Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and the status quo

black and whiteThis afternoon, the Timberwolves will introduce their new head coach at a 4:00 PM news conference. He spent his first NBA stint developing solid, young prospects into very good professional players, building a top-tier defense nearly from scratch, and taking his franchise to the kind of sustained postseason success it hadn’t seen in over a decade. Despite his achievements, front-office friction and coaching staff drama contributed to his contentious dismissal, despite strong endorsements from his players, many of whom still speak well of him. Ever since, he’s been linked (at least tangentially) to just about every head coaching vacancy as soon as it opens up.

mark-jacksonNo, it’s not that guy.

Tom-Thibodeau-e1400602259225-1024x516That one.


While the circumstances of the two dismissals weren’t as neat and tidy as that, it’s still worth questioning why reports of Thibs’ arrival in Minnesota were met with glee, and suggestions that Jackson would get so much as an interview elicited derisive snickers or gnashing of teeth. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am to blame – my own freakout on Twitter is embarrassing, now that I’ve had a few days to research and think.)

Thibodeau coached Chicago to a higher winning percentage (.625 versus .524) over a longer period of time (five seasons versus three), but he’s viewed in a more favorable light for reasons that go beyond black-and-white numbers. First, the Warriors’ ascent into basketball immortality – following up a championship season with a record-shattering 73-9 campaign – has cast Jackson as the man who held them back from greatness, rather than the man who helped construct it. The fact that he took a group that had finished near the bottom of the league in defensive rating for several consecutive seasons and molded them into a top-5 defense (in 2013-14) is all but forgotten. Jackson helped lay the foundation and framed the house; Steve Kerr did the finishing work, and people seem to consider him the sole builder.

Another reason Jackson elicits so much ill will are his views on homosexuality. They are indefensible, particularly the notion that Jackson needed to “pray” for Jason Collins’ family after he came out (as though he were stricken with some disease, rather than simply existing as he is). If that, alone, is a deal-breaker in anyone’s eyes regarding whether or not they could support the idea of Jackson as their favorite team’s head coach, I wouldn’t hold it against them, but Jackson would hardly be the first person with such ugly views to hold a prestigious job in the machismo world of professional sports.

There are basketball reasons to dislike the idea of Jackson as your favorite team’s coach as well. During his time with the Warriors, many of their offensive schemes were unimaginative at best, as anyone who remembers repeated Harrison Barnes (or Jermaine O’Neal) ISO postups can attest. But defensively, there’s no denying the job he did. In 2012-13, a rotation featuring three rookies plus David Lee finished with a league-average defense. The following season, that same core (plus a few key additions) ranked among the best in basketball. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, each Draymond Green each improved under his tutelage and lamented his dismissal.

But there are basketball reasons to be concerned about Thibodeau as well. He had a nasty habit of taxing players with heavy minutes, leaving his core guys on the floor well after games were either firmly in hand or entirely out of reach. According to multiple reports, there were “at least three” starters who ripped Thibodeau in exit interviews following the 2015 playoffs, saying they’d “avoid coming to work out over the summer” if he was retained. His defenses slipped toward the end of his tenure, and the offensive output of his teams fluctuated wildly from season to season. But the post-Thibodeau Bulls, under new Head Coach Fred Hoiberg, stumbled to 42 wins and a spot in the lottery in 2015-16. The narrative could be conveniently spun, then; Chicago was lost without him.

The point is, Jackson and Thibodeau were sent packing from successful teams they had done so much to construct. Each dealt with drama on their coaching staffs, Jackson with Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman, and Thibodeau with Ron Adams. Both weathered friendly fire from their own front offices. Thibs’ relationship with the Bulls’ brass deteriorated over time, and whispers of friction were heard long before he was unceremoniously dumped in late May, 2015. Jackson, on the other hand, was the target of pointed, public criticism as soon as the Warriors took off under their new coach, Steve Kerr, in November of 2014.

