The Vinny Watch is over: Del Negro is no longer coach of the Chicago Bulls

It’s over.

There will be a news conference today, but Vinny Del Negro is already gone.

The truth is, Vinny’s been gone since March 30, when he got into that “we still don’t quite know what really happened” confrontation with Chicago Bulls executive vice president John Paxson over Joakim Noah’s minutes.

Or maybe he’s been gone since late December, when the Bulls stumbled to a disappointing 10-17 start.

Or maybe he’s been gone since last season’s playoff run, when his inability to manage timeouts may have cost Chicago a win or two in their seven-game series with the defending champion Boston Celtics.

Or maybe he’s been gone since February of 2009, when the team’s 20-27 record caused owner Jerry Reinsdorf to declare the season was a “disaster” and “embarassing.”

Or maybe he’s been gone since the first few months of his job, when he kept benching Derrick Rose during the fourth quarter of close games.

Or maybe he was gone from the very moment he was hired. After all, manangement fumbled its attempt to bring in their coach of choice — Mike D’Antoni, who’s gone 61-103 in two seasons with the New York Knicks — and seemingly decided on Del Negro as Plan Z. Although here’s what Paxson said when Vinny was hired:

“I am very pleased to name Vinny Del Negro as the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls. I have gone through the process of talking to many people since the season ended which has allowed me to hear the basketball philosophies of different candidates, and I felt very good about many of the interviews. Vinny distinguished himself from the group and I feel I have been able to identify a person who has the strong ability to lead, communicate and bring a fresh, energized approach to our young basketball team. Vinny will be able to draw from his experiences in basketball as a player, scout and executive, and I am confident that he will be successful in this new role.”

The funny thing is, Del Negro really was successful in his role.

Vinny led the Bulls to two .500 seasons and two trips to the playoffs despite a lot of things. Such as the fact that the Bulls are built around a group of players who live and die off of long, contested two-point jumpers, a.k.a the worst shot in basketball. Or the fact that there has been major personnel overhauls during both seasons, but not the kind that brought in a quality, All-Start caliber player. Or the fact that the last two seasons have been marred by injuries to key players. Or the fact that the team’s leading scorer was allowed to bolt for Detroit last summer. Or the fact that management clearly decided not to invest in the 2009-2010 season in order to maximize cap space for this summer’s free agent bonanza.

Del Negro always seemed to be on the verge of being fired. He never received strong support from the front office. His team never really had any continuity or even consistent health. Yet Vinny was always professional and spent two straight seasons turning lemons into lemonade even though he was working with a noose around his neck.

Did you know that Bill Fitch has the 8th most coaching wins in NBA history? Or that Dick Motta has the 10th most? And yet both Fitch (.460) and Motta (.479) have a lower winning percentage than Del Negro (.500). Vinny also has a better winning percentage than Byron Scott (.498), Lawrence Frank (.483), Hubie Brown (.461), Mike Dunleavy (.461), Sam Mitchell (.452),  Mike Woodson (.419), and several other coaches who get more respect. All the coaches I named except Frank and Woodson have a Coach of the Year award. Woodson is currently coaching the Atlanta Hawks, and Frank has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Del Negro.

But hey, you know what they say: NBA coaches are hired to be fired. Especially when they don’t see eye to eye with the people above them in the food chain.

Back in 2009 when Reinsdorf was making his “disaster” comments, he also said: “When you have a team that’s not performing it’s an organization failure. You win and you lose as an organization. But if there’s one person that is not responsible for what’s going on right now, it’s John Paxson. I have tremendous confidence in John Paxson. He’s really one of the best people that I know. He’s a great general manager and a great judge of talent.”

Forget the fact that Paxson is the same guy who broke the bank for Ben Wallace, swapped LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas, and has made at least a half dozen other indefensible moves. The team owner loves Paxson, and Paxson did not love the coach. So what is pretty much had to be.

