We look at the hiring of the high-profile Tom Thibodeau as the coach of the Timberwolves as quite a departure for owner Glen Taylor, although in a way it goes along with what he has done previously in this decade.
Rick Adelman, a long-serving NBA coach with a resume that will get him to the Basketball Hall of Fame, was hired in September 2011 to take over when the NBA lockout ended.
If Adelman was coming in with full power to make personnel decisions, the public might have been more revved up by this hire. The fact David Kahn still held that responsibility as president of basketball operations caused skepticism to remain high with Minnesota’s basketball fans (and for good reason).
Flip Saunders came in as Kahn’s replacement in May 2013. He waited a year to take over the coaching duties from Adelman. Plus, Flip’s familiarity to the Wolves and to Minnesota made it less of a dramatic event than the hiring of Thibodeau as a coach with full personnel power.
Add it up and I rate Thibodeau at the top of list for national profile when hired as a Timberwolves’ coach.
Also: If I trace Minnesota’s major league era to 1961, I would put only two coaching hires ahead of Thibodeau’s with our pro teams in national profile, and both arrived with expansion teams.
The first coach on such a list would be Jacques Lemaire. It was a surprise to the public that the Wild was able to secure Lemaire – legendary player, legendary tactician, already the coach of a Stanley Cup champion – to launch its product.
The second coach would be Norm Van Brocklin, hired to lead the expansion Vikings for 1961, immediately after being the MVP quarterback of the champion Eagles. Minnesotans were stunned at what we thought was good fortune.
Bud Grant, successor to Van Brocklin? Nationally, hiring a coach away from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came with the sound of one hand clapping.
Herb Brooks was a huge name when hired by the North Stars. Still, he was a Minnesotan and as with Flip's return, there was no surprise when Herbie was hired by the North Stars. It also turned into a one-season failire and bitter parting.
Gene Mauch was the highest-profile managerial hire by the Twins in 1976. Billy Martin was not yet certified as a dugout madman when hired for 1969 (only).
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Coaches with a national profile when hired by the Gophers:
Lou Holtz, football (1984-85). The ability of Harvey Mackay and others to put together a deal to bring Holtz here remains the most-dramatic coaching hire of all in Minnesota.
Tubby Smith, men’s basketball (2007-13). “Tubby, Tubby, Tubby.’’ It sure sounded good on that April afternoon as he was introduced in Williams Arena.
John Kundla, basketball (1959-1968). He coached six champions (five NBA, one NBL) with the Minneapolis Lakers before returning to his alma mater. Gophers basketball was integrated (Lou Hudson, Archie Clark, Don Yates) with John as coach.