Tom Thibodeau and Paul Molitor have little in common.
Thibodeau loved to berate anyone within earshot while coaching the Timberwolves, while Molitor was about as laid-back as one could get during his time managing the Twins. But as of Sunday evening the two share one thing in common that won’t be a source of pride for either.
Both have been fired recently by a Minnesota team.
Molitor got his walking papers last October, days after the Twins finished a disappointing 78-84 season. On Sunday, Thibodeau was informed he was out as the Wolves’ president of basketball operations and head coach, following a 108-86 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Target Center that put his team at 19-21.
Thibodeau’s dismissal became the latest reminder that these are tough times if you’re in charge of one of the four men’s professional sports teams in this town. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and Wild coach Bruce Boudreau can’t feel a sense of security these days and must be wondering if they will be next to go.
It has been reported that Zimmer has one season left on his contract. While he appears to be in no immediate jeopardy of losing his job, failing to make the playoffs in 2019 probably means he’ll be looking for employment elsewhere. The same goes for Zimmer’s boss, general manager Rick Spielman, who also reportedly is entering the final season of his contract.
A year ago, Zimmer and Spielman had nothing to worry about. The Vikings had gone 13-3 and were in the midst of making a run to the NFC title game. But the season ended with a thud — an embarrassing 38-7 loss in Philadelphia — and the Vikings finished this year by going 8-7-1 and missing the playoffs in their final game by losing at home to the Chicago Bears.
Taking a step backward was bad enough in the eyes of owner Zygi Wilf, but it was made worse by the fact the Vikings did it with free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins in the first year of a three-year, $84 million contract that is guaranteed. Giving Cousins a fully guaranteed deal, something that is unusual in the NFL, was a gamble the Vikings hoped would pay off with a trip to the Super Bowl this season.
Cousins, though, disappointed with his play in crucial games and if that doesn’t change next season it seems likely that Spielman will be told his inability to find a quarterback has cost him his job. Considering Spielman hired Zimmer, it’s logical that both would be gone.
Still, those two might feel more security than Boudreau does behind the Wild bench. If there’s a coach in this town who doesn’t deserve to be fired, it’s the veteran coach who previously has had stints in Washington and Anaheim.
Boudreau has been known for not winning in the playoffs but he also has had great success getting to the postseason. That includes leading the Wild to back-to-back 100 point seasons — only the third and fourth times that has happened in franchise history — and consecutive playoff berths. Both of those have ended with first-round exits, but to put all the blame on Boudreau would be a mistake.
Right now, the Wild sits two points out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference but has consecutive road victories over Toronto and Ottawa. Boudreau is a master at juggling lines and often getting the most out of this mercurial unit.
The issue is that Boudreau isn’t working for the guy who hired him. Chuck Fletcher has surfaced as the general manager in Philadelphia after being fired following last season. Boudreau’s current boss is former Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton, who very well might have his own ideas about what type of coach he eventually wants.
It couldn’t have been considered a great sign this offseason when Fenton did not retain Boudreau’s good friend John Anderson as an assistant coach, and hired Dean Evanson, who had been the coach for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. The Milwaukee club served as Nashville’s minor league team and Fenton was in charge of it, so he’s very familiar with Fenton.
The trend for the Minnesota teams making moves thus far has been to go young. The Twins hired former big-leaguer Rocco Baldelli, 37, as their manager, and the Wolves tabbed 32-year-old Ryan Saunders as their interim coach. Molitor is 62 years old and Thibodeau is 60.
Boudreau is 63, Zimmer is 62 and Spielman is 56. That trio is likely at a point in their lives where they would prefer not to have to start over with new teams, but given what’s going on in this town of late they might not have any choice in the matter.