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Utah Jazz players say future looks bright with Corbin

Published: Thursday, April 21 2011 9:07 p.m. MDT

Tyrone Corbin (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) 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.

Utah's Head Coach Tyrone Corbin as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trailblazers at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on  Thursday, April 7, 2011.  (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Utah's Head Coach Tyrone Corbin as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trailblazers at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 7, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

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."

Utah's Head Coach Tyrone Corbin reacts to a call as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on  Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Utah's Head Coach Tyrone Corbin reacts to a call as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

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."

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin yells for a time out as the Jazz start to fall behind the Lakers. The Utah Jazz lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in NBA basketball played at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, Friday, April 1, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin yells for a time out as the Jazz start to fall behind the Lakers. The Utah Jazz lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in NBA basketball played at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, Friday, April 1, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

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.

Utah Head Coach Tyrone Corbin reacts to a call as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on  Wednesday, April 13, 2011.  (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Utah Head Coach Tyrone Corbin reacts to a call as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Mostly, he was proud of how his players finished the season with heads held high while earning positive results.

"It wasn't one win," Corbin said of a coaching highlight. "It was just seeing the group of guys stay together and continue to try to work."

This offseason will be one of reflection for Corbin. He wants to re-watch game tape and re-evaluate everything in hopes of formulating a plan — his plan — for the future.

"He's got some brainstorming to do," Bell said.

Bell likes the direction, though. The veteran guard, who just finished his 11th NBA season, saw growth in Corbin's coaching over the two-month period.

"That was a tough situation he walked into — a team that was already struggling, obviously trading Deron and trying to get our new guys implemented," Bell said. "That would have been a challenge for your most seasoned head coaches. I thought he did a good job trying to navigate it."

The wild ride included restless nights and moments of regret for Corbin as he tried to juggle the injuries, match-ups, minutes, teaching opportunities, increased responsibilities and play-calling duties.

But the experience was invaluable for Corbin.

"I've learned a ton. I've learned a lot about myself. I've learned a lot about my team. I've learned a lot about the staff," he said. "I've learned a lot about managing the game and the feel for the game. The lessons have been tremendous for me, and they will all help me and I will learn from it going forward."

Power forward Paul Millsap was impressed that Corbin kept his cool (even if C.J. Miles smiled and said he caught the coach's wrath a time or two).

"With Ty, he's learning fast," Millsap said. "I haven't seen him crack down under pressure yet, which is odd because being under the type of pressure that he's under you will see a little meltdown.

"But Ty stayed calm throughout the season. He's been motivating us a lot. The future's bright for himself and for our team."

Added Jefferson: "I'm just really looking forward to see how he going to do things next year as far as training from Day 1 in training camp all the way through the preseason and the season."

Guard Ronnie Price said Corbin was "by far the best man to do what he had to do this half of the season."

And players expect Corbin will continue to put his own stamp on the team, even if some of that isn't what Sloan did the past couple of decades.

"The upside for him as a coach is beyond what anybody can imagine. It's going to be great," free-agent-to-be Price said. "He's going to do great things in this league, and I'm excited and hopefully I get a chance to play for him. ...

"I think Ty's a leader by heart," Price added, "and that's what it takes to be a coach."

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