Joe Mazzulla rode a proverbial roller-coaster into the office of the Celtics’ interim head coach.
Untimely allegations about impropriety on the part of coach Ime Udoka quickly positioned the former assistant to take over for the 2022-23 season. Team president Brad Stevens named Mazzulla the team’s interim coach when Udoka was suspended for the full upcoming season, and despite no head coaching experience at the pro level (or even at the Division I college level, for that matter), Stevens expressed real confidence that Mazzulla was the man for the job.
“I think he had a concussion that day,” Mazzulla joked at his first press conference at the helm on Monday.
Mazzulla has a difficult task ahead of him as the Celtics look to build on their breakout season in 2021-22. Boston fell two games short of becoming NBA champions, and with two of the brightest young stars in the league, fans and pundits in the sports-crazed city expect the team to replicate and improve on that run.
“The most important thing for me is making sure the players and myself are on the same page, making sure that we’re focused on the expectations that we have for this season from a basketball standpoint, and how we move forward building trust and building relationships,” Mazzulla said. “I think that’s key.”
Luckily for them, the interim coach has spent the last few years engrained in the Celtics’ culture. He joined the franchise as an assistant coach in 2019 after a short stint as Fairmont State’s head coach, and since then, he has built relationships and attained an understanding of how the Celtics want to win.
According to NBA insider Chris Mannix, Mazzulla has built himself a respected reputation in the coaching ranks.
His journey to the head coach’s office is an unconventional one, but he said that experience with the team made it much easier for him to prepare for the upcoming campaign.
“I’m in a fortunate situation because I’ve been here for three years and we’ve had the offseason to prepare for what we wanted to do heading into the season,” he said. “There’s not much to change at all, it’s just about learning from last season and how do we get better.”
His first true opportunity to compete comes on Oct. 18 when his team opens at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. Regardless of his facetious humility, he feels just as confident as Stevens that he can get the job done as Boston’s interim coach.
“Regardless of what has happened, we have a great roster and we have a great opportunity,” Mazzulla said. “I think that’s what I have to focus on and get this team where it needs to go.”