Jim Boylen had had a rough first go with the Chicago Bulls. To those who have followed his career, this should come as no surprise. From college to the NBA, Boylen has a reputation for turning players against him and bringing down a locker room. Despite this, the Bulls brought him back this season, and the team appears to be just as dysfunctional as Boylen’s reputation suggests it would be.
Jim Boylen rises in the coaching ranks
Jim Boylen spent 20 years as an assistant before he got his first head coaching job. He started as an assistant at Michigan State before joining the Houston Rockets as an assistant in 1992. He spent the next 11 years there, including the two championship years in the mid-90s. After leaving Houston, he got two more assistant coaching gigs in the NBA with Golden State and Milwaukee, and then he worked under Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
Finally, in 2007, Boylen became the head coach at the University of Utah. There, he helped bring the Utes to their first March Madness in years. He was lauded for bringing some good coaching to the university, but he also came with a bad reputation as a coach. Boylen has long championed arduous practice schedules that push players to their limits. On top of that, he has a knack for some baffling decision-making and having a steadfast opposition to letting numbers dictate his decisions. After four seasons, Utah fired Boylen with a 69-60 record.
Boylen returns to the NBA
Jim Boylen returned to the NBA as an assistant with the Indiana Pacers for a season in 2011-12. Then, he went to the San Antonio Spurs for two years. After that, he headed to the Chicago Bulls to serve as Fred Hoiberg’s associate head coach for a little more than three seasons. The Bulls fired Hoiberg near the beginning of the 2018-19 season, however, and Boylen finally got his first sting as a head coach.
The Chicago Bulls struggled, and mere days into Boylen’s tenure, there were rumors that the players were already fed up with him, including a viral story of a mutiny, of sorts, when the players refused to practice under his harsh conditions. Many believed that he would not make it past the offseason, but to almost everyone’s surprise, Boylen came back this year, and the team is still struggling to get wins.
Despite that, Chicago executive John Paxson, a man who notoriously prefers coaches who do exactly what he wants, continues to support Boylen. The roster isn’t doing him any favors, but Boylen is yet to show he can connect with his players, and it’s a startling trend that can never lead to true success.
Can Jim Boylen ever make it? One fact points to no
To answer whether or not Jim Boylen can succeed in the NBA, you need to look at his time with the University of Utah.
Boylen’s knack for alienating players and burning bridges was evident at Utah, as seven players transferred out in two years of Boylen’s reign. That includes Marshall Henderson, who later had a storied run at Ole Miss after two more transfers kept him out for two years. A player who transfers loses a year of eligibility, and their decision to do so must not be taken lightly. That likely contributed to Boylen’s firing at Utah.
The trust issues from last year appear to have carried over into the 2019-20 season in Chicago. He has already lost the Bulls’ best player in Zach LaVine, who publicly said that he has a trust issue with his head coach. After a certain point, Boylen must stop blaming his players and take a look in the mirror. His hard practices and temper alienate players, and he appears not to care.
Until the Bulls can willingly move on from Boylen, it’s safe to expect that they will see more of the same issue. As with Boylen, thirty years into his career, it’s hard to see him gaining the self-awareness needed to become a winning coach. So, with apologies to any Jim Boylen supporters out there, we don’t see him ever becoming a successful NBA coach.