Best Potential Options to Replace Tyrone Corbin as Utah Jazz Head Coach
The Utah Jazz are on the verge of taking another big step in the reboot they started in 2013.
After deciding not to renew the contract of Tyrone Corbin on Monday, they're in the market for a new head coach. According to the team's website, "The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has elected not to offer head coach Tyrone Corbin a new contract. As a result, a search for a new head coach will begin immediately."
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said, "This has not been an easy decision, but after a thorough review process, we as an organization feel that this is the best decision for our franchise moving forward."
Searching for a replacement puts the organization in unfamiliar territory and will begin right away. The last time such a hire was made during the offseason was all the way back in 1979—the summer the team moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City.
That's due in large part to the consistency and longevity of legendary coach Jerry Sloan, who led the team from 1988 to 2011. He's still remembered fondly by Jazz fans, and the next coach will likely face some comparisons to him despite the buffer of Corbin's tenure.
Finding someone who can hold up against such scrutiny while blazing his own trail within the organization should be a factor in a search that will be spearheaded by Lindsey.
According to the Deseret News' Jody Genessy, it will be the second time Lindsey's been a part of this process during his career:
Lindsey’s only experience with an NBA coach search came in 2003 when he was the Houston Rockets’ vice president of basketball operations and player personnel, working with then-GM Carroll Dawson. That summer was the transition period between Rockets coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Jeff Van Gundy.
It was also in Houston where Lindsey became acquainted with Jim Boylen, current top assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and former head coach of the NCAA's Utah Utes.
Boylen's name was one of the first to surface as a possible replacement for Corbin. Many outlets, including Yahoo Sports, jumped on the story hours after the decision on Corbin was announced:
One likely candidate for Jazz coaching job, sources tell Yahoo: Spurs assistant Jim Boylen. He has a strong history with GM Dennis Lindsey.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 21, 2014
Basketball fans in Salt Lake who are loyal to both the Jazz and Utes may need to practice Frank Costanza's "serenity now" mantra because "insanity later" is a real possibility if this move goes down.
The Salt Lake Tribune's Gordon Monson summed up the feelings of the restless natives Tuesday:
It would be almost cool if Dennis Lindsey actually hired Jim Boylen as the Jazz’s next head coach, just in an up-yours kind of way. It would be unbelievable, but cool. Bizarre, but cool. Risky and unwise, but cool. A bad trip down memory lane … no, a skid mark down memory lane, but cool.
The cynicism there is a result of Boylen's time as the head coach of the University of Utah from 2007 to 2011. In his four seasons with the Utes, he compiled a record of 69-60, even winning a Mountain West title in 2009. Things ended on a sour note, though, as Boylen was fired after going 27-35 over his last two campaigns.
What the skeptical fans seem to be forgetting is that the college game is vastly different from the NBA. And Boylen has spent significantly more time in the league than he has in the lower ranks.
As a longtime assistant with the Rockets, he won two titles in the '90s. More recently, he's been on the staffs of Popovich and Frank Vogel.
His experience and success in the league should have more bearing on the decision than his two losing seasons as a college coach.
Another name showing up in reports and analysis on Utah's head coaching vacancy is Ettore Messina.
Never heard of him? Well, that's because he's built his resume on another continent. And it's quite the resume. According to his profile on euroleague.net, Messina won Italian coach of the year five times, European coach of the year once and Euroleague coach of the year twice.
After all that success, the 54-year-old Messina is looking for a new challenge, according to ESPN's Marc Stein:
Word in Europe all season has been that Messina, once he's done with CSKA Moscow's current campaign, wants to make the jump to the NBA— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 22, 2014
The Jazz may be willing to give him that challenge:
More than one coaching insider has insisted Utah is on short list of teams that will give legit consideration to Euro legend Ettore Messina— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 22, 2014
There would be adjustments to be made, either by Messina or the Jazz players, or both. But the timing on this would make sense.
Stein wrote that, "Messina detractors say he's far too demanding, far too intense..." to succeed at the highest level, but Utah figures to have one of the youngest rosters in the league again.
Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and the rest of the players in the young core are still in their NBA formative years and, after a humbling 25-57 season, could be ripe for some tough love.
Lionel Hollins hasn't shown up in many substantial reports as a possibility to replace Corbin, but he would make sense for a few reasons.
Hollins is a defensive specialist who brought the "Grit 'n' Grind" era to the Memphis Grizzlies. He led them to the playoffs for three straight years before being let go following a 56-26 season in 2012-13.
The kind of defensive culture he established in Memphis is something Utah desperately needs. The Jazz posted a league-worst defensive rating last season, allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions.
When you're that bad, you'd think there's no way to turn it around with the guys currently on the roster. But a precedent establishing the contrary has recently been set.
The Charlotte Bobcats had the worst defensive rating in the NBA in 2012-13, but in their first year under Steve Clifford, they jumped all the way up to sixth. The only major addition to the roster was Al Jefferson, who's been pegged as a defensive liability in the past.
There's no telling if Hollins could pull off the same kind of massive turnaround, but more emphasis on defense would be a given.
Utah's defense was atrocious in 2013-14. The offense wasn't much better.
The Jazz scored 100.6 points per 100 possessions, good for 25th in the NBA. They need a ton of work on that end, too.
And another coach who was curiously fired in 2013 could help them become a much more exciting basketball team—one that can score.
In 2012-13, his experience and uptempo pace led the Nuggets to a 57-25 record. He won Coach of the Year but was canned after a first-round exit.
The decision could've been second-guessed at the time, and now that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs in 2014, it's even easier to make that argument.
By hiring Karl, the Jazz can capitalize on what may have been a mistake by Denver.
Utah already has a few guys—Hayward, Favors and Alec Burks—who would thrive in the up-and-down game Karl would bring.
Plus, that style would go a long way toward restoring some of the faith of the fans that was lost during a season packed with losing.
Dark Horses and Jazz Men
The next coach of the Jazz will be just the fifth since the team relocated to Salt Lake City in 1979, and you can be sure the team will explore every option before deciding who that will be.
A couple of former Jazz players could make sense, even if they're long shots. Karl Malone was on the staff part-time last season, helping to develop the big men in the preseason. And John Stockton tutored Burks and Trey Burke just before training camp started.
Neither has much coaching experience, but fans would rally around them—at least at first—over a sense of '90s nostalgia.
A longshot candidate would be Alex Jensen, the former University of Utah player who joined the Jazz this year as a player development coach. The 38-year-old Jensen was successful as a coach with Canton in the D-League, where he was named Coach of the Year in 2012-13.
That's difficult to see happening, as bringing back someone from the staff who struggled so badly doesn't make a ton of sense.
Management could also look to the college ranks the way the Boston Celtics did when they hired Brad Stevens last summer.
Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart or Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg might be worth a look. They've both done a lot with a little, helping their programs quickly exceed expectations.
Finally, there's Jeff or Stan Van Gundy. Either one would likely come at a very steep price because both have great coaching pedigrees, but Utah may be willing to make a splash with this next hire after suffering such a bad season.
I laid out why Stan made sense for the Jazz in a piece published back in January. He's proven himself very capable of adapting a system to match his personnel and would get the most out of Utah's current roster.
As for Jeff, his is a name that seems to pop up every time a team is looking for a coach. He established himself as a good basketball mind with the Knicks and Rockets, and he does a great job in his current post calling games for ESPN.
He and Stan, as well as everyone on this slide, may not be likely, but Utah will do its homework on any possibility.
It looks like the leaders in the clubhouse right now are Boylen and Messina. Both would cause a stir for different reasons.
Both would be taking over a young team that may have struggled last season but is brimming with potential.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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