Longtime Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin has been a name to watch on the head coaching market for several years, and ESPN’s Marc Stein recently indicated that Griffin is a likely candidate for the Bulls’ head coaching job, among other positions:
But don't discount Adrian Griffin as contender to succeed Thibs if Bulls' widely expected efforts to import Hoiberg from college ranks fail
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 15, 2015
Griffin, who played nine seasons in the NBA along with stints in the CBA and Italy, was known as a heady player and a coach’s favorite during his playing days.
Scott Skiles coached Griffin in Chicago and Milwaukee and felt Griffin’s leadership played a vital role to his teams. Skiles said this in an interview with Inside Hoops about the 2005 Bulls:
“We had two really veteran leadership guys that really held us together last year in AD [Antonio Davis] and Griff [Adrian Griffin]. And their absence is, I don’t know if dramatic is the right word, but the difference in the dynamic in our team has been palpable. Those are two guys that just sort of quietly, for whatever reason, even if they weren’t in the game at those moments, somehow those things we didn’t do.”
Skiles thought so highly of Griffin’s skills that he brought Griffin on as an assistant in Milwaukee shortly after Griffin was released as a player there. Griffin stayed on with Skiles as an assistant for two years.
Tom Thibodeau must have seen the same sort of intangibles in Griffin that Skiles saw as well. When Thibodeau was given the Bulls’ head coaching job in 2010, he called Griffin to invite him on to his staff. Griffin had impressed Thibodeau in his playing days in Houston where Thibodeau was an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy. Griffin has been with the Bulls ever since.
Thibodeau has definitely been pleased with his decision to bring Griffin on the staff. He promoted Griffin to lead assistant in 2013 and has spoken highly of Griffin as a potential head coach. In a recent interview with the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney, Thibodeau stated this:
“I am hopeful that he’ll get more consideration, head-coaching opportunities. He has done a terrific job, he is strong in all areas, he is a great communicator, leader, and a great teacher. I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful for him, I think he’s deserving.”
Griffin has already generated quite a bit of buzz as a hot coaching candidate in the past few years. He interviewed for head coaching positions with Portland in 2012, Philadelphia and Detroit in 2013, and was a finalist for the Cleveland job last year.
In an article last year by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz asking league execs, coaches and insiders for hot new head coaching candidates, Griffin’s name was mentioned frequently. One general manager noted, “You combine that kind of professionalism with that kind of mentorship and you’re going to have a good chance to succeed.” Arnovitz also wrote that a league insider referred to Griffin as “a player-friendly Tom Thibodeau.”
Count Jimmy Butler as a fan of Griffin, too. Butler took time to thank him after winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, saying “I think [Griffin] has a lot to do with who I am.”
Griffin does have little bits of head coaching experience here and there. The Bulls let Griffin lead their Summer League team last year, where Griffin mentored Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Cameron Bairstow.
One possible red flag on Griffin is a question of how much he wants to be a head coach. He once left coaching altogether for a few months in 2011, citing the strains that the profession puts on family life and his children. From an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Griffin reflected on his decision to take a break from coaching:
“I had to ask myself: If I do become a head coach, is it worth losing my family or not being there for them? Knowing the impact my father had on my life, it was an easy decision.”
However, it looks like Griffin may have changed his attitude recently. From Deveney’s Sporting News interview, Griffin said on being a head coach, “It’s definitely my goal.”
In that same interview, Griffin noted how he believes his playing experience has helped him in terms of coaching:
“My journey has taken me through every facet of the game. I have been on the outside looking in, working my way up, I have been overseas, I was a starter in the league, I was buried on the bench, I have been cut—everything imaginable in the league, I have been through it.
“It helps me relate to players. I can tell them how to handle different situations. The NBA is a grind, the 82 games, the travel, the pressure, the expectations, so I call on my experience and past knowledge to build a bond with the players.”
At 40 years old, Griffin is still young by head coaching standards. However, his unique experience and disposition make him an attractive coaching candidate. He may still need a few more years of experience under his belt, but don’t be surprised if you see Adrian Griffin sitting in a head coach’s chair some day in the near future.