In a move that surprised very few who have spent much time around the Chicago Bulls’ locker room, GM John Paxson has fired Head Coach Scott Skiles this Christmas Eve. After a 9-16 start amidst inconsistent play from key guys, contract grumblings and Kobe Bryant trade rumors, the Bulls finally decided to shake things up. As these things go, the firing may not be so much a suggestion that Skiles was at the root of the Bulls’ struggles, but rather a prototypical attempt to light a fire under the sluggish Bulls’ players.
In another sense, Skiles’ firing seems clearly influenced by his ongoing bickerings with two of the Bulls’ freewheeling youngsters, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. As early as last year, Skiles’ seemed to be playing mindgames with Thomas and this year he openly questioned Thomas’ effort, stating, “We ask him to sprint the floor…To my knowledge, in his career, he hasn’t done it one time — not one time.” Skiles similarly called out Noah in a public manner after Noah questioned the Bulls’ effort and their psychology after he played in his first game. “If I had just played my first pro game,” Skiles said, “I’d probably keep my mouth shut, to be honest with you.”
Not since Larry Brown and Allen Iverson’s lovehatefest has a coach/player generation gap been so apparent. Traces of Bill Parcells and Terrell Owens linger as well. Skiles has always been a scowling, balding, Tom Izzo-trained, maximum-effort/minimal-flair guy, and his wooden personality seems to have finally chafed his young players to the point that they appear to tune him out.
The Bulls, however, now are in a precarious position. Point blank Skiles has been one of the best coaches in the league–if not THE best coach–since he took the Chicago position. The Bulls run the risk of not realizing that Skiles did way more with way less talent than anyone could have imagined. Skiles made the Bulls relevant in the post-MJ era by bringing them back to the playoffs and he developed Chris Duhon, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, and Andres Nocioni into a solid, feisty core. The truth is that without Skiles nobody really knows how good any of those players are. The Bulls players may respond favorably to a new coach, playing a bit more loose and free-spirited for someone who isn’t so much of a tight-ass as Skiles was. On the other hand, that new coach may have his hands full trying to get back to the playoffs and trying to figure out how Skiles reaped maximum effort and skill from a group of castaways, greenhorns, and not-quite-stars.