Bears

Thibodeau the Bulls' MVP, NBA Coach of the Year favorite?

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Thibodeau the Bulls' MVP, NBA Coach of the Year favorite?

The Bulls became the first NBA team to win 40 games and clinch a playoff berth Saturday and did it in thrilling fashion, as Luol Deng's buzzer-beating follow-up in overtime beat Toronto to sweep the home-and-home series against the Raptors. The game was indicative of the Bulls' season thus far, as Deng, C.J. Watson and Carlos Boozer led the way, with not only Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton still out of the lineup, but Joakim Noah getting ejected early in the contest for accruing two technical fouls, the second of which for throwing a ball in the direction of an official, which the center was contrite about following Sunday's practice at the Berto Center.

Regardless of who they've been missing, the Bulls have kept things rolling, as evidenced by their 12-4 record without Rose, the reigning league MVP. The likes of Watson, new fan favorite John Lucas III and even the recently-released Mike James have stepped up in his absence, while Ronnie Brewer has more than capably filled in for Hamilton, who could return from his right-shoulder injury sooner than people think, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Rose has played brilliantly when he's been on the floor, serving more as a distributor this season, while Deng, a first-time All-Star, has to be commended for remaining effective while playing through torn ligaments in his left wrist, Noah has turned his game up since a slow start and the much-maligned Boozer has been the only starter to play in all 50 games after his injury-riddled debut season in Chicago. Still, it's tempting to say the Bulls' bench -- featuring the aforementioned Watson, Brewer and Lucas, along with designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the defensively-dominant inside tandem of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, as well as rookie swingman Jimmy Butler -- has been the team's MVP.

The reserves have truly bailed the squad out of countless games this season, with last week's win at Toronto serving as the ultimate illustration, as a 20-0 fourth-quarter run ran the Raptors out of their own building after facing a double-digit deficit earlier in the second half. If not the bench, then the Bulls' defense should get the credit for the team's success thus far, but of course, since that's a collective effort, it makes that one man should be acclaimed for the consistency on that end of the floor, even if he thinks it could be better on most nights: Tom Thibodeau.

Besides the stifling, record-setting second-half shutdown in Orlando last week, it's not positive as to whether Thibodeau has ever been truly pleased with the Bulls' defense, but the praise of his peers makes it clear that they marvel at the job he's done, which could result in unprecedented back-to-back league top-coaching honors in his first two seasons as an NBA head coach. Longtime Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich might be his strongest competition, but unlike the Bulls, San Antonio isn't regarded as a true championship contender. So, in a season where Chicago's best player has been limited for health reasons, it's only right that the blue-collar squad with the league's best record heading into the season's home stretch, giving them a slim cushion in the race for home-court advantage, be honored with its coach, the fastest to 100 wins in NBA history, taking home hardware that, in his words, reflects the team's success, whether he likes the attention or not.

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

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AP

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

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USA Today

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Thursday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.

Howard can't get too comfortable in his first-team role. He's a few bad series from Cohen unseating him as the starter and becoming the most valuable weapon in Nagy's offense. The first-year coach is already having trouble hiding his excitement over Cohen, an emotion that will only grow once training camp gets underway.