Just three weeks after being tapped as the new head honcho for the Chicago Bulls, Billy Donovan has begun the process of cleaning house and bringing Chicago’s staff up to his standards by firing four of his assistant coaches. Those let go on Monday were assistant coach and director of team operations Karen Stack Umlauf, as well as assistant coaches Dean Cooper, Nate Loenser, and Roy Rogers.
The three men hadn’t been assistant coaches on the Chicago sideline for more than three years but Umlauf, had been with the Bulls since Michael Jordan first popped onto the NBA scene. She worked with Hall of Fame general manager Jerry Krause on the basketball operations side of things for most of the last two decades before finally joining the sideline crew in 2018 as Chicago’s first female assistant coach.
While the timing of these firings is a little bit earlier than expected, the decisions can’t exactly come as a surprise after the Bulls fired head coach Jim Boylen and longtime general manager Gar Forman, while also reassigning vice president of basketball operations John Paxson to a senior advisory role. They were placed by Donovan, Marc Eversley, and Arturas Karnisovas, respectively.
A team doesn’t make wholesale changes like that at the top without some expectation of turnover at the lower levels, which we have now seen. New assistant coach hires should be expected in the coming weeks as the NBA faces it’s shortest offseason ever.
These moves by the Bulls come after the former leadership was unable to put together a competitive or playoff-caliber team for the past few seasons. After they let go of Thom Thibodeau in 2015, Fred Hoiberg came in for a few seasons and pushed Jimmy Butler out of the organization. How frustrating it must have been for the Bulls to watch these past few months as their former franchise player led the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals with his trademark grit and fire that was first seen as a member of the Bulls.
Since Butler’s departure in 2017 the Bulls have gone 27-55, 22-60, and 22-43, a stretch like that simply cannot be tolerated by a franchise with as proud a history as the Bulls do. Not to mention the bevy of young talent like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen that has been wasted over the last couple of years.
The wallowing at the bottom of the standings ends now if Donovan has anything to say about it. Donovan isn’t a magician who’s going to magically turn this team into a title contender, as evidenced by their 151.00 odds from Betway to win next year’s Larry O’Brien trophy, but he’ll turn this talented young core into a team that can at least compete for a playoff spot.
Donovan won two NCAA Championships while coaching at Florida, and he’s continued to have success in the NBA leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs in all five seasons he’s been there, including this past year when his Thunder over-performed so much that he won the 2020 NBCA Coach of the Year award. It won’t be a one year turnaround job, but Donovan and his .608 NBA career winning percentage certainly have a good chance to put this Bulls team on the path back to relevance.