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Who Is Tim Floyd?
Depending on your view, Phil Jackson's successor is a coaching find, an absent-minded professor, a smooth operatoror a pawn
by Phil Taylor with Special Reporting by Seth Davis
Lee Floyd lived with constant pain. Osteoarthritis, it was called, but all young Tim Floyd knew was that his father, the basketball coach at Southern Mississippi, popped a lot of aspirin and that when Lee wanted to talk to a player sitting next to him on the bench, he had to turn his entire body because it hurt too much to turn his head.
As the new coach of the Chicago Bullsand make no mistake, though he was introduced last week as the team's director of basketball operations, Tim Floyd is the coach of the Bulls nowFloyd may be remembered as the man whose arrival helped seal Michael Jordan's decision not to return to the team. Floyd's every move will be dissected by a Chicago public that isn't quite sure whether to view him as a coach or a co-conspirator in the departure of Phil Jackson, the Bulls' revered coach. The widespread belief is that Floyd's hiring, at the behest of Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, an acquaintance for nine years, has been a fait accompli for months.
Regardless of whether the 44-year-old Floyd helped orchestrate what is becoming the probable breakup of the Bulls or whether he is merely a pawn in the game being played by Krause and owner Jerry Reinsdorf, there is no question that he is now in a uniquely difficult position. It has been distressing at times, being portrayed as little more than Krause's fishing buddy by some or a behind-the-scenes schemer by others, but you get the feeling that a little pain, or even a lot, isn't going to send Lee Floyd's boy running for cover.
Lately Tim's life has been chopped into bite-sized pieces for public consumption: son of a coach; undistinguished playing career at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech; in '76 sends letters to Don Haskins at UTEP, Bob Knight at Indiana and Ralph Miller at Oregon State, looking for a coaching job; Haskins, the only one to write back, hires him; after nine years under Haskins, lands head job at Idaho, then moves on to coach New Orleans and Iowa State; combined college record of 243-130, with six NCAA tournament appearances in 12 seasons; takes moderately talented teams at all three stops and wins big by teaching man-to-man pressure defense and transferring his white-hot intensity to his players.
The file makes him sound driven, single-minded, ambitious, and he is all of those things, but not only those things. In the unlikely event that Jordan, who has said he will retire rather than play for any coach other than Jackson, ever gets to know Floyd well, he will probably like him. Most everyone does. He has a way, a good recruiter's way, of endearing himself to people. His first day on the job at New Orleans, he arrived with a vase full of flowers for his new secretary. He is godfather to the daughter of one of his former New Orleans players, Willie Richardson.
Born in El Paso and raised in Hattiesburg, Miss., Floyd is part good ol' boy, part Southern gentleman and completely unpretentious. When he was hired at Iowa State before the 1994-95 season, his contract included the use of a car, and Floyd asked for a pickup truck. School administrators didn't think that would project the right image, so they arranged for him to have a Lincoln Town Car. "He hated it," says his longtime friend, Chicago businessman Dave Mann.
Floyd is tactful, which should serve him well in Chicago. When he was recruiting for UTEP in the '70s, he took Haskins to the Windy City to show him a high school player named Jerry Jones. Floyd tried to prepare his gruff, old-school boss for the fact that Jones had his name tattooed on his arm. "Well, let's just turn around and go back to the airport," Haskins said. "We don't need a guy like that on our team."
"It's barely recognizable, Coach," Floyd said. "We're here. We might as well go in. Maybe we'll see someone else we like." That night Jones blocked shots at one end of the court and dunked at the other, and Haskins fell silent. Later, he and Floyd headed back to the airport. "So, what did you think of that tattoo on Jerry's arm?" Floyd asked.
"Hell," said Haskins. "I never even noticed it."
When he had received Floyd's letter in search of work, Haskins could barely read the handwriting. "I was about to throw it in the trash," he says, "when my eye fell on the third line: 'You might know my dad, Lee Floyd.'" The elder Floyd had played for UTEP in the 1940s, when the school was known as Texas Western, and then went to the first of two coaching stints at Southern Miss. In 1954 he dropped out of coaching to run a chain of gas stations in El Paso until '61. That year, when Haskins took over the Miners, Lee often stopped by to watch Haskins's team practice. The two men became friends. Lee always urged his son not to go into coaching, but his relationship with Haskins ultimately helped Tim get the break that would begin his career.
It was a career for which Floyd had already spent years preparing. In addition to watching his father work the sideline, Floyd, starting at 16, worked summers for the New Orleans Saints, who at the time held training camp at Southern Miss. When he wasn't doing laundry or handling the check-in list at meals, Floyd was picking the brains of the Saints' coaches, first J.D. Roberts and later Hank Stram. "I knew I was going into basketball, but I just felt that a lot of the principles of coaching are the same regardless of the sport," he says. The relentlessly organized Floyd wrote down everything he learned in daily journals, which he still has.
