Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is the NBA's 2011-12 Coach of the Year, the league announced Tuesday. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau finished second in the voting, receiving 27 first-place votes to Popovich's 77.
Thibodeau was considered an early frontrunner to win unprecedented back-to-back honors in his second season as an NBA head coach, but the team's relative April struggles and the Spurs' strong regular-season finish likely played a part in the decision-making of voters. The Bulls and Spurs finished tied for the league's best regular-season record at identical 50-16, but the Bulls earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Spurs, as the Bulls won at San Antonio shortly after the All-Star break, in the two teams' lone matchup of the season.
Both teams won their playoff openers over the weekend, but Thibodeau's best player, reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, is now out for the remainder of the season after suffering a devastating torn ACL injury in his left knee late in Saturday's Game 1 win over the 76ers at the United Center. Popovich, who has won the award once before, in 2003, has won four NBA championships while coaching future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and his strategy of rebuilding through young, unheralded players--Popovich also has an extensive say in the Spurs' personnel decisions -- as well as managing the minutes of veterans Duncan, All-Star point guard Tony Parker and sixth-man extraordinaire Manu Ginobili, while shifting to a more run-and-gun style compared to their previous half-court, defensive-oriented system has been widely lauded across the league.
Frank Vogel of the Bulls' Central Division rival Indiana finished third in the voting, winning seven first-place votes. Lionel Hollins of the Grizzlies and Thibodeau's former boss, Boston's Doc Rivers, were the only other two coaches to receive first-place votes.
Thibodeau frequently downplays individual honors, but it can be argued that without Rose for approximately half of the regular season, starting backcourt mate Rip Hamilton for the majority of the campaign and All-Star Luol Deng also missing significant time, the coaching job he did was even more impressive than last season, in which the Bulls also had the league's best regular-season record in Thibodeau's first shot at being an NBA head coach. While Thibodeau has faced criticism for leaving Rose in Saturday's game with the Bulls up by double figures and under two minutes to play, that didn't factor into the award, as voters had to submit their choices by last Friday, a day before the contest.