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Joe Mazzulla was a Division 2 coach not long ago. He's now an NBA champion, and just getting started

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Joe Mazzulla was a Division 2 coach not long ago. He's now an NBA champion, and just getting started
Sport

Sport

Joe Mazzulla was a Division 2 coach not long ago. He's now an NBA champion, and just getting started

2024-06-18 11:48 Last Updated At:11:50

Joe Mazzulla has been called weird. He’s been called a sicko. He’s been called crazy.

Those comments weren’t coming from critics or haters directing anonymous insults toward the coach of the Boston Celtics. They came publicly from his own players who, by all accounts, absolutely adore him. And they are meant with all possible respect, especially now that those players — and everyone else — must call Mazzulla something else.

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Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Joe Mazzulla has been called weird. He’s been called a sicko. He’s been called crazy.

Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, talks with his players during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, talks with his players during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla calls to his players during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla calls to his players during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, left, and assistant coach Sam Cassell react during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, left, and assistant coach Sam Cassell react during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla arrives at American Airlines Center prior to Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (STF Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla arrives at American Airlines Center prior to Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (STF Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla signals to players during the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla signals to players during the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla watches play during the second half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla watches play during the second half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, speaks to his players during a timeout in the first half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, speaks to his players during a timeout in the first half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A champion.

A 35-year-old whose only head coaching experience before taking over the Celtics in the fall of 2022 was at the NCAA Division II level is now the leader of the best team in the NBA world. Boston wrapped up the NBA title on Monday night, beating the Dallas Mavericks 106-88 to finish off a five-game roll through the finals and secure the team’s record 18th championship.

“There's nothing better than representing the Celtics,” Mazzulla said, “and being part of history.”

Including playoffs, Mazzulla’s record is now 148-54 — a .729 winning percentage. Among all coaches with at least 200 games in the NBA, nobody has a better record than that.

And when it was over, yes, the famously stoic Mazzulla smiled.

“The thing you just can’t take for granted in the game today is a coach’s greatest gift is a group of guys that want to be coached, want to be led, that also empower themselves,” Mazzulla said earlier in the series. “So, I think at the end of the day, just appreciate the fact that we have an environment where learning and coaching is important, and getting better and developing is important. You can’t be a good coach if your players don’t let you.”

He’s the 37th coach in NBA history to win a title and the seventh to do so from the Celtics’ bench, joining Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Fitch, K.C. Jones and Doc Rivers.

And there are other names the Celtics call him, too. Like genius, for example. Mazzulla doesn't hide his Christian faith, talks about three of his loves beyond family being Jesus, coffee and jiu-jitsu, is obsessed with things like international soccer, and in his spare time leads teams to NBA titles.

“He’s really himself. He’s like authentic to himself. We all appreciate that,” Celtics guard Payton Pritchard said. “He’s not trying to be somebody he’s not. So, I think that’s kind of like the sicko side of it. He’s different, but we respect that. Then the basketball genius, you can learn a lot from him as to how he sees the offensive side of things, the play calling, the game management, all that. He’s elite in that. I’ve personally learned a lot from him, and I think our whole group has.”

Alex Cora, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, makes no secret that he believes the Celtics are going to be enjoying success for a while. He’s close with Brad Stevens, the front office mastermind of the team, and has gotten to know Mazzulla somewhat well since he took over as coach. The respect he has for Mazzulla is clear.

It’s not like Mazzulla struggled in Year 1 after being shoved into the job unexpectedly following the scandal that led to the Celtics parting ways with Ime Udoka; the Celtics did make Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season. Cora just thinks things were more suited to Mazzulla’s needs in Year 2, such as bringing in assistants like Charles Lee (the next coach of the Charlotte Hornets) and Sam Cassell.

“I do believe that with everything that they went through, with the head coaching part of it, and Joe last year being the head coach but not having his staff, I think it was kind of like an obstacle for him,” Cora told reporters before a Red Sox game last week. “But he got the right people, they got the right coach.”

Mazzulla’s path to the NBA mountaintop could easily be described as non-traditional, and not just for the circumstances under which he got the job as Udoka's replacement.

Mazzulla’s only previous experience as a head coach before taking over the Celtics was a two-year stint at Fairmont State in West Virginia, where he went 43-17 and made the NCAA Tournament in his second season. A native New Englander from Rhode Island, Mazzulla played at West Virginia, was an assistant for the Celtics’ G League team before taking over at Fairmont State, and then got hired by the Celtics again in June 2019 to be part of Stevens’ coaching staff.

They’re a lot alike, Mazzulla and Stevens. They don’t waste words. They don’t seek the spotlight. Asking them a question about themselves is almost certainly not going to get any sort of peel-back-the-curtain answer. It’s not about them. It’s just about wins.

“When Joe won coach of the month, I was like, ‘Hey, congratulations,’” Celtics guard Derrick White said. “And he just looked at me and said, ‘Nobody cares.’”