Despite similarly contentious breakups from their first NBA coaching jobs, the vast majority of Timberwolves fans, as well as many league observers, look at Thibodeau as a much safer bet than Jackson, and maybe even the safest bet among available suitors. There’s an automatic, nearly unquestioned belief that Thibodeau will have “learned from his mistakes” and “correct things in the future,” even though no one will be present to hold him to any such resolutions. Mark Jackson doesn’t appear to enjoy the same basic level of trust that he’d do the same.


tom_thibodeauMaybe you think juxtaposing Thibs with Jackson is ludicrous, despite the above attempts at leveling the two. Perhaps you’re turned off because you loathe Jackson as an announcer, or are unable to stomach his homophobia. Maybe there are better, neater examples to use for the point I’m trying to make. Even if you’re a Timberwolves fan who is over the moon about hiring Tom Thibodeau, and you believe ceding total organizational control to him was a worthy price to pay for his services, and that the team needed to act quickly in order to lock him up (a rather flimsy contention, but whatever), and you have complete faith that he’s learned his lessons and it’ll be different this time, it’s still worth examining why you came to think that way, all things considered.

Whether Minnesotans are comfortable admitting it or not, race plays a crucial role in this. Consider that Interim Head Coach Sam Mitchell was unceremoniously (and tactlessly) shown the door in Minnesota, without so much as a chance to interview for the full-time gig, despite a strong finish to the regular season. He will be replaced by Thibodeau, a white head coach. The list of similar recent examples is long, and includes Lionel Hollins (replaced by Dave Joerger, who also enjoyed a peculiarly lofty status in the eyes of many Minnesota fans), Maurice Cheeks (in Detroit), Mitchell again (in Toronto) and, of course, Mark Jackson. As Jacob Greenberg has argued, it is a trend we confuse to confront head-on.

This goes deeper than “optics.” There was no real search, no attempt to find the next Tom Thibodeau, no matter his or her race, whether it’s David Fizdale, David Vanterpool, Sean Sweeney, Jarron Collins, Ettore Messina, Chris Jent, Adrian Griffin, Becky Hammon, Ime Udoka, Sam Cassell or anyone else. Even if that group wasn’t up to the top-shelf standards that Glen Taylor has apparently acquired, the only two candidates from the “top tier” who were given serious thought were Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, with Mark Jackson’s name dangled either as a favor to him, or as a way to appear the Wolves were considering a minority coach. (This pertains to fan attitudes as well. Think of the way everyone fawned over idea of former Timberwolf Fred Hoiberg coaching the Wolves, when in actuality, someone like former Timberwolf Sam Cassell had a much stronger resumé, yet none of the delirious buzz. Why?)  It’s cowardice, in many respects; when it’s time to shuffle about and hope for an answer at head coach, cast a wide net and have an open mind. When it’s time to get down to business (as the Timberwolves apparently are?), develop tunnel vision for one or two people, and wish your former leadership the best as they interview for jobs with a team in a less critical situation, like Mitchell has done in Sacramento, which is what functionally occurred in Minnesota over the past week.

mitchell and newton Howard Beck and Tom Ziller have each done exhaustive research into the realities that face minority coaches – few opportunities, and leadership that’s quick to pull the plug.  As Vincent Goodwill has pointed out, opportunities for minority executives don’t come around often, either. Sam Mitchell, despite taking over under extremely difficult circumstances, showing improvement in his season at the helm, and drawing the endorsements of his players, was not given the chance to interview for the full-time job. Milt Newton has also been knocked down, despite a perfectly solid resumé and assurances as recently as three weeks ago that he’d get to run things through the draft and free agency. Newton was apparently offered a job underneath Thibodeau and his handpicked General Manager, Scott Layden. (Think about such a thing happening to you, at your job; how insulting.)

Tom Thibodeau is probably going to be great for the Timberwolves. This isn’t about his ability – not really. It can be true that he was the best candidate, and it can be true that he’s benefitted from peculiar comfort with his candidacy, based partially upon his race. Both can be true at the same time: that white head coaches get far more opportunities than their minority colleagues, and that Tom Thibodeau was the best coach on the market when the Wolves snapped him up.

