Mike Wilhelm is the assistant coach you should probably know by now but have almost certainly never heard of.
It is nothing short of amazing how long he has lasted in an organization that gets rid of coaches more frequently than a typical Game of Thrones book. Wilhelm started his tenure as a Bulls advance scout as part of Bill Cartwright's staff in the 2002-03 season. That was so long ago that current head coach Fred Hoiberg was still a player for the Chicago Bulls!
Wilhelm made it through the Cartwright, Skiles, Boylen, Del Negro, and Thibodeau eras and was the only assistant that Hoiberg decided to keep from Tom Thibodeau's staff. You've seen him for years sitting innocuously behind Bulls head coaches on the bench:
Don't see him? There he is!
Although he is entering his 14th season with the team, there is almost no public information about him or his role on the team. So here's what we do know about this interesting guy who has somehow managed to become one of the longest-tenured and most under the radar assistant coaches in basketball.
Starting from the Bottom
Mike Wilhelm wasn't one of those guys who had a long, illustrious NBA career and parlayed it into a coaching position. He played some college ball at a tiny Division II school in Long Island, coached a minor team in Sweden, and then bounced around as a video coordinator in the NBA and WNBA, eventually moving up to a position as an advance scout.
For those not familiar with what an advance scout does, it's a pretty thankless and challenging job. Advance scouts travel a ton, going to games of other teams and scouting their plays.
Wilhelm worked as an advance scout for the Cavs and Nuggets before settling down with the Bulls in 2002. Since then, his official titles with the Bulls have alternated between advance scout and assistant coach. In this year's staff directory, Wilhelm is listed as an assistant coach, although he still maintains a reputation as a talented mind in breaking down opposing teams' X's and O's.
Player Development and Elevating Taj Gibson's Game
We also know that Wilhelm has helped in player development and more specifically, in developing Taj Gibson. Under coach Tom Thibodeau, Wilhelm ran daily drills with Gibson during practices and would also work Gibson out during summers. Gibson has praised Wilhelm numerous times to the media. He once told Jon Greenberg of ESPN:
"Coach Mike, he's from Cleveland, but he's no pushover, man. He's tough. He's one of the coolest coaches. Everyone loves him. He's like a mini-version of Thibs, but he doesn't yell at you."
CSN's Aggrey Sam seemed to agree with this statement, calling Wilhelm soft spoken and one of the true nice guys around the league.
In a separate interview with ESPN's Nick Friedell, Gibson gave effusive praise to Wilhelm:
"He's like a father figure. We really have great chemistry. He's been around the league for a long time, has so many different stories. He calls me at night, calls me in the morning, gives me scriptures to read. He really pushes me every morning. We work out before games, we work out early in the morning, we stay late at night. We just do a lot of different stuff.
"Our routine is just crazy; every day we just do different things. We watch film on a lot of the great players. He's helped me elevate my game."
Both on and off the court, it looks like Wilhelm has played a big role in making Taj the player he is today.
Wilhelm has been paying his dues for a while now with the Bulls' organization. He has said that he enjoys getting the rare chances during summer leagues or international trips to sit in the head coach's chair. However, sitting behind lead assistants for over a decade, it looks like he's still got a ways to go before he's given a shot at becoming a head coach. Until then, he'll continue to diligently scout and prepare players as one of the Bulls' unsung assistants.