The closest Mazzulla likely came to getting a head-coaching gig in the NBA before getting promoted by Boston was in 2022, when he interviewed with the Utah Jazz. The Jazz hired Will Hardy, and Mazzulla said they made the right decision. But when he looked back at that process, Mazzulla hated one part of his interview.

He wore a suit. “They’re useless,” he said.

To be clear, that wasn’t where Mazzulla thinks he blew that interview. The Jazz asked him a fairly standard question. Paraphrasing, they wanted to know how Mazzulla, as a young coach — actually younger than some NBA players — felt he was ready to lead a team.

He didn’t have a great answer. But now, nobody will have to ask him that question again. Mazzulla answered it Monday night once and for all. He can lead a team to the top of the NBA world. The Celtics' 18th banner will be raised this fall, and that's more than enough for him.

“You get very few chances in life to be great and you get very few chances in life to carry on the ownership and the responsibility of what these banners are, and all the great people, all the great players that came here," Mazzulla said. “When you have few chances in life, you just have to take the bull by the horns and you've got to just own it. And our guys owned it.”

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half of Game 1 of the basketball team's NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, talks with his players during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, talks with his players during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla calls to his players during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla calls to his players during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, left, and assistant coach Sam Cassell react during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, left, and assistant coach Sam Cassell react during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla arrives at American Airlines Center prior to Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (STF Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla arrives at American Airlines Center prior to Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (STF Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla signals to players during the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla signals to players during the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla watches play during the second half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla watches play during the second half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, speaks to his players during a timeout in the first half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, center, speaks to his players during a timeout in the first half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

CABOT, Pa. (AP) — A fire truck carried Corey Comperatore’s flag-draped casket to a Pennsylvania church on Friday for the funeral of the former fire chief, who was shot and killed when a gunman tried to assassinate former President Donald Trump last weekend.

Hundreds of firefighters arrived at the church in a procession of over 100 trucks in a show of support for Comperatore's grieving relatives and friends. Outside the church, a massive American flag hung from the ladder of a fire truck.

A sharpshooter team mounted on a nearby rooftop served as a reminder of last weekend's bloodshed. Officials have said that Comperatore spent his final moments shielding his wife and daughter from gunfire at Trump’s rally last Saturday in Butler, Pennsylvania.

Trump, who suffered an ear injury in the shooting but was not seriously hurt, is not going to the funeral because of Secret Service concerns, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Annette Locke, a member of the West Deer Township Volunteer Fire Department, stood across the road from the church and lightly touched her heart as she spoke about the horrific toll from the “totally senseless" shooting.

“He was with his family on a beautiful sunny day, and now he’s gone,” Locke said.

Joe and Jen Brose stood at the edge of their driveway with their three young boys, all dressed in T-shirts celebrating the USA, watching the long procession of fire and emergency trucks go by.

“The community comes together at times like this,” Joe Brose said.

“I thought it was very heartwarming, it was very humbling to see it,” said Jen Brose, whose sister had attended the Trump rally.

Trump honored Comperatore during his speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. He displayed Comperatore's firefighting gear on the convention stage, kissing his helmet and heralding the ex-chief as “an unbelievable person.”

Comperatore, 50, worked as a project and tooling engineer, was an Army reservist and spent many years as a volunteer firefighter after serving as chief, according to his obituary.

On Thursday, thousands of mourners filed into a banquet hall to pay their respects to Comperatore and his family. Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday at a vigil for him at an auto racing track.

Guests at Thursday's visitation for Comperatore saw a slideshow of photos from his life — his wedding, a recent 50th birthday party, time with his daughters, firefighting, fishing, and palling around with his Dobermans. Also on display was a framed copy of a note to Comperatore’s wife signed by Trump and former first lady Melania Trump.

"Corey will forever be remembered as a True American Hero,” the Trumps wrote.

A statement issued Thursday by Comperatore's family described him as a “beloved father and husband, and a friend to so many throughout the Butler region.”

"Our family is finding comfort and peace through the heartfelt messages of encouragement from people around the world, through the support of our church and community, and most of all through the strength of God," the statement said.

Two other people were wounded at Trump's rally: David Dutch, 57, of New Kensington, and James Copenhaver, 74, of Moon Township. As of Wednesday night, both had been upgraded to serious but stable condition, according to a spokesperson with Allegheny Health Network.

A firefighter stages before the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A firefighter stages before the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A rider and firefighting truck stage for the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A rider and firefighting truck stage for the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A firetruck stages for the funeral procession of Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A firetruck stages for the funeral procession of Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Merri Cambo, left, of Saxonburg, Pa., and her friend, Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., react as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes by, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Merri Cambo, left, of Saxonburg, Pa., and her friend, Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., react as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes by, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A flag is seen before the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A flag is seen before the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

People wait for the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

People wait for the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., waves a flag as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., waves a flag as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A giant American flag is unfurled outside the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction." (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A giant American flag is unfurled outside the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction." (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pennsylvania State Police arrive at the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction.". (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pennsylvania State Police arrive at the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction.". (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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