If the ends justify the means, and results trump process, this worked out fine. But if you’re a bit uneasy about the way it all went down, you’re not alone, and it’s worth exploring the reasons why – especially if we’re ever going to learn something from how we see the coaches who routinely get the most coveted jobs in their profession, and doubly so if the monochromatic status quo is ever going to change.

Share this because Rubio would pass this along:

34 Responsesso far.

  1. Steven T Kregel says:

    “Both can be true at the same time: that white head coaches get far more opportunities than their minority colleagues, and that Tom Thibodeau was the best coach on the market when the Wolves snapped him up.”
    This is exactly how I was feeling about the move, but didn’t quite have the words to express. I think Thibs was a great hire and will do well, but the process was seemed unfair.

    • mikeskunes says:

      “Both can be true at the same time: that white head coaches get far more opportunities than their minority colleagues, and that Tom Thibodeau was the best coach on the market when the Wolves snapped him up.”


  2. While I too feel a bit squeamish about how things ended for Mitchell, I have to seek clarification for the Thibs drama involving Ron Adams, and I offer a rebuttal and criticism if my understanding is correct. If the drama is only that Adams was fired due to issues with the front office with no known issues between him and Thibs, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to pair that manner of drama with the issues Jackson had with Scal and Erman.

    Thibs’ drama was actually between the coaching staff and the front office, while Jackson’s was between him and his coaching staff. If the many reports and opinions are accurate that the Bulls front office is dysfunctional, and if it’s accurate that Bulls ownership is cheap, it is not fair to imply that Ron Adams’ firing should be counted as a demerit against Thibs. I’m not aware of claims alleging Thibs had any difficulties with Adams, and there are even rumors that Adams would be welcome to join Thibs with the Wolves.

    On the other hand, Jackson’s drama with Scal and Erman reportedly was due to issues between the coaches themselves. Chris Mannix of SI opined that Jackson was threatened by how hard Erman was working. What kind of coach is threatened by how many hours an assistant is putting in? An insecure coach, perhaps? Also, the Warriors brought Scal back after Jackson was fired. This indicates that the Warriors recognized their and Jackson’s error in letting Scal go in the first place.

    I’m not aware of any reports placing the blame for Adams’ firing on Thibs; rather, all blame has been placed on the Bulls front office. There are numerous reports placing some if not most of the blame for Jackson’s coaching staff drama on Jackson himself. Glossing over the enormous differences in the coaching staff drama weakens your comparison significantly because a coach’s relationship with his coaching staff is probably a good indicator of the coach’s interpersonal skills, and what is coaching but relating to others in order to lead, inspire, and teach?

    Why didn’t you compare the coaching histories of these two men? Thibs has been an NBA assistant for nearly three decades, and he was held in high regard for his work, especially in Houston and Boston. Believe me, there are many people who give Thibs as much or more credit for Boston’s 2008 championship as they give Doc Rivers. Mark Jackson has no coaching experience, head or otherwise, outside of the three years he spent in Golden State. Don’t blame the Wolves or fans for meriting this enormous difference in experience.

    As to your comments about race, I wish there were more diversity in NBA front offices, and the kind of coach who goes through the revolving door is more often white than black. The NBA is usually considered the leader in professional sports in diversity in leadership positions, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a better job.

    • William Bohl says:

      Steven: I appreciate your smart, measured response. A few comments:

      There were two reasons I didn’t get into the specifics of the coaching staff drama, and was content to merely allude to it. One was sheer length (the post is nearly 2k words, and I wanted to keep it relatively tight, and to the point). The other is that it’s tough to decipher signal and noise from both the Golden State and Chicago situations. Whenever someone is fired, and a reporter has the nitty gritty details, it’s important to consider why such a story has leaked, and whose agenda it serves. Rather than pore over the particulars, I think it’s fair to assume that both Jackson and Thibodeau rubbed people in their front offices the wrong way. Whether you think Jackson’s actions were more destructive than Thibodeau’s, the point stands that it is important to get along with your superiors. I think if you got both of Jax and Thibs to speak off the record (and maybe gave them truth serum), they admit they made lots of mistakes during their first gig.

