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Who is Joe Mazzulla? Meet the interim head coach of the Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics will have an interim head coach on the touchline this upcoming NBA season, and everyone outside of the Northeast may be wondering:

Who is actually Joe Mazzulla?

After Celtics coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the entire 2022–23 season for being in a close relationship with an associate of the franchise, Mazzulla was named interim head coach of the defending Eastern Conference champions by assistant.

The move continues a meteoric rise for Mazzulla in basketball coaching circles. In three years, he has risen from coaching in Division II to leading a team that, according to Caesars Sportsbook, is expected to have the most wins in the NBA this season.

Mazzulla, 34, is the youngest head coach to take charge of a team that reached the NBA Finals last season since Lawrence Frank in 2003-04, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research. (That year, Frank took over midseason when the New Jersey Nets — who had reached the Finals the previous two seasons — fired head coach Byron Scott.)

He is also the youngest player since the late Celtics legend Bill Russell, who became player-manager for the franchise in 1966-67 at the age of 32.

Mazzulla and Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy — who was Udoka’s senior assistant last season before being hired by former Celtics basketball operations president Danny Ainge over the summer to replace Quin Snyder — is now the youngest head coach in the NBA.

However, the two couldn’t go into the season with different expectations. Shortly after hiring Hardy, Ainge traded in Rudy Gobert and then Donovan Mitchell, sending the Jazz on a complete makeover in the episode.

Mazzulla, meanwhile, takes on a championship contender who has had a magical run to the finals with just two years as head coach (at a small college) under his belt.

Here’s a look at the young manager’s experience so far and the tasks ahead of him this season:


Mazzulla’s path to the NBA

Mazzulla made his name playing 145 games for West Virginia from 2006 to 2011, first for John Beilein and then for Bob Huggins.

He was arrested twice in West Virginia. Once, in 2008, for underage drinking and aggravated assault, a case to which he pleaded guilty and paid a fine, and then, in 2009, for domestic battery after an incident at a bar, a case that was settled out of court.

After college, Mazzulla spent five years as an assistant coach in the Division II ranks — 2011-2013 at Glenville State and 2013-2016 at Fairmont State, about 20 miles southwest of Morgantown, West Virginia.

The Celtics have been high on Mazzulla – who hails from Warwick, Rhode Island – for a while. They first brought him into NBA orbit in 2016 when they hired him as an assistant for the G League’s Maine Red Claws. Two years later, then-Celtics head coach Brad Stevens hired Mazzulla.

After his one season in the G League, Mazzulla returned to Fairmont State as head coach in 2017, scoring 43-17 in two seasons before joining the Celtics in 2019.

When Udoka came on board in June 2021, Mazzulla remained on the Celtics staff.

“He was a consensus guy, yeah,” Udoka said the day before Game 6 of the NBA Finals in June. “Someone, who [the players] everyone worked closely with him, believed in him and understood his benefits.”

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Mazzulla was a finalist for the job as jazz head coach this summer — a position that ultimately went to Hardy, Udoka’s top assistant last season. (The Jazz wanted Mazzulla Hardy to join as an assistant, but the Celtics kept him in Boston.)

“I love Joe,” Jayson Tatum said of Mazzulla ahead of Game 6 of the finals. “You could tell how passionate [he is] about the guys and his craft. He’s gotten so much more knowledgeable, more detailed, just louder. More comfortable in his role as coach. You’ve seen growth since his freshman year.”


What’s next for Mazzulla and the Celtics?

It’s impossible to know how Mazzulla will approach the job. But while people will immediately ponder what Udoka’s suspension will mean from a game’s perspective, it was behind the scenes and in the dressing room where his absence was felt most.

From the moment Udoka arrived in Boston last summer, he made a point of challenging the team’s best players, All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, to improve. Udoka has pushed the duo to become better playmakers and creators for others, and he wasn’t afraid to say publicly what he thought of the team’s game.

“It’s a lack of mental toughness to push through these tough times,” Udoka said after Boston lost a 25-point lead over the New York Knicks in January. “A calming presence to slow it down and give us what we want is really what you need at this point. And sometimes we all get trapped in it.”

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Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck and basketball operations president Brad Stevens discuss the decision to suspend Ime Udoka for the upcoming NBA season.

At times during the Celtics’ slow start, Udoka’s criticism was seen as a disadvantage. But Boston turned its season around dramatically in the second half of 2021-22, finishing the season 51-31, the all-time best record for a team that was under .500 at halftime. They became the first under-.500 team to reach the Finals midway through the season since the Houston Rockets in 1981, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The combination of Udoka’s suspension and Hardy’s departure has left a void of experience on the Boston bench. Stevens spent several very successful years in this position, but he has his hands full leading the team’s front office. Perhaps Boston will look to add a veteran assistant coach to provide insight as well.

But regardless of what the Celtics decide to do, just a few weeks ago Boston was seen as the offseason winner by a host of NBA coaches, scouts and executives.

Now the Celtics are starting over on the eve of training camp. Not only are they devastated by the sudden loss of Udoka, but they also saw their top free-agent signing Danilo Gallinari tear a cruciate ligament during a FIBA ​​World Cup qualifier for Italy last month. Meanwhile, starting center Robert Williams III had surgery this week on the same knee that was ailing him during the 2022 playoffs.

As a result, a team that just weeks ago was considered one of the clear favorites to reach the NBA Finals has been thrown into absolute chaos just days before off-season training camp begins.

https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34646672/who-joe-mazzulla-meet-interim-head-coach-boston-celtics Who is Joe Mazzulla? Meet the interim head coach of the Boston Celtics

Emma Bowman

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