Amy Donaldson: Don't rush to judgment on Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin
SALT LAKE CITY — Tyrone Corbin happened to land his dream job in the middle of a crisis.
Now, the challenge will be righting a ship that began careening out of control under a different captain and with a substantially different crew.
And while most Jazz fans are willing to give Corbin some time to make the team his own, others are not so kind.
In fact, a few vocal fans are even calling for Corbin's job.
Really? Yes, it's official. We've become THAT team, THOSE fans.
While I think most people are willing to give Corbin time to make this team his own, AND then decide if they want what he's selling, those who aren't need to consider the circumstances under which he's worked so far.
First, the job offer.
It came unexpectedly and just hours after Jerry Sloan abruptly resigned. Sloan wasn't just another head coach. He was a legend. And unfortunately, he took his equally respected and legendary assistant Phil Johnson with him when he went.
The Jazz are in the middle of a slump when he takes over and things don't get much better after Sloan's exit.
Three weeks later, Corbin's bosses traded away his all-star point guard, Deron Williams, in exchange for youth and future draft picks.
What was already on course to be a lost season remained abysmal, save a few bright spots.
The Jazz became the first team in NBA history to go from a 15-5 start to not making the playoffs with a 39-43 record.
Then, just when Corbin should be making plans for summer leagues, rookie workouts and preparing for the fall camp, the NBA owners locked out the players in hopes of a new collective bargaining agreement.
While the Jazz coaches did meet face-to-face with every player and go over what was expected of them workout-wise before the lockout, for several very critical months, coach Corbin couldn't even talk to his young, inexperienced players.
And then, just as the team finished its two preseason games thanks to the lockout-shortened season, the Jazz brass traded away the most veteran player left on the roster, Mehmet Okur.
I dare say, even the best in the business would be challenged to excel under those inauspicious beginnings.
Still, Corbin is handling the job, the pressure and the criticism in stride. On the eve of Utah's first game, he said having the players for a full season (even one shortened by the lockout) is a completely different experience than taking over mid-season, mid-crisis.
"You get a chance from day one to mold a group of guys," he said, "get them on the same page, implement the things that I want to implement, and for them to understand expectations right from the beginning. It's a sense of normalcy right from the beginning."
Even with just two-thirds of a "normal" season?
"Everybody is starting from the same line," he said.
He said he feels more responsibility than he did as an assistant, but he no longer feels the weight of being Sloan's successor.
"I think I went through most of that last year," he said. And maybe what helped Corbin adjust to the shadow cast by Sloan's legacy is Sloan's advice as he was handing Corbin the reigns.
"His parting words to me were, 'Be yourself'," said Corbin. "Stick to who you are and things will be OK."
Guard Raja Bell is now the team's most veteran player and said he has full faith and confidence in Corbin.
"He was a pretty vocal assistant coach," said Bell. "He had a lot of input. You always knew he had the knowledge…That much hasn't changed."
He said Corbin is still defining himself, but "he's done a pretty good job so far."
And while the jury is still out on what kind of head coach he is, Bell said he hopes he remembers his players' roots.
" I would hope that he's going to be a players coach," Bell said. "He was a player in this league not so long ago. And the game evolves a bit. I think that he's the right guy to kind of bridge the gap of Jerry's system of fundamentals and classic style and this new era of player."
Corbin describes himself as a coach who expects his players to give the game everything they've got, every night.
"I'm a stickler for effort," Corbin said. "Doing the right things. I wouldn't say I'm the strictest of disciplinarians, but I like to see things done right, and I like guys to be accountable for their actions. If you're not doing those things, then I can be a little cruel."
And finally, maybe fans should be careful what they wish for. After being one of the most stable NBA franchises for the last few decades, if some fans get their way, the Jazz could become just another coaching carousel defined more by the leadership vacuum than the accomplishments of the players.
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