      As for the coaching history thing… I mean, is it Mark Jackson’s fault he spent nearly two decades PLAYING in the NBA rather than trudging up the assistant coaching ranks? He retired in 2004 after appearing in 22 postseason series (and one finals) as a point guard, remaining effective due, in large part, to his smarts. Part of the point of the piece is to show discrepancies in race (links to the work of Goodwill, Beck, and Ziller are important resources) factor into how we perceive these candidates. Minorities are only considered if they are former players, yet your standard seems to hold that very thing against Jackson.

      And as for “wishing” for better diversity… I mean, if we aren’t going to at least criticize an organization when it fails to consider minorities for their top jobs, wishes will stay wishes. I’d prefer action.

      • biggity2bit says:

        I just started reading ‘Blink!’ by Malcolm Gladwell, and he talks at the end extensively about the huge impact screens had on world class orchestra auditions. Up to that point, orchestras were primarily staffed by men, and run by men, and auditions (which were supposed to be unbiased and focused solely on the sound) were conducted with the candidate sitting in front of the orchestra’s maestro and other leadership. Despite their ability to be ‘unbiased’, overwhelmingly the orchestras selected people that reaffirmed long held stereotypes.

        Gladwell relates a story of a female trombone player who auditioned behind a screen – the maestro couldn’t see her. It was widely believed that the trombone was too ‘masculine’ an instrument for women to play effectively, but she won the audition. Stepping out from the behind the screen, everyone gasped, and for the next 10 years or so they tried to get her off the orchestra and failed every time. Nowadays everyone auditions behind screens so that there can be no visual information to compete with the actual skill of one’s play.

        It’s difficult to assess basketball players, or coaches, or GMs, from behind a screen. I think one of the interesting effects of analytics in sports is that it is compelling and persuasive and entirely independent of race – it functions as a screen. When I think of Kevin Love versus KAT, I think about who can sustain the highest WS/48, who will have the best TS%, RAPM, and best three point % (because, let’s face it, we all would love to see Love and Towns compete in a three point competition). For how many of us here, when you hear about a potential draft pick or FA signing or trade acquisition, the first thing you do is look up their advanced stats on BBall-Ref? THEN you go to youtube. If a guy can play, he can play – don’t really care what he looks like.

        As for the minorities thing – I’ve written a lot and then deleted it, then wrote more, deleted again. Suffice to say, I think it’s a very valid question to bring up in sports (don’t get me started on the narratives of Teddy Bridgewater and Jared Goff leading up to the draft) – I just have some logic quibbles with the vehicle through which you tried to assert or illustrate the case here (I think it’s a loaded question fallacy conflating two separate issues – what you do to win games versus latent racism biasing perceptions/decisions). I just think Thibs is clearly superior at coaching compared to Jackson, Smitch, or the other candidates. Gorgui played great last year. Sorry G, if we have KAT, we’re starting KAT. Right?

        The only other comment I’ll share on the topic is this: who are the top 5 or 6 head coaches in Wolves’ history? For me, in no particular order, it’s: Flip, McHale, Casey, Adelman, Smitch, and maybe Musselman (I don’t remember his time well and was too young to know what I was looking at). Smitch actually is the ranked 5th best in terms of winning percentage in franchise history.

        And who were the worst two coaches in Wolves history? Gotta be Rambis and Wittman. Casey got 122 games, .434 winning percentage, and was fired. Wittman got 143 games, .266 WP, and Rambis got 164 games at .195 WP, but were retained well after they had displayed repeated and consistent ineptitude.

        Casey went on to win .533 of his games, which would rank just below Flip’s glory years with us. Wittman went on to win .472 at Washington, which to be fair is better than what Casey or Adelman did with us. Rambis posted a .321 last season with NY, with Phil Jackson in the FO ‘not coaching’.

        • gjk says:

          Casey is the elephant in the room with all of this. Situations like his firing for a guy like Wittman is where the possible double standard rears its ugly head.