Look, there’s a scale between bad and great. Vinny wasn’t great — I’m not sure the man ever learned to call a decent play coming out of a timeout — but he wasn’t bad either. Under the circumstances, many of them very unfavorable, Del Negro was a good coach. He kept the ship afloat and helped develop Rose into an All-Star and Noah into a near All-Star. The Bulls could have done a lot worse.

Still, let’s hope this time they do a lot better.


25 Responses to The Vinny Watch is over: Del Negro is no longer coach of the Chicago Bulls

    Bobby May 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Vinny was a very respectable PERSON and seemed to handle the media perfectly. He sounds like a really good guy and I thought he did deserve to be treated better than he was.

    That said, he was never a good coach. People try to defend Vinny and say Derrick Rose “blossomed” under Vinny’s tutelage but if you really think about it, how could Derrick Rose not have become a great player? I mean how little would you have to know about basketball to limit Derrick Rose to being just acceptable? Rose would be a star if he was coached by one of the little kids from one of the NBA Cares commercials. Vinny did a DECENT job with the roster he had which I still say, had the injuries not happened, was the fifth best in the east. But they did happen so I won’t crucify him for the overall record. However, they had so many bad losses where you could just point at him and lay most of the blame. Not to mention if you listened to any of the players interviewed about whether or not they wanted Vinny to stay then you didn’t hear any strong resistance to the idea of Vinny leaving. They said what was politically correct at the time but there was no real strong desire for Vinny to stay.

    I hope Vinny does find another coaching job and gets some more experience because if he can learn a little more about the actual coaching part, his off court personality is perfect. Good luck Vinny. Time to pray for a big name coach to recruit FAs.

    Enigmatik May 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    I wish Vinny well in his future endeavors. His tenure was doomed from the start and he did a decent job with all that he had to go through.

    Now that this is over, Chicago CANNOT screw this coaching change up again. We know what this team is capable of even without a great coach and without a low post scorer/outside shooter. It’s time that the organization got something right and brought in a coach that can maximize the potential of the current players and also brought in other great players to get the team back to championship level.

    .500 in the regular season and 4-8 in post-season play is not great, but it can be a stepping stone to greatness with the right moves.

    joe May 4, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    Paxson’s signing of Wallace and selecting Tyrus were popular, well received decisions when they were made. Few teams have out performed Chicago’s front office.

    VDN was a caretaker coach. He, in today’s NBA, was a good coach.

    Boppinbob May 4, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    I have not heard a name mentioned yet that has head coaching experience that would be an upgrade from VDN. Most of the names I have heard are not currently coaching, there must be a reason for those gentlemen not being employed. Enough said.

    Chicago has two budding superstars. I would hope that the Bulls will go into FA looking to upgrade the skill levels of their weaker areas, frontline and SG. The Bulls do not need another superstar. They need to drastically improve their depth. The Bulls need another banger or two up front to complement Noah. The Bulls also need a big shooting guard that can hit 3’s to complement Rose and Hinrich. I am still of the opinion that the core of the Bulls is solid and should be kept together (Rose, Noah, Deng, Hinrich, Gibson and Johnson). The chemistry is there and now we need to add the complementary pieces. I would love to see Miller stay as a 3rd center or be added to the coaching staff as “big man” coach. The Bulls should draft Hinrich’s eventual replacement to be the “sixth man”. Sign two mid-level FA front line bangers to bolster Noah and Gibson. Bring back Warrick and Murray for depth. Bring back Acie Law as a development project and to compete for the “sixth man” role. I know that might not be the popular way to go, but I hope Gar and Pax have the courage to go that way.

    Enigmatik May 4, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    From this article (

    “The Bulls will be working from a shortlist of coaching candidates that includes Kevin McHale, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and Jeff Van Gundy.

    All four previously have been NBA head coaches – McHale in Minnesota, Frank in New Jersey, Cheeks with Portland and Philadelphia, Van Gundy in New York and Houston. Cheeks is a Chicago native, while Van Gundy reportedly turned down a chance to interview for the 76ers opening.

