I was happy to see Joe Mazzulla given the chance to coach the Boston Celtics.
In case you missed it, the former WVU Mountaineer point guard, Fairmont State University coach and Celtics assistant was moved up to interim head coach in the wake of Ime Udoka’s one-year suspension.
And, yes, I’m happy for Mazzulla because he’s a former Mountaineer.
Yes, I’m happier because he’s a friend of mine.
But I’m even happier because a man with the talent to do the job has actually landed a golden opportunity.
That doesn’t always happen, as anyone on this earth for long will tell you. Many talented, qualified people are never given the chance to flourish.
But Mazzulla has earned the respect and trust of team owners as well as president of basketball operations Brad Stevens. Mazzulla did so and was in the right place at the right time.
All those components don’t come together often.
They did, however, for Joe. And I’m thrilled for him.
Of course, it’s a big job. Boston, after all, played Golden State in the last NBA Finals. Expectations for this Celtics team are through the TD Garden roof.
And with that comes scrutiny. Mazzulla’s last head coaching gig was in Fairmont, the Pepperoni Roll Capital of the World. Is that enough?
The headline on a column by Boston Globe’s Tara Sullivan was, “We still don’t know if Joe Mazzulla is the right person to lead these Celtics.”
The doubts aren’t only because of Mazzulla’s inexperience. The media dug to find that in college he was cited for several incidents, including an arrest after he allegedly grabbed a woman during an argument in a bar in 2009. In 2010, Mazzulla and one of his teammates at WVU were cited for public urination. There was an underage drinking charge.
But I knew the Mazzulla then. And this Mazzulla, the one now 34, is completely different.
It happens. People can and many times do change for the better. It’s called maturity.
But it’s more important that those within the Celtics organization get it. In his comments last Friday, Stevens praised Mazzulla extensively. (“[Stevens] had a concussion that day,” Mazzulla quipped in his press conference.)
Stevens said Mazzulla, who has had no issues in the last 13 years, used those moments to shape himself in a positive way.
And the payoff? Not only is the interim job the payoff, but there’s the trust, the respect earned around Mazzulla.
Sullivan spoke to Boston’s players. Here are a few quotes she culled:
“I’m optimistic,” said Jaylen Brown. “I believe in Joe.”
“I feel great about it,” said Marcus Smart. “It’s just another guy who understands us as players, as individuals, who’s been here through our bad times and good times. We’re excited, we’re proud that it’s Joe.”
“Someone we’re familiar with and have a lot of respect for,” said Jayson Tatum.
“He’s somebody that we all respect and we’re going to be rallying behind him and we’re going to really put in the time and the work to get this done,” said Al Horford.
And this from Grant Williams:
“I don’t think anyone in this organization does not respect Joe. He’s had that presence since he’s been a coach here.”
Oh, and if you don’t like taking the word of someone else, judge Mazzulla for yourself. Boston.com’s Tom Westerholm quoted Joe from his first press conference as interim head coach.
You ready, Joe?
“You’re never really ready,” Mazzulla said. “I’ve been a head coach before and what I learned from Year 1 to Year 2 from that standpoint was, I wasn’t ready.
“It’s not because I didn’t work at it. It’s not because I didn’t prepare, [but] because there are certain things you have to learn on the job.”
Mazzulla was asked how women on the team’s staff were affected by the situation. Udoka was suspended following an improper relationship with another member of the organization.
“You can’t rush trust. You can’t rush healing. You can’t rush any of that,” Mazzulla said. “And so just being present for whoever needs us to be present for them, I think, is the key. And being a listener and how can we provide support for everyone are things I’m focused on, on how to help.”
Also, he addressed the issues during his college days.
“I’m not the same person that I was,” Mazzulla said. “I think as you grow as a person; you’re constantly having to build an identity, and I didn’t have an identity at a certain point in my life, for whatever reason. I think it’s, ‘How can I develop an identity? How can I find a foundation, which for me is my faith and then how can I impact people positively around me?’
“That’s something I really learned throughout my life.”
“He’s been very open with me about how those moments have impacted him in every which way and you can see that in the way he carries himself,” Stevens said. “You could see that for a long time. We’ve had years to get to know him. He’s been working with us for three years.”
I’ve known Joe for 14 years. And I too know. Mazzulla has turned into a terrific guy with a steel trap mind and sky-high basketball IQ. Talk to him for an hour and report back.
“I believe in Joe’s leadership,” Stevens said.
Count me in as well.
It’s a tough job with high expectations. But I’ll be rooting like hell for the guy.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.