls' new head coach after Fred Hoiberg's firing.

Cody Westerlund
December 03, 2018 - 4:22 pm
Bulls coach Jim Boylen

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- In his initial public remarks as the Bulls’ new head coach, Jim Boylen immediately expressed his gratitude to Fred Hoiberg, who had been Boylen’s boss a day prior until receiving word of his firing Monday morning.

Just minutes later, Boylen then bluntly detailed a how he would differ from the even-keeled Hoiberg.

"I think I’m a little more passionate in-game coach than maybe Fred is," Boylen said in a soft-spoken voice that belied the intensity he often displays patrolling the sidelines.

Boylen’s line echoed management’s calling, as executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had earlier cited a lack of spirit and identity as primary reasons for Hoiberg’s dismissal. The Bulls believe Boylen’s demeanor and "strong voice," as Paxson put it, are key elements to what they need right now after Hoiberg's message had fallen on too many deaf ears.

The jury remains out on how much a new leader will really matter on a team with the second-worst net rating in the NBA and so many shortcomings. What's more clear is the Bulls are getting an experienced coach in the 53-year-old Boylen, who has 33 years of coaching experience, including 20 in the NBA. Boylen has been a part of three championship teams – with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995 under Rudy Tomjanovich and with the Spurs in 2014 under Gregg Popovich. Boylen was also the head coach at Utah from 2007-’11 amid his other stops.

"He has been an assistant for some of the best coaches in the league," Paxson said. "The things that we believe Jim has with him are a lot of the intangibles that head coaches have. He has a passion and an energy to him that I think our players will respond to. It’s different when you’re an assistant than when you’re a head coach. I think he’ll be able to take his personality and get these guys to buy in to what he’s doing.

"I also think he’s a teacher of the game and when you have a young basketball team you need a coach and a staff that can drill down to the fundamentals, we talk about it all the time and teach the group the right way to play. Those are the things that Jim will bring to the table."

Boylen is currently under contract through 2019-’20 at just less than $1 million annually, ESPN reported. He declined to discuss specifics when asked whether he’ll push for an extension or look to restructure his contract in any way after the promotion.

Given the hurried in-season change, slightly vague press release and lack of a formal introduction – Boylen made his initial comments in a white Bulls polo shirt shortly after practice ended – there was some wonder as to how committed the Bulls are to him long term.

The answer is this: pretty darn committed, so long as progress occurs.

"Yeah, we want Jim to be our head coach next season," Paxson said.

And as for beyond the 2019-’20 season?

"Every time you enter into a coaching search or whatever you want to call it, you expect it to be long-lasting and you work together toward those ends," Paxson said. "So Jim’s going to be our coach. We think he’s got the intangibles to be a really good head coach in this league. He’s sat in that seat next to the head coaches for a long time, he has a philosophy, he has a belief system in who he is and how he wants to play. We’ve talked about it, and like I said before, we’re going to give him every opportunity."

All Bulls assistants will remain in their current positions, Boylen confirmed. Windy City assistant coach Dean Cooper will be promoted to be a Bulls assistant as well. Cooper has ties to Boylen, as they worked together on the Rockets’ staff previously.

It will be Boylen’s responsibility to spark a Bulls offense that’s been moribund, ranking dead last in the NBA in efficiency. He will have help in that quest that Hoiberg hasn’t had this season – namely, a healthy Lauri Markkanen, who missed 23 games with an elbow sprain before returning to limited action in a loss Saturday. Markkanen will start at power forward at Indiana on Tuesday night, Boylen said, with Jabari Parker shifting to the bench.

Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis are also nearing returns after being sidelined since late October with MCL injuries.

"You might see a different style of play at the offensive end," Boylen said. "As we get going here, it’s hard to change everything right away. Not that a whole bunch needs to be changed, but the emphasis will be on some different things. You have to put your handprint on it and make it yours, but we also have to understand there’s a shock involved with the team, right? You’ve got a new voice and a new coach. The great thing about it is I have relationships with our guys, I put the time into our guys and I feel like we can make this adjustment together."

As Paxson has referenced, there’s much more to being an NBA head coach than tactical acumen. Leaders must set a daily tone, create trust in the locker room, hold players accountable without breaking that bond, answer to management and ownership and serve as the public face of the organization in meeting with the media as many as three times a day.

That will be a great challenge for Boylen, just as it was for Hoiberg. Already on his first day, Boylen was fielding questions about the perception that he was working to take Hoiberg’s job, rather than complement him as the lead assistant for the past three-plus years.

Boylen responded directly.

"The perception may be there, but I’ve proven every day on this practice floor with this team my loyalty and devotion to Fred," Boylen said. "And I busted my hump for him – rightfully so, that’s my job as his soldier in this. So, from my summers going to Finland (to see Markkanen) to going to see Dunn to traveling to California to spend two weeks with Jimmy Butler in our first couple years – whatever it is, I was going to do to help Fred be successful. And he knows that."

Boylen received word of his promotion via a phone call Sunday night – before Hoiberg had even learned of his fate. In his initial 11-minute media session in front of a horde of reporters at the Advocate Center, Boylen appeared both appreciative and nervous, while his message was steady.

"What I hope we can do is own Bulls across our chest better," Boylen said. "I don’t think we’ve owned it very well. And we have a lot to play for in this program and this place. So to me, that’s where it's got to go. Who were playing for, what city were representing and I’m going to preach those things every day."

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.