    Some others who might join the list are former Toronto boss Sam Mitchell and Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau.

    Among the coaches not expected to draw interest from the Bulls are Collins, Byron Scott and Avery Johnson. The Bulls would have interest in Celtics coach Doc Rivers, but he’s under contract for another year in Boston.

    The Bulls will be looking for someone who relates well to players, can utilize an up-tempo offense that favors the team’s best players, Derrick Rose and Noah, but also stay focused on defense.”

    If that’s the short list, they might do well by just rehiring Vinny.

    KEn May 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    A professional coach doesn’t have to be great at strategy and play-calling these days. The Bulls have plenty of assistants to design the offense and defense.

    The coach needs to be good at handling personalities; the media, the players, the front office. Think of Phil Jackson. If you needed someone to design a play to win a game, you wouldn’t pick him. But if you need to keep 12 guys playing together in semi-harmony over a 7 month season, he’s your guy.

    Vinny was good (verging to very good) at dealing with his players and the media. Unfortunately for him, he never seemed to handle the front office very well. It remains to be seen if any coach could handle the two-headed beast of GarPax (not to mention the occasional meddling of Reinsdorf).

    Evan May 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    I just heard Gar Forman’s live interview mentioning that they would have to “analyze” grabbing somebody like Phil Jackson who doesn’t have a contract next season with the Lakers. I hope he didn’t mean what he said, why the hell would you have to analyze THAT decision? The man brought 6 titles for the Bulls in the 1990s!!!

    Savage May 4, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    Paxson is the one that should be fired in my opinion. Just my 2 cents.

    Savage May 4, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Oh and Joe, no at the time these moves were done I thought they were terrible. To pay Wallace superstar money or to lose size & discipline by trading Aldridge for Tyrus were moves made by a GM that seemed to lack the ability to make good decisions for his organization. Maybe some did but I can tell you 100% that I thought both moves were FOOLISH when they were made.

    I know it is easy to for people to say that in retrospect but I honestly almost flipped out when both were made. I was just relieved when they picked Rose over Beasley I remember arguing with Bulls fans in favor of Rose and was so glad Paxson did not screw that up.

  10. bobbysimmons May 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    which coach is going to want to coach for the Bulls now after Garpax has revealed himself to be such a douche? The Bulls press conference just made me cringe. Garpax makes himself so easy to hate

    Brad S. May 4, 2010 at 7:03 pm #


    Agreed on the Aldridge/Tyrus trade. I was in the car celebrating that we got Aldridge, and then crashed to the floor when the trade was announced.

    However, on the Wallace thing, that WAS a good move at the time. Hind-sight being “20/20” it is easy to criticize because it didn’t work out well. But he was the best FA that year and reigning defensive player of the year (I think). I also seem to remember a report that the bulls needed to use the money or lose it. If memory serves me right, they could not just save the money for next year. Also, you break up a division rivals core??? Ten out of ten GM’s make that move. It didn’t work-out because of injuries and attitudes, but those are intangibles that GM’s cannot gameplan for. It would be similar to blaming Pax for taking Jay Williams over Amare Stoudemire in the 2002 draft. Simply no way to have known.

    …But your greater point is dually noted: Pax is not blameless in this. It is a shame that things deteriorated to the point that Vinny needs to be fired. I have also read that Pax is going to be moved to more of a consultant status, with Gar taking over even more of the day to day responsibilities. So I guess, in some way, you are getting your wish.

    Savage May 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Hey Brad,

    I respect your opinion, and he would have been a great addition at the time if we did not pay him max to near max money. Wallace in my opinion has never even come close to being considered a max type player. But I can definitely respectfully agree to disagree. I agree with your logic just not the price tag that went along with it if you know what I mean.