  3. J Jay says:

    Yeah, I’m with you 100% about your general comments RE hiring practices and race, but I don’t think the shoe fits in this case (as the above poster quite adequately points out)- there’s such a disparity between Thibs and Jackson’s qualifications and evident skill-levels, its not especially plausible to explain Wolves fans (or any other teams) overwhelming preference for the former being related to race.

  4. gjk says:

    At the risk of adding to the echo chamber in the comments, one can agree with the concept of needing a more diverse and extensive process but also think that this analogy is a bit strained. If they’d hired Kevin McHale, for example, that’d be a problem. I’m generally curious about when the search firm was actually hired; Steve made a good point on his 1500 ESPN Wolves podcast that they could’ve easily started working on this without their involvement being announced. That’s somewhat necessary information to have a sound opinion about the process.

    The assistant coach thing was already picked apart well by others, so there’s no need to repeat that. I think the difference in their level of success is being dismissed too casually. Jackson’s teams never had homecourt advantage in a playoff round, while Thibodeau led the Bulls to the 1 seed twice over Miami; the healthy Derrick Rose he had during those 2 seasons is similar in impact to the Curry that Jackson had on his 6 seed Warriors. By most accounts, he’s considered an elite strategist, which will always put a guy near the top of the list.

    The whole Thibodeau/minutes thing hasn’t exactly been overlooked and casually dismissed. It’s always brought up as a question mark. With playoff teams willing to fire successful coaches, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he didn’t get hired last offseason. The decrease in defense during his last year in Chicago is worth questioning; there are possible reasons (playing Noah and Gasol together, Mirotic being a sieve, Noah missing 15 games), but if he fails here, that will likely be why.

    It’s problematic that the process ended up with such a stark shift. Bomani Jones pointed out something on his radio show about minority hiring in sports; most minority candidates are former players who came up with little to no focus on analytics, which has become so emphasized that not buying into that puts them at a disadvantage. After all, neither Milt nor anyone else from the Wolves reportedly attended the Sloan conference this year. Secondarily, though, in this instance, Thibodeau started his Wolves coaching career during Jackson’s 3rd season, ’89-’90. He was an NBA assistant until 2010. He’s worked a long time to develop his coaching skills that should put him at an advantage. I’m totally fine with them needing to consider minority candidates who, like Thibs, have worked their way and earned an interview, like Vanterpool, Fizdale, Melvin Hunt, or Patrick Ewing. But there’s a huge difference between how Thibs (and Joerger, Mike Budenholzer, Rick Carlisle, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford, Terry Stotts) got their jobs and how guys like McHale, Vinny Del Negro, Scott Skiles, Earl Watson, Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers, and even Mark Jackson got their jobs.

    • William Bohl says:

      Picked apart, was it? Okey dokey, then.

      • gjk says:

        Poor word choice; my point was more that I didn’t have any new angles on the topic. I still agree with them. Fundamentally, when ownership fires an assistant, it’s reasonable to assume that’s different than when a coach fires 2 assistants, even if we don’t know all of the details.

  5. Drew says:

    Always cracks me up when a privileged white dude writes a semi racist article like this attacking coach Jacksons beliefs.

    • William Bohl says:

      Huh? You’re right about the privileged white dude part, but how is what I wrote a) semi-racist and b) how did I attack his beliefs?

      • commando says:

        You guys are so gay with your privilege talk. Here is a wake up call, we all live in america, how about america privilege? Or 21st century privilege? This is a place where men should talk about basketball, not white privilege.

        • William Bohl says:


          Very classy. First of all, using “gay” in a derogatory manner lets all of us know you’re a pig, so thanks for making that clear right off the bat. Secondly, you use “American” privilege in a pejorative manner, but yeah, American privilege exists, the same as white privilege, and both are part of the conversation when it comes to basketball, whether you like it or not.

          Can’t speak to 21st Century privilege, as I think that would only apply in a world where time-traveling occurs openly and some sort of class system is established based on your period of origin, but now I’ve got an idea for a sci-fi short story, so thanks for that. Your comment wasn’t a complete waste of time and space!

