Reported Ime Udoka Replacement’s Worrisome Past Could Alter Celtics Decision

Ime Udoka (center) and his coaching staff

Getty Ime Udoka (center) and his coaching staff

It all happened when Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla was a long way from the NBA, still very young. He was in college at West Virginia, where he had gone to play as a point guard first for John Beilein, then for coach Bob Huggins. Mazzulla struggled with some alcohol-related incidents, the most serious of which was a 2009 arrest which saw Mazzulla charged with, according to the Times West Virginian newspaper, “charged with domestic battery after an incident at de Lazy Lizard nightclub in Morgantown. Mazzulla allegedly grabbed a woman by the neck at the bar.”

That incident resulted in a suspension from Huggins and the Mountaineers.

The previous year, Mazzulla had been arrested at a Pittsburgh Pirates game and subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of public intoxication. And in 2010, he was cited for public urination in Morgantown.

Mazzulla has built a long reputation as a coach since his days as a pesky presence on the floor for teams facing the Mountaineers and as an even more troubling presence off the floor for the university’s athletic department. He was an assistant coach at Fairmont State in West Virginia before taking a job as an assistant with the Maine Red Claws in 2016.

A year later, at the age of 29, Mazzulla took the head coaching job at Fairmont State, a Division II school, and led the team to a 43-17 mark in two seasons. Brad Stevens brought Mazzulla in as an assistant in 2019.

Mazzulla Could Take Over for Udoka

Now, of course, Mazzulla has been thrust into the spotlight because ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he is likely to take over as the interim head coach because of the impending suspension faced by Celtics coach Ime Udoka. The exact punishment for Udoka—and, indeed, the exact nature of his infraction—has not been announced.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Udoka had an, “improper intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff,” and that would lead to his suspension.

The Celtics have few options on hand to serve as an interim coach. The first choice on the staff would likely have been assistant Will Hardy, but he left this offseason to take the head-coaching job with the Utah Jazz. Mazzulla, too, interviewed for that job.

Normally, the legal issues a coach like Mazzulla had 13 years ago when he was 21 would not be much of a factor in whether he can take over a head-coaching job as he might be called on to do with Boston. But because the team is already suffering from a PR hit with the Udoka news, Mazzulla’s history could give the organization pause before giving him the job.

Mazzulla Stayed on After Brad Stevens Left

Mazzulla did serve as the Celtics’ coach during the Las Vegas Summer League the last two seasons, and helped this year’s group get to the tournament’s final.

He gained the respect of Udoka, who kept Mazzulla on staff after he took over the job from Brad Stevens in 2021, when Udoka was also an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo.

As Udoka explained, per

I talked to everybody in the organization when I got hired, players included, and he got glowing reviews. I didn’t know much about him going into it, but I take the players’ opinions at a high value, and he was a guy that was a consensus yes. Somebody that they all worked with closely, (and) believed in and understood his upside. And so, once I met with him and Tony Dobbins, Evan, Brad, and some of the guys that we kept, I think it was pretty easy (in) conversations to see why.

As all (of the) young guys (did), he coached Summer League and held everything together while I was gone to Tokyo. And so, the value and the relationship aspect, which was a big part of my coaching staff, he carried (that) over well.



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