SALT LAKE CITY — After being thrown into the fire following Jerry Sloan's abrupt retirement in February, Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has had to wait, albeit impatiently, for his first true season as head coach.
Now the former journeyman player finds himself in crunch time, with the lockout-shortened NBA season leaving him with precious little time to prepare a young, fairly inexperienced team.
Those who know Corbin well say he's ready, even if the deck is stacked against him.
"He's been dealt a hand that will be awfully difficult to get off to a good start," said Jazz broadcaster Ron Boone, a good friend and golfing buddy. "But there's good talent here. I hope he gets a fair opportunity."
That Jazz management hired Corbin without an interim tag is an indication he will be afforded such.
The 48-year-old Corbin also is realistic.
"I thought the honeymoon period was last year," he said during 18 holes at Eaglewood Golf Course in September. "The fans and everybody understood there were a lot of changes, especially for us here. It was a tough situation, but like I tell the guys, you're still expected to play and compete."
Going into this weekend, he has nine players on his roster, plus two lottery picks, and whatever free agents the team can sign or re-sign.
"I expect us to be competitive," Corbin said. "What number that is I don't know, but I expect us to be competitive every night we step on the floor."
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are the elder statesmen. But there also are four players — Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans and C.J. Miles — who are 24 or younger in addition to 19- and 20-year-old rookies.
Equally telling are the numbers from last year when the Jazz set a futility mark for missing the playoffs at 39-43 following a 27-13 start.
"The disappointing number is we were 8-20 the last 28 games," Corbin said of his record as head coach after Sloan retired. "It's not all bad in those numbers. We had some moments … the energy we played with at the end and the identity we tried to create is going to be of great value going forward."
Corbin's stamp on the team, however, has yet to be determined.
He said he learned a valuable lesson playing at DePaul, when he watched another great coach step aside.
After 42 seasons as coach, Ray Meyer retired in 1984 and son Joey Meyer took over when Corbin was a senior.
"He changed a lot of things because he wanted to let everybody know it was his team more than Coach Ray's team," Corbin said.
A squad used to running slowed down. Though it reached the NCAA tournament, it made a quick exit.
Corbin said that experience taught him a lot.
"I wasn't concerned as much about it being my team," Corbin said of taking over after Sloan's unexpected departure. "It was the Jazz and you couldn't change everything in the middle. I didn't feel I needed to show the guys I was in charge. You have to be an authority figure, but you have to show them it's not an ego trip."
Boone seconds that, saying Corbin isn't about ego. And he's not about pleasing everybody.
"I always thought the mistake coaches make is trying to be too buddy-buddy with players," Boone said. "Ty's approach has been right on."
Like so many others, Boone is eager to see Corbin's offensive and defensive philosophy.
"He'll be able to take bits and pieces from a lot of different coaches he's been under," Boone said, noting Corbin played for nine teams over 16 years. "I'm sure there were certain styles he thought were most effective."
Boone said Hall of Famer Sloan may still be the most influential mentor as Corbin spent three seasons as a player under him and almost seven as an assistant.
Guard-forward Miles said he wouldn't be surprised to see Corbin let the team "open it up a little more" because of its youth and quickness.
"It's just a matter of us earning the trust and showing we can do it without turning the ball over and taking bad shots," Miles said.
Corbin is not Sloan, and he's surely not the average Utah resident.
He is Southern Baptist in a Mormon-dominated state, black where the population is 86 percent white.
This summer, the native of Columbia, S.C., was honored with a key to the city.
"For me, it was great because my family could be there and I had some friends come up," said Corbin, who displays a southern disposition with his personable style and infectious laugh.
Columbia remains a place where he can still be "just Tyrone," cutting the grass, trimming trees at his mom's house or sitting by a pond and fishing if he wants.
Though he'd spend the better part of two months there because of the extended offseason, and get a chance to see his basketball-playing son settle in at UC Davis, Corbin is champing at the bit to get the ball rolling again in Salt Lake City.
"I'm sure he's up in his office, sweating right now, itching to get on the court," Millsap said. "He's a guy who wants to get better. That's why guys respect him, why he's going to succeed."
Corbin promised all offseason he would be ready to hit the ground running.
"You've got to be ready coming out of it because no one's going to feel sorry for you so you can't feel sorry for yourself," he said.
"My mom never made excuses. She never allowed us to make excuses. You came where you came from but you can pick yourself up if you work your way through it."
It helped that he had golf to relieve the stress of a long summer.
If that outlet hadn't been available, Corbin said, "I don't think anybody would enjoy being around me."7 comments on this story
While Corbin's golf game may have improved, his personality hasn't changed through the years.
He can laugh at himself. He won't use balls that bear his name on holes where he might accidentally hit a house. And when his tongue curls up over his lip, ?la Michael Jordan, after each swing, he quips, "That's about the only trait we share."
Then there's that propensity to sweat, which his assistants constantly rib him about. Even when putting a group of season ticket holders through workouts during the lockout, Corbin was drenched through his polo shirt.
"He was into it," assistant Sidney Lowe said. "That's who he is. That's him all the time."