  6. FNorth says:

    I wanted Kevin Ollie so…. I’m good 🙂

  7. Mebert says:

    I did not want Thibs or Jackson. so……EQUAL OPPORTUNITY HATE!!!!!!!

    Any of these coaches know more then me though, all we can do is wait and see how Thibs does

  8. Verbal says:

    What’s indefensible about this:

    “I will say this. We live in a country that allows you to be whoever you want to be. As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be who you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this time.”

    The rest of your statement is conjecture because that statement can easily be construed as saying he’s praying for someone in a pressure filled time. If someone doesn’t want Jackson as a coach because of that I’d argue that they’re the ones that have the issue, not Jackson. Nothing ‘ugly’ about holding a Christian worldview regarding morality.

    • William Bohl says:

      Two things,

      One, thank you for your comment.

      Two, there is no problem with having a “Christian” worldview. I have a BIG problem with homophobia, and the two do not necessarily need to be intermingled. The story I had in mind when I wrote that paragraph was this one:

      • Verbal says:

        First, no prob. Just found your blog and I’m liking your content. I do think its unfair and one sided to label Jackson homophobic based on a comment he disputes and a statement that can be interpreted in different ways. He also said this:

        “At the end of the day, I’m a pastor,” Jackson said. “I have my beliefs as a pastor and as a believer, and that’s not going to change. I love Jason Collins. And I think this is a basketball story. I think we’re doing a poor job as a society making it something that it’s not. I’m happy for him, wish him nothing but the best, but it’s a basketball story.

        “If a guy can get it done on the floor, then that’s the story. I don’t think it’s any other story. Are you good enough to play on this level? And the Nets think that Jason Collins is, and they went after him, and he’s now a member of the Brooklyn Nets. More power to him.”

        Now not expecting you to completely agree with him here but if we’re going to say its ‘indefensible’ for a Christian to say ‘I have my beliefs on right or wrong regarding morality but I accept that we all can be who we want to be or believe we are and it doesn’t affect my job’, then what type of world are you hoping to live in? That sounds like a world intolerant of those that don’t agree with you. Does a basketball coach need to approve of all of his players off the court lives to coach them? Or should ones moral beliefs, particularly ones that are pretty common, prevent him from coaching a team? I think that’s pushing it

        • Tim Hux says:

          Non-reply here is very telling. Feel free to do and say what you want, so long as I agree with it in principle, is basically Bohl’s stance.

          • William Bohl says:


            Give me a little time to respond, please. These aren’t exactly light topics to discuss.

        • J Jay says:

          Well, I’d hope to live in a world where flimsy lines about “I have my beliefs right or wrong. blah blah blah” aren’t deemed sufficient excuse for people in positions of leadership to hold discriminatory/prejudiced views (and make offensive comments) against others on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, etc… and worse, to try to pass those views off as moral values (when they are essentially the exact opposite). And yes, discriminatory views against groups on the basis of sexual orientation, race, and so on should probably prevent people from working in leadership/managerial roles- you wouldn’t want a homophobe as a coach, manager, or supervisor any more than you’d want a racist. If you hold such views, you’re probably best suited in a job where you can work alone.

  9. pyrrol says:

    Are Wolves fans never happy? We nabbed the consensus best coach available and the response is to write 2k racial guilt piece? I guess that’s not fair. I think a lot of Wolves fans are doing a jig after hearing this news and not trying to dampen it with guilt or cynicism.

    The essential failure of a piece like this is backwards logic. There is a default assumption of racial prejudice, so everything feeds back to it, whether there is any evidence to support racial bias or not. It would be nice to see more racial diversity in head coach positions in the NBA. However, it is an assumption that the lack of diversity is due to racial prejudice. There could be many cultural issues at play that affect the amount of elite minority coaches as much or more than racial bias. For instance, what is the size of the pool of minorities who are even trying to have an NBA head coaching track career? I’m guessing it is substantially smaller than the whites doing the same. Indirectly, this may be in part because of disadvantages minorities face in society (not necessarily in NBA coaching, though). But it may also be due to numbers–a smaller portion of the population–and cultural issues.

