SALT LAKE CITY — Tyrone Corbin finally realized his dream of becoming a head coach in the National Basketball Association on Thursday afternoon, and after the long wait it only felt bittersweet.
That's because Corbin replaced his friend and coaching mentor after Jerry Sloan unexpectedly resigned as the Utah Jazz's head coach. Corbin, 48, found out shortly after noon on Thursday that Sloan — after a night to sleep on it following an emotional loss to the Chicago Bulls — was resigning and he was his replacement.
"It's difficult," Corbin said. "I'm not only a former player for him, but I consider him a great friend. I worked for him the last seven years, learning from him and just watching him work and doing the things he's done with the consistency he has about his life and his job. To see him leave now like this, it's bittersweet to me. I wish him nothing but the best, and I hope he'll be happy and enjoy the rest of his life."
While he has mixed emotions about replacing Sloan, everyone in the Jazz organization can agree on one thing about Corbin — he's ready. "I am ready," Corbin said. "I've had tutelage from two of the greats in the game (Sloan and Phil Johnson) the last seven years. I'm ready for the opportunity."
Corbin has been a candidate to fill a handful of other head coaching vacancies the last few offseasons. He interviewed with the New Orleans Hornets last offseason before they hired Monty Williams. In past offseasons, he interviewed for vacancies in Chicago, Phoenix and Seattle before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
"People forget he played 16 years in the league so that's certainly a lot of groundwork to it," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor. "He spent some time in New York (as manager of player development for the Knicks). He's ready to be a head coach. I think you can judge by the number of interviews that he's had. Normally you interview the first assistant and that was Phil here. He was getting interviews for head coaching jobs when he was second or whatever you want to call him. He wasn't sitting next to Coach (Sloan); Phil was. So that says a lot for him."
"He'll do it differently," O'Connor adds. "He might even smile."
Corbin realizes he has a lot of work to do to make the atmosphere around the Jazz happy and harmonious again.
Corbin hasn't addressed the Jazz in one room, as he put it, but will before the team's shootaround on Friday morning. He had what he called a brief lunch with Deron Williams prior to the Thursday press conference announcing the head coaching changes in the organization. There has been a ton of recent speculation regarding what people believe was a strained relationship between Williams and Sloan, and Corbin wants to get on the same page as his point guard.
"We'll continue to talk about the things he thinks will help this team be better and more consistent and we'll continue to work on those things," Corbin said. "Communication will be key."
Getting the entire team on the same page will be Corbin's biggest challenge, he said.
"Just to get them on the same page right away — to get them to understand that we still have a chance to make the playoffs and still have a chance to do well in the playoffs and this is a good team," Corbin said. "As soon as we can get everybody back on the same page and continue to work, work a little harder and a little bit more at our goal of winning a championship the better off we'll be."
One thing that won't be changing is Utah's offense. It's too late in the season to make drastic changes to a system.
"Right now we will pretty much use the same kind of things," Corbin said. "We will at some point tweak some things, but the system is effective. You don't want to scrap the whole thing and start over and you can't do that this far into the season anyway."
Corbin would certainly understand that given his extensive NBA experience. He played for nine teams during a 16-year NBA career, including the Jazz from 1991-94. He averaged 9.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 233 games with the Jazz.
Corbin's NBA coaching career began with the Knicks during the 2003-04 season. He joined the Jazz a year later with his primary responsibilities including working with front-court players on skill development and preparing the team for games by breaking down video of opponents and their offensive and defensive sets.
Corbin will continue those duties until he finds some help. He is only joined by Scott Layden on the coaching staff right now. O'Connor said he'll give Corbin some input on who to bring in as assistants, but it will basically be Corbin's decision on who to hire. Jeff Hornacek is a strong possibility. O'Connor said it might take until the All-Star break to get the staff finalized.
Corbin will have three days between games to get his legs under him as a head coach after he makes his debut against the Phoenix Suns tonight. The spotlight and national TV audience will be focused on Corbin in tonight's game — and he's ready for it.
"I'm sure it'll be nerve-racking for me," Corbin said. "It's different going out there and sitting two seats down — moving over two seats to the left and being the head guy. It'll be a little different, but it'll be exciting just the same."