Can Ty Corbin Be an Elite Head Coach for the Utah Jazz? (Part I)

Editor’s note: this is part 1 of 3 for this series where I explore this question.  Special thanks to those from whom I took some of my thoughts and ideas: @DogAndDeuce, @theDog801, @CarlBehunin, @bhein3, @JakeHatch77, and @CheshSportsClick here for part 2 and here for part 3.

Utah Jazz Head Coach Ty Corbin

Last week on our podcast with The Dog and Deuce Show, we got into a lengthy conversation about Ty Corbin and the job he’s done thus far with the team as well as his chances for long term success with the team.  Of the four of us, I felt very much as though I were standing alone in defense of our young head coach and as I listened again to the podcast I felt prompted to make a defense on his behalf.  Below, I will try and address some of the issues I’ve heard and debated as well as provide some additional thoughts as to the possible obstacles Corbin may face going forward as coach of the Utah Jazz.

Season 1 and Season 2

Before I start here, I want to challenge anyone reading this to name another coach in the history of the NBA who took over mid-season for a team (whether because the coach quit or was fired) and then went into an uncertain off-season where there would be neither player contact allowed nor training camp.  The last chance for that to have happened would be in the 1998 season heading into the lockout-shortened season of 1999.

Keeping that in mind, Ty Corbin really hasn’t had a chance to make his mark on this team.  Last season, he was just massaging a team that was so broken it couldn’t toss a ball into the ocean from a boat.  The team wasn’t his.  And worse, he knew the league would be locked out and so he wouldn’t be able to work with his apparent future cornerstones in Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.  He wasn’t going to be able to work with soon-to-be draftees Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.  He knew he needed to change some philosophies on this team and help them learn the game anew; but it wouldn’t be afforded to him.

When a coach is finished coaching his second season, he typically has at least 164 games under his belt.  Ty Corbin is being regarded as heading into his third season now as head coach and he has notched 94 regular season games and he is exactly 4 wins shy of a .500 record.

I think season 3 will be a defining season for Coach Corbin, but more on that in a minute.

Steps Forward and Steps Back

I’m going to skip right over what happened after he took over and chalk that up to an inevitable failure for a proud franchise.  This season Corbin had such a small amount of time to implement his strategies but I think he did it well.  Looking over this roster, he had a lot of youthful talent but the Jazz model has never been one to throw the youth into the water.  They’ve always walked them in slowly, much like you do with a young child you are teaching to swim.  In recent memory, the only exception to this rule has been Deron Williams (and now Gordon Hayward.)

This league, and sports in general, centers around the philosophy of “what have you done for me lately?”  The Jazz management and the fans are not exempt from this line of thought and Corbin knew this going in. So, despite pressure from the young guys, from the media, and from rogue bloggers such as myself to play the young guys, Corbin played the veterans and made the youth earn their playing time while sitting on the bench.  General Manager Kevin O’Connor gave him the mandate to make sure Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Enes Kanter played, but that they played “meaningful minutes.”  They weren’t to be thrown to the wolves.

And they weren’t.  Corbin played them, but he played them at the right times.  Play them too much, and they may crumble and fall apart for a myriad of reasons.  Play them too little and they wouldn’t learn the valuable lessons available to be taught my experience alone.  And under it all, Corbin didn’t want to “rebuild” this team; he wanted to win with it and he wanted to do it now.

So what did he learn?  What did he improve upon?  He learned how to make this team his team.  This is not Jerry Sloan’s team.  This is not Kevin O’Connor’s team.  This is not the team of some individual player.  THIS IS TY CORBIN’S TEAM.  This locker room respects and appreciates him (Raja Bell and CJ Miles aside.)  Management has given him the reigns to the team.  He learned how to manage egos from guys who have no room for egotism.  He learned how to manage, teach, develop, and play a group of young guys that really has a scary amount of potential to lead this team in the future.

During our podcast, there were only two grievances I could pin down amongst us.  One was his in-game management and the other his reversal to a “safe” rotation when the playoffs arrived.  At times during the season, Corbin appeared to micro-manage the team with regards to timeout management.  At others, he appeared to give his team too much freedom to bury themselves when something needed to quell the momentum building against them.  Dog stated that he may have adapted that philosophy from coaching with Jerry Sloan, but he also added that “Jerry knew his teams.”  While I’m not defending this aspect, I do think that a successful team needs to know how to put a stop to shifting or building momentum without interference from a coach.  Yes, Sloan trusted his teams; John Stockton was essentially an extension of Sloan on the court.  I feel that in this season of low expectations and high success, it was the perfect time to occasionally (maybe a little too often) throw this team out there with nary a lifeline and let them try to tread water just a little longer.  How better to arrive at a point of trust in your team on the floor then to let them go out and earn it?

The second grievance aired out was his shift in the rotation that had borne the team to its first playoff series together.  I’m not going to defend it.  You can hear my thoughts if you listen to the podcast.  I agree with Dog in this though.  Hopefully Corbin will learn to trust what has been working and keep going with it.  The insertion of Josh Howard into the starting lineup against the Spurs was futile and counter-productive.  DeMarre Carroll should have continued to start.

Part II: Will Corbin improve in year 3, did he handle Raja correctly, and can he ever hope to measure up to Jerry Sloan?

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