    This is general. In our specific case, the logic presented here is that because we hired the best available from a group of guys (that included at least one Black candidate) quickly, that there were racial motivations. The simplified version of this charge is that we fired a black coach and hired a white one, and race must have played into the decision. These are assumptions that are quite inflammatory and based on no information.

    We need to call out racism wherever we see it. But calling out fake ‘hunch’ racism actually damages the fight against racial inequality. The way to fix the lack of diversity in NBA head coaching ranks isn’t to guilt NBA people into giving minorities more coaching jobs and keeping minority coaches they aren’t happy with longer than they want to. Focus should be on keeping minds open to minority coaches and expanding the pool of minority candidates with diverse backgrounds and high qualifications (ex player, coaching lifer etc).

    In our case, the one charge of unfairness that actually sticks is the way Sam was let go before he coached his last game, which seems disrespectful. I don’t think it was unfair to not allow Sam an interview. His whole season was an interview and the office didn’t see him as viable going forward. But even the way Sam was let go doesn’t evidence racial bias. There is no evidence that a coach who did exactly what Sam did this season who was white would have been shown a more respectful dismissal.

    I’m heartened by the courage to bring these topics up shown here, and the concern about this issue of racism in our society. Lately, (often in politics) we’ve been seeing a lot of ‘coded’ racism that greatly damages our society. But we’ve also seen the rise of assumptive PC culture which is too quick to judge motivations as racial and shame people in unfair ways. This article seems to pull from this assumptive PC culture at times. For instance, “the only two candidates from the “top tier” who were given serious thought were Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, with Mark Jackson’s name dangled either as a favor to him, or as a way to appear the Wolves were considering a minority coach” is highly assumptive thing to say. Us folks outside the search have no idea how seriously Van Gundy and Jackson were considered. Looking back, it seems as though Taylor likely wanted Thibs well before the season ended and everything else was a backup, but this too is an assumption. It is also a pretty serious accusation to suggest that the only reason the Wolves looked at Jackson was to appear to consider a minority coach for cosmetics. This sadly could be true, but it is divisive to suggest that is what the motivation for including Jackson’s name was with no evidence. Part of creating a more racially equal and harmonious America is not doing divisive things such as the baseless assumption above. The more divided we are, and the more unwise accusations we hurl, the less stable the foundation for racial equality is.

    • William Bohl says:

      Pyrrol: A serious question… did you read what I wrote? Did you read the piece? Because if you did, your reading comprehension is pretty poor, and you should give it another go.

  10. WolvesFan says:

    If you can’t see the obvious difference between what Thibs and Jackson have done as coaches then I don’t think you have a place commenting on basketball at all. It’s a night and day difference.Jackson did hold GS back. That’s a fact.

    • William Bohl says:


      First things first, calling an opinion or a theory a fact doesn’t magically make it so.

      Secondly, re-read the final two paragraphs of the piece, please.

  11. seanie blue says:

    Great piece, Mr. Bohl. Exactly what sportswriting should do: offer alternative views to the stark prejudices of the fan, as witnessed in some of the responses in this comments thread. Homophobia is never hidden by semantics: Jackson is smart enough to choose his words wisely, as befits a commentator, and opening his mouth as he did on Collins cast him as a fool, no matter his basketball pedigree. And this is important, because the evidence points to the fact that Jackson is a better coach than Thibs. In fact, Jackson’s stint in GS makes him seem one of the most competent coaches in my thirty years of watching the NBA. I am hard put to come up with a better performance by a coach than Jackson’s time with the Warriors. So what would happen to the next team Jackson coaches? He’s learned a few things, we can assume, and his ceiling as a coach is far higher than Thibs’ simply because he hasn’t coached as much as Thibs has but has accomplished better results. But his remark about Collins is such a heavy red flag to ignore, in the same way that Bob Ferry has been derailed by his own remarks (about non-white people, and not about gays). In my book, Mark Jackson is a homophobe, and his “Christian values” makes his homophobia worse than the homophobia of somebody who hates gays and doesn’t seek to justify it.

