#NBA Hot Take: Who will the Utah Jazz hire as their New Head Coach?
Ok, so this is a big question for diehard Jazz fans and I’ll do my best to break it down into three basic parts: Who the fans clamor for, what is the current rumor wheel from the GM’s office through reporters, and then my own wish list.
The Utah Jazz did not renew coach Ty Corbin’s contract after the season ended, where they landed the tiebreaker with the Celtics for a top lottery pick. With a career record of 112-146 (a winning percentage of 43.4%), Corbin was a dead man walking with a gutted, young roster. My previous take on Corbin is here. As I noted in that blog post:
“Corbin went 36-30 to make the playoffs and get knocked out in the first round the next season, then 43-49 to miss the playoffs and this year they’re 5-19 in full-out TANK MODE in a loaded NBA draft. That’s an overall record of 92-108, a 46% winning percentage. That can’t cut it in the Western Conference. Oh, and he got swept in the first round when he did make it in his second year (but first full year on the job).”
Who the Fans Want:
According to the fan board Jazz Fanz, it seems everyone jokes about John Stockton coming back, but I see a general consensus (meaning that at least a couple fans approved some names) about the following:
- Mike Longabardi
- Lionel Hollins
- Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg
- Anyone but Jim Boylen (currently a San Antonio Spurs assistant, but oversaw a bad run as the Utah Utes men’s basketball coach).
Mike Longabardi is a new name for me, but according to some research I did, he seems like a good potential hire. He is the current assistant to Phoenix Suns head coach (and former Jazz guard) Jeff Hornacek and has spent six years as an assistant in Boston and four in Houston. According to the Deseret News, Lindsey had this to say about Longabardi:
“He knows both sides of the game, but I think his defensive knowledge and what he did with Boston (is important). It’s very helpful to have a guy who kind of specializes.’’
If I were a Jazz fan, I’d be excited. To have a defensive-minded coach? We’ve seen what the likes of Tom Thibodeau and Lionel Hollins have done in the NBA playoffs. Speaking of which…
Hollins was another interesting name because he has a great coaching pedigree and a great nickname of “L-Train”, haha. He got the grinding Memphis Grizzlies past the high-flying Los Angeles Clippers in the 2013 playoffs and really bruised Western Conference teams. He had such an impact on the mindset and culture of the Grizzlies that their hometown arena now holds the nickname, “The Grindhouse.” With a coaching record of 214-201 in 5 seasons and 18-17 in the playoffs, I think he would be a great hire if given a chance compared to other options on the table. However, this current Jazz roster is not defensive-heavy and would not be a great situation for him. Also, one fan noted how Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey is an analytics guy, which Hollins detests (and was a reason why he was fired in Memphis, per Yahoo! Sports).
Hoiberg is a great college coach at his alma mater and hometown university Iowa State. He led his Cyclones to the Sweet Sixteen this past year in the NCAA March Madness tournament and his name will come up time and time again. His Iowa State bio says it all; this guy is a talented coach. If he were to leave his hometown gig, it would be anywhere but the Utah Jazz. He would want a big-market city and team with a lot of power, something that the Jazz are not.
Jim Boylen is a rumored hire, but fans have killed it long before it even got started. In a KSL.com poll, a whopping 87% said “No way” when asked about the Jazz potentially hiring him. Why? His coaching record at the college level for the Utah Utes was 69-60 in four years, but a so-so 32-32 in Mountain West conference play. Now, if GM Dennis Lindsey cared about the fan base, this wouldn’t even be a likely scenario. He is a friend of Lindsey, but if the fans don’t like it at the start, then Boylen will be in a big hole to start with. That is not the best situation for a new head coach.
Jim Boylen: He won’t be hired because of his disastrous stint at Utah, even if he is Dennis Lindsey’s friend. I think this is a non-issue and Lindsey has to be a fool to even interview him more than once. Maybe one time as a courtesy call, but more than that will get the rabid Jazz base riled up. Ty Corbin saw the effects of an upset and vocal Jazz fan base. But, as SI.Com’s FanSided blog reported, he’s a front-runner. Lindsey, what are you thinking?
Ettore Messina: He is the current head coach of the Russian team CSKA Moscow and is a legend among Italian basketball players and coaches. The Salt Lake Tribune asked former BYU standout and longtime Euro League baller Travis Hansen about Messina, who coached Hansen for a year at Real Madrid (and made it to the Copa del Rey finals). Hansen said that it was hard to play against Messina because you knew he would probably beat you.
