- Associated Press - Sunday, May 1, 2011

DEERFIELD, ILL. (AP) - Tom Thibodeau waited about two decades to become an NBA head coach. It didn’t take him long to be recognized as one of the best once he got the chance.

Thibodeau is the NBA’s Coach of the Year after leading the Chicago Bulls to 62 wins in his first season to tie a league record set by Paul Westphal.

The Chicago Tribune first reported Thibodeau’s selection, which was no surprise the way the Bulls dominated during the regular season. Now, after a tough five-game series against Indiana in the opening round, they’ll open the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta on Monday.

“After being here for a year, I realize how fortunate I am to be here,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a great city, great fans, great organization, great players, and if it meant waiting 20 years to get this job, it was well worth the wait.”

Center Joakim Noah said Thibodeau was “very well deserving” of the award and called him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around.

“He stays in late,” Noah added. “He’s the first one here. He was there for me all summer working me out. I felt like I really improved as a player because of him.”

Thibodeau received 475 points and 76 first-place votes from a media panel. Philadelphia’s Doug Collins got 18 first-place votes and 210 points, and Gregg Popovich of San Antonio finished third.

An NBA assistant for about two decades, Thibodeau finally got his chance to lead a team after spending three seasons working for Doc Rivers in Boston. He is the fourth Chicago coach to win the award, joining Johnny Kerr (1967), Dick Motta (1971) and Phil Jackson (1996).

“I think I was very fortunate to have great jobs along the way, to be with great teams,” he said. “I always felt deep down that it would happen. I never doubted that it would happen. I knew I had to be patient. I recognized that these jobs were hard to get, and I was hopeful that I would get a chance. Then, I wanted to make the most of it.”

He replaced the fired Vinny Del Negro in June, and with a rebuilt roster to go with an emphasis on defense and rebounding, the Bulls breezed to a 62-20 mark that matched their best record since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen completed their second championship three-peat at the end of the 1997-98 season.

They did all that even though prized acquisition Carlos Boozer and Noah missed significant time with injuries, capturing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and giving their coach a share of the record Westphal set with Phoenix during the 1992-93 season.

Thibodeau was known as a defensive mastermind who helped Boston win a championship in 2008 and get back to the finals last season. He also had that reputation as a workaholic and still does.

“Every time I walk in, I look up there to see if his light is on, and if he’s in the office, I’d get on the court and pretend like I’m working hard,” forward Luol Deng said. “I’m kidding. But every time I’d come in, his light is on. The video guys, the coaches, it’s just been one of those years. Every time I came in, I’d get on the floor (and) someone is ready to come down.

“I don’t know if he gets here at 5 or 6,” he continued. “He’s here early and he’s the last one to leave.”

Thibodeau’s only other head coaching job was for one season at his alma mater, Division III Salem State, in the mid-1980s. He got that after three years as an assistant.

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