Utah Jazz players say future looks bright with Corbin

Published: Thursday, April 21 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

Tyrone Corbin

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The day Tyrone Corbin was hired to replace Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz management emphatically pointed out that the organization's new bench boss would not carry an "interim" tag in his title.

For the Jazz, this wasn't a temporary hire.

Corbin wasn't in a tryout period.

The guy known as The Milkman during his Jazz playing days in the 1990s was picked to be Sloan's permanent successor.

He was THE man.

General manager Kevin O'Connor even jokingly (or maybe not so jokingly) said he hoped the franchise wouldn't bid farewell to Corbin until 2034, with the idea that he'd also last 23 years in Utah a la Sloan.

Those fond feelings, by the way, haven't changed.

Skeptics might blast the Jazz for giving the inexperienced Corbin a multi-year contract, especially in light of how the team missed the playoffs and only went 8-20 under his guidance to end the 2010-11 season.

But Corbin inherited a team in turmoil, replaced a living legend, lost his best player in a trade and finished with almost half of his squad in the training room with a fill-in-the-blank injury.

If anything, how Corbin handled himself, his team and his sticky situation — one that got even stickier as the weeks progressed — earned him more respect from upper management and the players he coached.

Corbin has the Jazz's full confidence and support — despite heading into an offseason without first participating in the postseason.

"He deserves an opportunity to have a training camp. He deserves an opportunity to have some of his own players in there," O'Connor said. "That's why we gave him the extension and a contract — because he's been here seven years and we believe in him."

They also realize what Corbin went through in his 28-game rookie stint after being promoted from his assistant position.

For starters, Corbin got the unenviable task of following Sloan on a moment's notice. The longtime assistant had coveted getting a head coaching gig, but not like that.

Plus, Corbin took over a team in free-fall mode, with the Jazz having lost 10 of its previous 14 games back then despite a Hall of Fame coach leading the way.

Then, only 12 days after landing his dream job, Jazz management shipped Deron Williams, the team's two-time All-Star point guard and leader, to the land of the Sopranos and Snooki.

"I always said Coach got put in a very difficult situation as far as taking over in the middle of the season," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "But I think he handled it real well. He got more and more comfortable as the season went by."

Despite a slew of injuries that took veterans Devin Harris, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell and Ronnie Price out for multiple games down the stretch, the Jazz even finished on a high note by winning their last two games and three out of their final five.

"He took over in a very difficult situation and handled it with a lot of integrity," O'Connor said. "One of the things that you recognize is how guys play down through the stretch. ... We were out of the playoff race, especially the last 10 days, (but) I think the guys really competed."

Even after being eliminated from the playoffs, Corbin held regular practices and pushed players to work and focus on fine-tuning aspects of their games. He had a season-ending surge and next year in mind.

Ask him for an individual head-coaching highlight, and Corbin might point to the Jazz's thrilling Gordon Hayward-led road win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Or the win at New Orleans. Maybe the season-finale victory against Denver.

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