Ime Udoka suspension: Celtics name Joe Mazzulla interim head coach; Brad Stevens had no plans to step in again
With Boston Celtics suspending head coach Ime Udoka for the entire 2022-23 season due to an “improper, intimate and consensual relationship” with a female staff member, the team has appointed assistant Joe Mazzulla as interim head coach for the season, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens confirmed in a team press conference Friday.
Stevens said there was “absolutely not” a consideration that he would step in and coach the team, and that he has full confidence in Mazzulla.
“He is an exceptionally sharp and talented person,” Stevens said. “Joe’s the best choice to [take over] by a long shot. As you go through the whole process it all hits you, but we have the best people in place to do that, and Joe is the best person to do that in our organization.”
Mazzulla has been an assistant with the Celtics since 2019, joining the staff after being the head coach of Fairmont State men’s basketball team and had a 43-17 record over his two seasons. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Glenville State. In addition to his collegiate coaching career, Mazzulla also served as an assistant for the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics’ G League affiliate team.
While Mazzulla doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience at the pro level, he’s well respected in the Celtics organization.
“I talked to everybody in the organization when I got hired, players included, and [Mazzulla] got glowing reviews. I didn’t know much about him going into it. I take the players’ opinions at high value,” Udoka said in June via NBC Sports Boston. “He was a guy that there was a consensus ‘yes.’ Somebody that they all worked with closely, believed in, and understood his upside.”
Jayson Tatum has also spoken highly of Mazzulla since he’s been with the team.
“He’s helped me out tremendously as a player and as a person,” Tatum said. “I can’t say enough good things about Joe. Everybody appreciates him, what he brings to this team. I’m glad that we have him.”
However, Mazzulla comes with some baggage of his own, as he was arrested on charges of domestic battery when he was a member of the West Virginia men’s basketball team in 2009. Mazzulla allegedly grabbed a woman by the neck at a bar in Morgantown, West Virginia, and was suspended indefinitely by the team. The year prior to that he was charged with underage drinking and aggravated assault while attending a Pittsburgh Pirates game.
“When we were considering hiring him as an assistant I vetted the incidents when he was in college really thoroughly,” Stevens said. “I will tell you this: I believe strongly in Joe’s substantiveness as a person. I believe strongly — and he’ll tell you, he’s been very open with me about how those moments impacted him in every which way. You can see it in the way he carries himself. You can see it for a long time. We’ve had years to get to know him; he’s been working with us for three years.
“You probably have seen articles that were written around that time that I read three years ago before I hired him as an assistant. I believe strongly that shaped him into who he is today in a really, really good way. But he’ll be the first to tell you he’s 110 percent accountable for that, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I believe in him.”
Between the news surrounding Udoka and Mazzulla potentially stepping in as the interim head coach, the Celtics will surely have many questions to answer in the days leading up to media day and training camp. Beyond that, with Udoka away from the team and a new head coach stepping in, there will surely be an adjustment period for a Celtics team that has championship aspirations heading into the season.