In a move widely anticipated since the Bulls hired a new management regime — and then doubted as he did what he said he'd do and took his time to evaluate — executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas fired Jim Boylen as coach on Friday, the team announced.
Boylen, who replaced Fred Hoiberg in December 2018, leaves with a 39-84 record.
Karnisovas will begin his first search for a head coach and the Bulls' third in five years since John Paxson fired Tom Thibodeau. General manager Marc Eversley will assist in the search.
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The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.
Boylen received a two-year extension from the previous management regime in May 2019 and added assistant coaches Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers to his staff last offseason. He enjoyed ownership support from the Reinsdorfs, who made clear, however, that Boylen’s future would be Karnisovas’ call.
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“No one could question Jim’s passion for our team and our organization," Michael Reinsdorf said in a statement. "We sincerely appreciate his tireless efforts and contributions during his time with the Bulls, and we wish him and his family the very best.”
Among other duties, Karnisovas and Eversley, who replaced Paxson and Gar Forman, spent time since their hires polling players on Boylen. While some feedback centered on Boylen’s unquestioned care factor, according to sources, much of it continued publicly stated frustrations during the season on usage and philosophy.
Upon his hire, Karnisovas emphasized that he was lured from the Nuggets to “affect change.” Eversley, who left the 76ers, consistently emphasized the need to make the Bulls a “players-first” organization.
"I sincerely want to thank Jim Boylen for his time with the Chicago Bulls," Karnisovas said on a conference call. "I have no doubt that he has given this organization his very best effort and poured his heart into coaching this team. The human element of these decisions is never easy. Jim Boylen cares deeply and is passionate about the game and about the Bulls. So the decision to move in a different direction with our head coach is not one that was arrived at lightly. Ultimately, my responsibility is to move this organization on a trajectory of success. And it’s been apparent from the beginning that this involves making changes."
Earlier this month, Boylen expressed confidence in his job prospects because of ownership support and his feeling that he followed the orders of the regime which hired him. But a source said Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf made clear to Boylen that his future would be determined by Karnisovas. All Reinsdorf did was ask Karnisovas to get to know Boylen and properly evaluate him before making his decision.
Boylen consistently pointed to establishing a style of play at both ends and improving player accountability and development as achievements during his polarizing tenure. The Bulls’ defensive rating ranked sixth in the NBA when a Wendell Carter Jr. ankle sprain kicked off a spate of widespread injuries that derailed their season before the global pandemic essentially shut down the world.
However, players occasionally questioned their usage in an offensive system that languished near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories.
Boylen overcame a memorable first week on the job to enter last season on good footing with critical players.
In that first week, Boylen created national headlines by openly questioning his players’ conditioning — and using wind sprints and push-ups — even before calling a practice following a back-to-back set of games that included a franchise-record, 56-point loss. In a group text exchange, two players raised the idea of boycotting that practice before cooler heads prevailed and a day of team meetings followed.
By the end of last season, Boylen’s care factor created some momentum. Zach LaVine offered to pay Boylen’s fine for getting ejected from a road loss to the Clippers. And Boylen continued bonding attempts by visiting all players last offseason, including international trips to Finland for Lauri Markkanen.
But Markkanen’s usage proved a lingering issue all last season. And Boylen’s unconventional methods of late-game timeout usage and challenging players publicly created distractions that wore on players.
Now, his tenure is over and the search for the next Bulls coach begins.
"The signal is that we're changing things," Karnisovas said on the call. "It signals that we're looking forward to what comes next. We felt this program needed change and needed change now. I can't wait to find the next coach for the group."