DEERFIELD, Ill. --- Tom Thibodeau waited about two decades to become an NBA head coach. It didn't take him long to be recognized as one of the best once he got the chance.
Thibodeau is the NBA's Coach of the Year after leading the Chicago Bulls to 62 wins in his first season to tie a league record set by Paul Westphal.
Thibodeau's selection was no surprise given the way the Bulls dominated during the regular season. After a tough five-game series against Indiana in the opening round of the playoffs, they'll open the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta tonight.
"After being here for a year, I realize how fortunate I am to be here," Thibodeau said. "It's a great city, great fans, great organization, great players, and if it meant waiting 20 years to get this job, it was well worth the wait."
Center Joakim Noah said Thibodeau was "very well deserving" of the award and called him "one of the hardest workers I've ever been around.
"He stays in late," Noah said. "He's the first one here. He was there for me all summer working me out. I felt like I really improved as a player because of him."
An NBA assistant for about two decades, Thibodeau finally got his chance to lead a team after spending three seasons working for Doc Rivers in Boston. He is the fourth Chicago coach to win the award, joining Johnny Kerr (1967), Dick Motta (1971) and Phil Jackson (1996).
"I think I was very fortunate to have great jobs along the way, to be with great teams," he said.
Thibodeau replaced the fired Vinny Del Negro in June. With a rebuilt roster to go with an emphasis on defense and rebounding, the Bulls breezed to a 62-20 mark that matched their best record since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen completed their second championship three-peat at the end of the 1997-98 season.
The Bulls captured home-court advantage through the playoffs even though prized acquisition Carlos Boozer and Noah missed significant time with injuries.
Thibodeau was known as a defensive mastermind who helped Boston win a title in 2008 and get back to the finals last season. He also has a reputation as a workaholic.
"Every time I walk in, I look up there to see if his light is on, and if he's in the office, I'd get on the court and pretend like I'm working hard," forward Luol Deng said. "I'm kidding. But every time I'd come in, his light is on."
"I don't know if he gets here at 5 or 6," Deng said. "He's here early and he's the last one to leave."