  13. Will May 4, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    Vinny did alright with what he could, Paxson is horrible, he made some bad trades and bad decisions no excuses and Rose did “blossom” under Vinny because year after year Rose is getting better and stepping his game up if he sat him down in the beginning of Rose’s rookie year it was for a reason and probably a good one watch what happens next year after the off season when Rose is done working out wether we get a full contract player or a better coach, we have the roster that we need right now with good chemistry remember we had two big rookies last year (Gibson and Johnson) after they work out this off season plus they understand the game better the bulls are going to be a better team no matter what just because of those two not to mention Noah’s big lift for the team and how he’s been stepping up

    Max May 4, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    I finally figured out who Gar Forman really is!! He Is Jerry Krause after getting his stomach stapled!! No wonder he makes stupid comments and has the Arrogance to think any decisions he makes will affect the outcome of games. Players win games not GM’s!!

    inkybreath May 5, 2010 at 12:08 am #

    I forgot about this … from Wikipedia … “Paxson’s major move of the season was the one he didn’t make, declining to include Luol Deng in a proposed trade to Memphis for Pau Gasol…” Yeowza … I can’t even wrap my head around how different the East and West would be …

    Listen, there are a lot of VDN apologists, but no one wants to let Paxson learn from his mistakes. The more recent moves have been markedly better, in my opinion. I mean, we can’t ignore the amazing deal he made with New York … Knicks fans cringe about that almost like we cringe about ’93-’94.

    I still have no idea what to expect, when it comes to a new coach or FA, so the limbo remains ..

    Saleem May 5, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    Some revisionist history is being displayed here. I’ll give my opinion on Paxson: Ben Wallace…was a good signing at the time. Please note that his defense of Shaq was key in eliminating the then Defending Champions HEAT from the playoffs. Also note that Ben Wallace’s contracted salary & Hinrich’s for that matter actually decreased in each season. Finally he was improbably dealt for two starters once it became apparent he couldn’t help the teams progress. These are incredibly successful moves from a GM perspective. Paxson should be applauded for them. The critical shortcomings of his tenure have been in the draft/scouting/development area. Rose and Noah were consensus picks at their respective spots (Gimmies). Tyrus Thomas/Sefalosha/James Johnson/and yes even Taj Gibson(reach) represent misses in this area. Finally Punching your Coach and not being able to keep it in house is a complete disaster. So I would say he is currently 1-2 which should lead to this being his season on the hotseat.

  17. Mahmoud May 5, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    Matt, just out of curiosity, can you find a list of all the coaches who have coached in the league and their win percentages? I’m really curious to see how many have percentages above or at .500. It doesn’t seem to be too many.

  18. Mike May 5, 2010 at 2:02 am #

    Inky breath, the Gasol trade and Bryant trades were never real. It was always pure media speculation. I sincerely doubt it was Deng straight up for Gasol. There’s no evidence of that trade ever existing besides a bunch of journalists saying so.

    Matt McHale May 5, 2010 at 3:15 am #

    Mahmoud — Go here for a full list of NBA coaches and their winning percentages:

    inkybreath May 5, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    Mike – I don’t think that the floated idea was Deng straight-up, just that he was a part of the deal, but you might be right … (except when you look at what he got traded for in the end …) thankfully, the present is more interesting than that past … hehe, at least it damn well better be.

    Boppinbob May 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Of all the names mentioned, unless the Bulls hire Phil Jackson, Doug Collins or Doc Rivers they will bring in someone with a worse record than VDN. It is not probable that the Bulls will get one of those three, so we as Bulls fans end up with a lesser quality coach based on performance (W/L record) as opposed to perception. Let us remember, results are what we are looking for. Oh well, here we go again…

    Savage May 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Saleem, I am sorry but no matter how you explain it the Wallace signing turned out to be a HUGE failure/mistake. So you can say at the time this or that but in the end it showed itself to be a mistake. I can’t see how anyone would think giving Wallace max like money was or is a good idea no matter what the circumstance. But, you definitely have the right to your opinion, I just am incapable of understanding the logic that would lead to signing Wallace to a max contract under any circumstance.

