I think good organizations are prepared for whatever comes up — whether it be injury, whether it be changes to personnel. —Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden
SALT LAKE CITY — A year ago today, Tyrone Corbin received a phone call that set in motion a life-changing day.
One minute, he was at home faithfully doing his assistant-coach duty of preparing a scouting report for his team's game the next night against the Phoenix Suns.
A while later — after being summoned by general manager Kevin O'Connor to meet with his basketball bosses — Corbin was unexpectedly getting his dream job.
Suddenly and surprisingly, Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan was out as head coach after 23 years — and Corbin was in.
"It was a whirlwind," he admitted.
Nitty-gritty details behind why Sloan abruptly left haven't been fully divulged — and perhaps never will.
Yes, there had been a halftime locker room altercation the night before — and not his first verbal sparring — with Deron Williams during the Jazz-Bulls home game on Feb. 9, 2011, and frustrations boiled over.
There was also a lot of earnest pleading by management for him to reconsider stepping down, both that night and the following morning.
Ultimately, what mattered most was that the Jazz's longtime bench boss said he was drained of energy required to do his job, and then he was gone.
End of subject.
End of one amazing era. Beginning of another hope-filled one.
"In the beginning," Corbin explained, "your mind's racing."
Overnight, Corbin's responsibility du jour went from prepping his team for Phoenix to replacing a living legend and steadying the organization that had just been rocked by the departures of both Sloan and his longtime assistant, Phil Johnson.
"Now," he recalled, "you've got to rally all the troops together because of the change and make sure that everybody understood that we (needed to) continue to work to get better."
Today marks the one-year anniversary of that fateful day when Sloan bid adieu and endorsed Corbin to be his replacement.
To his credit, the former Jazz player — with an amicable personality, oodles of playing and coaching experience and knowledge, and an optimistic outlook — has made the transition smoother than most probably expected.
The Jazz missed the playoffs last season, but under Corbin's direction Utah's squad is in contention for a postseason berth and sports a winning record of 13-11.
"I think good organizations are prepared for whatever comes up — whether it be injury, whether it be changes to personnel," said Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden, who has been at Corbin's side throughout this changing of the guard.
"In this case, we had a change to what I consider our most important position, our head coach," Layden added. "I think it worked out very well because Coach Corbin had been here and he established such a great resume to be prepared to take over the team, so it was as seamless as it could possibly be when you lost two coaches of the magnitude of both Coach Sloan and Coach Johnson."
Jazz management had envisioned Corbin eventually becoming the head coach. When he rejoined Utah six years ago, Layden even said O'Connor told him, "I think Ty Corbin's going to make a great head coach some day." Nobody in the organization wanted that day to come — six years ago or even 12 months ago — but Corbin's talent and leadership skills were evident to Jazz brass.
It's no wonder then why Corbin was given complete control of the team without an interim tag the very same day Sloan called it quits — after the well-respected Johnson was offered and turned down the job.
The first part of the ride was bumpy.
The shell-shocked Jazz got hammered by Phoenix; then lost their All-Star guard and team leader, Deron Williams, in a surprising trade; then stumbled throughout the remainder of the season, even dropping eight straight games at one point.
But at the end of the biggest second-half collapse in NBA history, something unexpected happened.
Corbin's team beat the Lakers on the road, and then finished the season with back-to-back wins at New Orleans and at home against Denver.
Glimmers of hope shined through the dark cloud that had loomed over this proud franchise for two months.
"The experiences of last year were helpful," Corbin said, "because even though we didn't win games (only eight of 28), we had a chance to be around each other and understand what we liked, what we didn't like and what we were going to need to get better."
From that positive ending, Corbin and crew, including Jeff Hornacek who'd accepted a full-time assistant job after Sloan's exit, entered the offseason by preparing workout plans for their players.
Because of the lockout, Corbin wasn't able to work with the team's youngest players at summer leagues — one of his specialties — but he spent extra time strategizing with Jazz management and his assistants during the extended down time.
Corbin had worries about not being able to individually tutor players, but he went to work. Coaches spent hours and hours reviewing game film. They studied intricate details to break down and understand returning players and to familiarize themselves with newcomers. They concocted a coaching game plan.
"It was good for the coaching staff," Corbin said.
Step by step, Corbin put his mark on the franchise, using bits and pieces he'd absorbed while playing and coaching under Sloan for a total of 10 years and from time being mentored during his career by Rick Adelman, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Pat Riley and Lenny Wilkens.
Corbin hired Sidney Lowe and Michael Sanders to his coaching team. He implemented a new defensive strategy. He tweaked the Jazz offense. He stayed steady in setbacks.
Layden credits Corbin for being "very bright" and a "good listener."
Communication is one of his fortes — from dealing with the media to teaching X's and O's. He even took time during the offseason to interact with fans and sponsors in mock training camps.
"I think he's done a beautiful job," said Layden, who'd admit he's biased in his opinion of his longtime friend and co-worker and who also misses working with Sloan and Johnson.
"He studied. He's been listening," Layden said. "He's wanted to do things a certain way, and I think it proved to be successful."
Sloan and Johnson are missed by the organization, but Corbin has helped soften the blow of their absence.
"I think it's been a great transition for Coach Corbin and I," Layden said. "I think he's going to have tremendous success as we move the rest of this year and onward."
Layden quickly shared his reasoning.
"He's an Academic All-American," Layden said, recalling Corbin's college days at DePaul. "He played way beyond his talent to (last) 16 years in the NBA, which proves he's a tough guy. He's a very good communicator. He's got this background of working for Hall of Fame coaches, which is helpful when you get ready."
The Jazz have placed a no-comment order on talking about why Sloan left in the aftermath of the recent exchange between Jazz CEO Greg Miller and Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone, and Corbin simply said his former boss "just decided to move on." But he appreciates the endorsement Sloan gave for him on his way out. They had discussed Corbin becoming a head coach one day well before last February.
"It's a good thing for me," Corbin said, referring to Sloan's blessing. "I have a great deal of respect for who he is and what he's done and what I've learned from him. I was sad to see him go, but you move on."
And so he has. Now, instead of breaking down opponents for scouting reports, he's focused on building up his own guys. He enjoys planning, preparing and organizing practices and strategy sessions. He loves getting his hands dirty, working with players and trying to instill knowledge, confidence and a competitive attitude into his team. It's rewarding for him to pull up his sleeves, teach and build camaraderie with hard-working Jazz guys, from the 19-year-old to the thirtysomethings, who have grown, competed together, picked themselves up from stumbles and enjoyed successes.
"That's what's so refreshing about this group of guys," Corbin said, "to see their hard work, first of all, and then to see them get good results from the work they put in and how they stay together and continue to build a group of guys that's feeling good about competing against anybody."
And the Jazz organization believes the best is yet to come with Corbin.
"I think," Layden added, "in 20 years we're going to look back and say what a brilliant career he's had."
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Second-most playing experience (16 years) among current head coaches
Went 8-20 last season and 13-11 so far this year as head coach
GMs ranked him No. 2 (behind Phil Johnson) as NBA's top assistant in '10
Only fourth Utah Jazz head coach (and seventh in franchise history)
On Jazz staff since '04 after a year as Knicks' manager of player development
Earned computer science degree, honorable AP All-American at DePaul