Messina coached current Spurs guard Manu Ginobli and has been a consultant with both the Los Angeles Lakers (update: technically, an assistant under Mike Brown) and the Atlanta Hawks. Hansen gushed about him, saying, “He’s demanding like…a Jerry Sloan type.” It would be a stretch to hire an “unproven” Euro League coach, but Messina seems to be a solid hire with four European championships under his belt and apparently was one of the last ones standing for the Atlanta Hawks job opening last year.
Update: Messina, upon the Los Angeles Lakers firing Mike D’Antoni, is one of the top candidates for the head coach vacancy. He is well-respected by Kobe Bryant, whose dad played professional basketball in Europe (particularly, in Italy). He had been Mike Brown’s assistant in Los Angeles before, but the final coaching decision will probably not be made until the Lakers know where they’ll pick in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft on May 20th, per the Los Angeles Times.
Deseret News floated the idea of former Denver Nuggets coach and current ESPN NBA analyst George Karl, who has a lifetime record of 1131-756 (or a 59.9% winning percentage over 25 seasons), but never could get the talented Nuggets past the second round even with scorer Carmelo Anthony and couldn’t get the loaded Seattle SuperSonics past Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1996. He also was the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2012-2013 season. I like George Karl as an analyst in Bristol, but I’m very concerned about not being able to go deep in the playoffs with a lifetime 80-105 playoff record (a 43.2% winning percentage). However, sometimes a second gig helps coaches realize what they have to do better come playoff time.
There are others like Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who coached the Milwaukee Bucks from 2006-2008. He had a great year at Utah, with a 21-12 record (after 6-25 and 15-18 seasons) and finally beat archrival BYU. John Calipari was also a rumor, but I doubt he’ll even consider the Jazz job with his level of prestige in college and NBA circles.
My Wish List:
I am a big fan of Mike Woodson because he has to be one of the most underrated and underappreciated head coaches in the league. I would take him over my hometown Wizards’ Randy Wittman any day. Why? Even though he has a so-so 319-365 record in Atlanta and New York over 9 seasons, he still got the Hawks and Knicks to the playoffs when they didn’t have superb, top-end talent. This is what happens when you’re Mike Woodson coaching an undisciplined Knicks team (which I call the “Mike Woodson struggle face):
His playoff record isn’t impressive either, with a 18-28 record, but that’s with the likes of ballhog and iso superstar Joe Johnson dominating the ball, Marvin Williams in the post or who knows where and Al Horford and Josh Smith competing for touches. That doesn’t even include how Woodson got the Knicks to the playoffs last season with an aged Jason Kidd, the volatile J.R. Smith and shooter-rific Carmelo Anthony. After the team jettisoned some veterans and saw Kidd retire, the Knicks fell apart and Woodson was fired after this season ended. If he can get the Hawks and the Knicks to the playoffs with those characters, you bet he could get great offensive output from the young Jazz players.
Jeff Van Gundy
The NBA commentator, a lightning rod for criticizing the league and their officiating, is one of my favorite coaches and commentators. Everyone remembers him as the coach who couldn’t get an injured Yao Ming and overburdened Tracy “T-Mac” McGrady to the Western Conference Finals, but no one remembers him coaching the Knicks with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley. It wasn’t his fault that he faced Michael Jordan the Chicago Bulls while he was coaching the Knicks. And, it wasn’t his Houston GM put all the eggs in the basket with a seven-footer who kept getting hurt and no one else. C’mon, who could win with the likes of T-Mac having a supporting cast of Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, and Rafer “Skip-To-My-Lou” Alston? For more on the struggles of T-Mac, read this Grantland piece. I still love this game, where T-Mac dropped 13 points in 33 seconds versus the Spurs:
Or how about his dunk on Shawn Bradley?
If I were Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, I would go with an up-and-coming assistant coach like Mike Longabardi or a newbie like Ettore Messina. It allows Lindsey some free reign for the time being with the fan base and ensures that Lindsey is in charge of things for now. Plus, prestigious and well-respected head coaches want the big jobs like the New York Knicks, not the Utah Jazz (even with their great playoff history in the last 1990s).
If I were a betting man, I would say Mike Longabardi (the man in the beige suit), because of the success of Hornacek with the Suns, over Messina. The international factor is appealing, but I don’t know if Lindsey has the patience for an international coach needing time to adjust to the NBA game.