    But by parsing the semantics of these people, in their own words, my own impression of the past week (apart from astonishment), is to look at other combinations of possibility. Layden’s public comments so far have syntax problems and make me think he is too privileged, in the same way that Ryan Saunders and Adelman’s son are, and that might be okay in a coaches huddle but not in a front office. Layden’s performance in New York was horrible. So he’s a yes-man for Thibs in my opinion, and not a leader. The most effective pairing available to the Wolves might have been Mitchell as coach with Ferry as GM. What might have happened if Mitchell was retained, and Layden was made the GM? Or what about Mitchell and Walt Perrin? Or Thibs and Walt Perrin? Or Mitchell and Troy Weaver? Or Thibs and Troy Weaver, probably the best possibility of all?

    I’ll take Thibs, even with reservations, simply because of the defense. (But then, I would have to accept Jackson, if it was simply about the defense.) But Thibs and Layden? I won’t root against them, but my hopes are tempered. And I keep wondering about Newton. Thibs wouldn’t have accepted him over his own authority, I get it. But why is Thibs so sure his authority is that important to his success? Another red flag. Does Pop need that authority? The best act of leadership is always to put somebody else in charge. Always. Therein lies the problem with Thibs. If he thinks Layden is the man to put in charge, we’ve got personnel issues already. But surely Thibs and Layden are better than Mitchell and Newton? Man, it’s a tough call unless we admit that Taylor would not bow to the expenses required to win with two blacks in charge when he would do so with two white guys running the operation. I wonder if that is the final influence on the decision we are celebrating, with reservations? With Thibs and Layden, Taylor performs better than he would with Mitchell and Newton. Is Taylor racist, then?

  12. College Wolf says:

    This entire comment is pure insanity.

  13. College Wolf says:

    ^ talking about Seanie Blue

  14. Sisco says:

    The comment about Casey and Wittman above rings true, Thibs and Jackson, a little bit. I have no doubt a black coach is held to a higher standard, and that is regrettable. That being said, I think part of the reason that Taylor went with Thibs, is that he is looking at five years max to win a Championship, and he isn,t necessarily worried about burning out the players. He wants his legacy of a Championship season, and he is ruthlessly pursuing it. I think he felt that Thibs could better match that obsession and ruthlessness then Jackson or Van Gundy. We will probably be shocked and dismayed at some trades made, not this year so much, but next. Because both Taylor and Thibs have tunnel vision, and will do any and everything to get that championship.

  15. Verbal says:

    So commonly held religious beliefs for 2 thousand years are considered ‘flimsy’ now, lol. That’s just stupid. Not to mention that having a moral standard for what you believe to be right and wrong in no way prevents you from working with others who hold different standards. You’re essentially saying that if people don’t agree with your view of morality they shouldn’t be allowed to work with others which is as narrow-minded and ignorant as can be. What supposedly makes this nation unique is the ability of people from different backgrounds and beliefs to one together. And no, believing an holding to Christian morality regarding g sex and marriage is not ‘the exact opposite: of morality, it’s just a view point you don’t agree with. You have nothing o show that Jackson treated anyone differently due to their sexual identity including all the other guys in his locker room with different sexual morals

  16. Johnnyhk says:

    This is an interesting thought experiment, and the issue of how minority coaches and manager/administrators are treated is certainly a worthy topic for discussion, however the Timberwolves are a terrible case study.

    As head coach candidates, Jackson and Thibs are in no way comparable despite the handful of bullet point “similarities” used in the article. Even the behind-the-scenes drama scenarios for the two are apples and oranges. When you have a chance to get Thibs, you don’t need a search firm to find the next Thibs.

    A couple other thoughts:
    – if Sam Mitchell and Milt Newton were white, would a single person I. The media be talking about how they were “disrespected?” The entire season was an interview, and now they can get jobs quickly without having to participate in a humiliating charade where they have no chance at being hired back. To me, the process seemed harsh but completely fair.

    – the opinions expressed would be better applied to the Knicks coaching search, where Kurt Rambis is a leading candidate. This would be a position where a minority or transgendered individual could make a compelling case to be hired.

Leave a Reply