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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 operator--or a pawn

Aug. 03, 1998
Aug. 03, 1998

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Aug. 3, 1998

Baseball

Who Is Tim Floyd? Depending on your view, Phil Jackson's successor is a coaching find, an absent-minded professor, a smooth operator--or 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.

This is an article from the Aug. 3, 1998 issue

It must have been maddening for someone whose body had served
him as well as Lee Floyd's had. He was a strapping man, 6'3",
205 pounds, a former boxer, football player, gymnast and
swimmer, and before going into the Navy during World War II he
played with the Phillips 66ers, a top AAU team. It was while
stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station that Lee broke his back
in a trampoline accident, an injury that led to the
osteoarthritis. Yet Tim never heard his father utter a single
word of complaint about his condition, even toward the end, when
the arthritis left him bent at the waist and so severely limited
his motion that he could barely walk. Tim was a sophomore at
Southern Miss, when Lee, now retired, took a bad fall that left
him paralyzed from the waist up. After eight weeks in a
hospital, Lee died of heart failure at 52. "That's why Tim feels
he shouldn't complain about things," says his wife, Beverly.
"Not when you've seen a man go through that much pain for so
long without saying anything."

As the new coach of the Chicago Bulls--and 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
now--Floyd 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.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CRAIG HACKER/SPURLOCK PHOTOGRAPHY LOCKED IN On the sidelines and in practices, the obsessive Floyd has preached defense and discipline with attention to detail. [Tim Floyd]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG [Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG MAKING THE LOOP Already learning to be a Chi-town pol, a relaxed Floyd (with Beverly, right, and Shannon) pressed the flesh. [Tim Floyd, Shannon Floyd and Beverly Floyd greeting people on street]

Transition Game

A note of caution to Jerry Krause (above, left) 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.

COACH COLLEGE TEAMS NBA RECORD
(TOTAL SEASONS)

John Calipari* UMass Nets (2) 69-95
COMMENT Has pointed rudderless franchise in right direction

P.J. Carlesimo* Seton Hall Trail Blazers, 156-172
Warriors (4)
[COMMENT] Combustible style has contributed to player eruptions

Bill Fitch Minnesota Cavaliers, Celtics, 944-1,106
Rockets, Nets, Clippers (25)
[COMMENT] Survived 15-67 debut with Cleveland, won title with
Boston

Cotton Fitzsimmons Kansas State Suns twice, Hawks, 832-775
Braves, Kings, Spurs (21)
[COMMENT] A winner (48-34) in his first pro season

John MacLeod Oklahoma Suns, Mavericks, 707-657
Knicks (18)
[COMMENT] Took Phoenix to Finals; now back in school (Notre Dame)

Dick Motta Weber State Bulls, Bullets, Kings, 935-1,017
Mavericks twice, Nuggets (25)
[COMMENT] Warhorse won championship with Washington

Scotty Robertson Louisiana Tech Jazz, Bulls, 109-178
Pistons (5)
[COMMENT] Was 1-14 as first coach of Jazz; recently a scout with
Heat

Roy Rubin LIU 76ers (1) 4-47
[COMMENT] Lucky to be fired from worst team ever (9-73)

Jerry Tarkanian UNLV Spurs (1) 9-11
[COMMENT] Career seemingly died at Alamo but was resurrected in
Fresno

Dick Vitale Detroit Pistons (2) 34-60
[COMMENT] After being pink-slipped by Pistons, was never heard
from again

* Current NBA head coach

"I'm not ashamed to say I like Jerry Krause," says Floyd. "I
hope I'm as much his boy as Phil Jackson."