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Tom Thibodeau won’t talk to players about their performances without rehearsing conversation first

Feb 12, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson AP

Tom Thibodeau rides his players hard. He plays his starters a ton of minutes, asks everyone to defend physically and doesn’t tolerate loafing.

In many ways, Thibodeau seems more like a college-style coach than an NBA coach.

Of course, Thibodeau is an NBA coach with NBA players, some of whom have more power in the Bulls organization than Thibodeau. It’s an organizational structure full of landmines, especially with a potentially grating coach like Thibodeau.

How does he make it work?

Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, who worked with Thibodeau on Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks staff, sheds some light. Clifford, via Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago:

“The big thing he taught me was about being what he called an effective assistant. A lot of guys can play coach. But he spent a lot of time talking to me about learning the NBA animal and trying to learn how to deal with players in a way that they will actually listen to what you’re saying so you can actually coach them instead of passing them the ball and giving them tips on their shot,” Clifford said. “One of the biggest things he always told me was don’t get into a conversation with an NBA player about a performance of their individual game unless you’ve rehearsed what you want to get accomplished in the conversation. And it’s really true, particularly with older guys who are proven and have played for a lot of different coaches. You have to be careful, for instance, the first time you work out a player. Look at our guys, the guys they’ve played for. A guy like [Bobcats veteran forward] Anthony Tolliver has played for five or six really good NBA coaches, plus a really good college coach. So if you think you’re going to walk on the floor and start throwing out things to them if you haven’t studied their game and have a clear plan of what you want to get accomplished in your time with them, then you’re not going to be effective.”

I can just imagine Thibodeau talking to himself in a mirror before addressing Carlos Boozer.

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Veterans like Boozer are different than young players, and Thibodeau has a different approach for rookies. Taj Gibson, via Sam:

“If you’re not tough-minded and ready to play for a guy that’s hard-nosed, it’s going to be rough at first. I was always just playing for tough-minded coaches and I was ready—Tim Floyd [the former Bulls head coach was Gibson’s college coach at USC]. Vinny [Del Negro, Gibson’s coach during his rookie campaign with the Bulls] was good. He was like a good teacher, but the first day I met Thibs, I knew it was going to be crazy because kind of like the whole first year, I didn’t know how to talk to him. He was always yelling at me. It was bad, but as time went on—he yells at me a lot, but I know he’s got a lot of trust in me and it works. But you’ve got to be strong-minded to be coached by a guy like Thibs,” told CSNChicago.com. “It’s tough because the whole roster, these guys are tough-minded players and they respect him. You look at his career, look at players that he’s coached, you’ve got no choice to respect what he says and do the job or else you’re not going to play, and guys understand that going in and it’s been all right so far.”

At this point, Gibson would be within his rights to petition Thibodeau for a starting spot – if the big man hasn’t already. And if he has, he could certainly inquire again.

When that moment comes, don’t expect Thibodeau just to intimidate Gibson like he once could. Instead, Thibodeau will likely address Gibson’s concerns – only after he’s rehearsed his response, though.

  1. 2016olympics - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:52 AM

    Thibs is the man.

  2. miamatt - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Rehearsing conversations/employee feedback sessions is a very common management technique, one which Thibs is wise to use.

  3. lastdukestreetking - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    I’ve been managing people for 30 years. I learned very early on to review in my mind what I want to say to someone when it might be a tough conversation. Especially when some sort of reprimand is needed. I try to ensure that I’m calm at the time and stay calm to keep emotion out of it. Never, under any circumstances, make it personal. And, if possible, try to end the discussion on a positive note.

    • sportsfan18 - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      Bobby Knight anyone?

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