The entries make him sound obsessive, he knows, but Floyd believes in organization, attention to detail, and so he has always kept logs of things. Lots of things. When he was a high school senior, he was 5'4" and 104 pounds, so small he was called Tiny Tim. He began to keep a notebook to track his growth, or lack of it. He entered how much he weighed at the beginning of a day, what he ate that day and how much he weighed at the end of the day. He still has those notebooks, too.
The flip side of the detail-oriented Floyd is the absent-minded Floyd, the kind of guy who might spend all night devising a brilliant game plan to beat Kansas but will forget his dress pants on game day. When he received his first paycheck at Iowa State, he lost it before he got home; assistant coach Gar Forman found it blowing across a field outside the basketball arena and returned it to him. Before that, when he was coaching at Idaho, he was waiting for the team manager to pick him up one day, his mind a million miles away, and he climbed into the backseat of the first car that drove up. The driver looked at him and said, "Who the hell are you?" Then, "Wait a minute, are you Tim Floyd?"
"No," Floyd said, and got out of the car. His explanation for all this? "I just get locked in."
Nowhere is he more locked in than on the sideline. Floyd runs no-nonsense practices, at which he has been known to have his players work on where and how to stand for the national anthem, how to go through player introductions, even how to execute substitutions. "His practices are extremely intense," says Richardson, who played for him from 1988 through '90. "If you dog it, he's right in your face. He stresses defense like no other coach I've seen. He brings the best out of you. You see him working hard and sleeping in his office, and you want to work hard for him."
That's part of what impressed Krause when he got to know Floyd. In 1989 Krause was scouting two Louisiana Tech players, P.J. Brown and Randy White, when he saw Floyd's undermanned New Orleans team beat the Bulldogs twice. After the second game Krause went up to Floyd and told him, "You're going to coach in the NBA someday." There weren't many NBA front-office people giving young coaches at mid-major schools the time of day back then, so Floyd has never forgotten Krause's words of encouragement. That may explain why he doesn't apologize for his friendship with the Bulls' much-maligned G.M. "I'm not ashamed to say I like Jerry Krause," says Floyd, who became one of Krause's regular basketball contacts. (In truth the two men have fished together only three times.) "If I'm his boy, I hope I'm every bit as much his boy as Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright, Toni Kukoc. They were all his boys, and I hope I have that kind of success."
Says Haskins, "Tim would rather face a firing squad than be disloyal. He's a lot like his father that way."
Last Saturday evening Floyd was strolling through downtown Chicago with Beverly and their daughter, Shannon, 17. A man selling sunglasses approached him from behind and, recognizing him, yelled his name. "Tim Floyd, you're a smooth guy, you really are," declared the man, who said his name was Dennis. "Look at these glasses. Michael Jordan endorses these. Ten dollars." Floyd bought the glasses, and the man rambled on until Floyd, laughing, finally said, "Take care, Dennis."
"Just right there, you won me over because you remembered my name," Dennis said. "Good luck, my man."
The rest of the night went just as well. Floyd was stopped and asked to pose for pictures and sign autographs, which he did. It was the most relaxed Floyd had been since the preposterous press conference at the United Center two days earlier, when Reinsdorf and Krause had announced that he would work in the front office and become coach only if they couldn't persuade Jackson to rescind his resignation and return to run the team. The two Jerrys knew as well as anyone that Jackson, who quit in June after the Bulls won their sixth title in eight years, wouldn't change his mind. Jackson, in fact, reconfirmed his resignation the next day, and the public-relations ploy only served to cheapen Floyd's official introduction to Chicago.
The day after the press conference, Floyd began his Bulls career in Jackson's old office. Just outside, in the hallway, hung a picture of one of Chicago's championship celebrations, with Jackson being doused by champagne. On Floyd's desk was a spiral-bound book entitled The Triple-Post Offense by Bulls assistant Tex Winter, bearing the author's autograph. It was a gift from Winter, whom Floyd had met with that day and asked to remain on staff; he made the same offer to two other assistants, Cartwright and Frank Hamblen. Floyd also told Winter he'd like to retain his style of attack, Chicago's trademark in the Jackson era. At one point a visitor who needed to make a call asked if he had to dial 9 on Floyd's new phone to get an outside line. "I have no idea," Floyd said.
Is this what a man works his whole life for, to sit in another man's space, with the world's greatest basketball player avoiding him like poison ivy? Maybe you think that the chance to be the coach of the Bulls isn't worth everything Floyd has had to go through to get that opportunity. But maybe you have never loved anything as much as he loves coaching, and maybe you have never wanted anything as badly as he wants to coach at the highest level.
Several months ago, Floyd asked a question of a friend, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Dave LaGarde: Would you be willing to take a punch from Mike Tyson for $10 million? LaGarde said he would, which illustrated Floyd's point. Some rewards are so great that they are worth almost any amount of suffering. Besides, Lee Floyd's son knows what suffering is, and he knows that sitting on the hot seat in Chicago doesn't qualify.
A note of caution to Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf concerning coach-in-waiting Tim Floyd: Success has been mixed for coaches who have made the jump from the college ranks to the NBA with no pro experience as a player, coach or front-office man. Here's how 10 who took the plunge have fared.
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