    Mitch May 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Re: Boppinbob

    “The Bulls do not need another superstar.”

    “I am still of the opinion that the core of the Bulls is solid and should be kept together (Rose, Noah, Deng, Hinrich, Gibson and Johnson).”

    Are those serious opinions? You think we can win a championship with this core of players? We can make the playoffs, maybe even land in the middle of Eastern seeding with this core, yeah. But to say that the Bulls do not NEED another superstar is totally wrong. They do need another superstar. Why wouldn’t you want to upgrade in SG from Kirk to Wade? Why wouldn’t you want to upgrade in F from Taj to Bosh? If your goal is to make the playoffs, then lose in first round, then yes I agree the Bulls do not need a superstar, Rose and Noah will be adequate for that. If your goal is to win an NBA Championship (which…well…if that’s not the goal then I wouldn’t classify you as a fan) then the Bulls absolutely need a superstar. How could you possibly be content typing the word “Johnson” in that lineup? Have you seen the guy play basketball? Hinrich, though streaky, is no Dwyane Wade or even a Joe Johnson. Lu and Taj are solid, just like you said. But think of the forwards we could have if we upgraded. That leaves Rose and Noah. Those two should be kept. Brad Miller? Come on. The guy isn’t getting any younger. The core needs to be flirted with. By that I mean: if we don’t add a superstar I will be very, very disappointed.

    A superstar upgrade. Is. Needed.

    Trm3 May 6, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Let’s not all pile on Paxson now. Yes, this whole situation with Vinny and now Vinny being let go is bad for our organization but don’t lose site of the fact of what Paxson had cleaned up here.

    While making some bad selections or bad trades or overvaluing Deng. Pax cleaned up a mess..remember Khalid El Amin? Eddie Robinson? Fred Hoidberg? Marcus Fizer? Ron Mercer?? U forgot about that huh?? Paxson is terrible! The Ben Wallace signing wasn’t bad (maybe the deal)..we did go 49-33, our best record to this date since the Jordan wasn’t until the year after when our players didn’t wanna listen Scott Skiles anymore (go figure on that?? I guess winning wasn’t all that) that Wallace was a bad signing..So before we go bashing Paxson and say he doesn’t know what he’s doing..think about what was here before he came.

    And Mitch..I have seen James Johnson play and I’m a little confused on why he gets props..everytime I’ve seen him he was a turnover waiting to happen..albeit by carry, travel or offensive foul..the guy didn’t impress me one bit 😉 lol

  25. Anonymous May 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Mitch, be prepared to be disappointed, Wade and Lebron are going nowhere. Bosh will go to either Miami, LAL, or someplace in Texas. I did not say that the Bulls did not need to add quality players. To win a championship the Bulls need to play great team defense and be able to go 10 deep in the rotation. Signing a max FA will not get us there. The Bulls need to upgrade the front court, Noah, Deng, Gibson and Johnson are a base to build on. In my mind only Noah is a lock as a starter. There will be any number of solid front court players available in FA who can provide both offense and contribute to team defense. There will also be any number of very solid shooting guards available in both FA and the draft. I do get it, since I don’t agree with you I can’t be a Bulls fan, you are wrong. I have been a Bulls fan since before MJ. I’ve seen dumb moves and I’ve seen great moves. Pax has been better than average. No one bats 1.000. Wallace was a mistake, but at the time it looked right. I do not miss Gordon or T. Thomas. I do wonder about Salmons. I think the current core of the Bulls should be kept together and added to va FA and the draft. They may not all continue to be starters, but all will contribute to getting to the goal. Getting an all-star (or pro bowler) does not equate to a championship, ask the Bears. The Bulls need to get 10 to 12 players getting regular time in the rotation if they expect to win/contend for a championship. Going 8 deep is not going to do it.

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