SALT LAKE CITY — In the aftermath of the Utah Jazz’s decision to not renew Tyrone Corbin’s contract, two relevant questions are being asked by fans, media, the NBA community and even members of the organization.
1. Who will the franchise hire to be the fifth head coach since the Jazz moved to Utah from New Orleans in 1979?
2. When will that employment transaction take place?
(We’ll leave a third, and perhaps more popular, question of “Will the Jazz draft Jabari Parker?” for another story.)
Though general manager Dennis Lindsey used the word “timeline” on multiple occasions during Monday's press conference, it was usually to declare that the Jazz don’t have a definitive one for the new coach search.
The closest Lindsey came to predicting a hiring date was when he relayed what the front office told the Miller ownership group: “However long it takes to get the best man in the seat.”
However long it takes, the Jazz are clearly in unchartered territory.
The only three head-coaching changes in the 35 years the team has been located in Utah were immediately taken care of with an in-house hire.
On Dec. 10, 1981, Jazz GM Frank Layden fired and personally replaced Tom Nissalke. Seven years later, on Dec. 9, 1988, Layden called it quits, only to have that vacancy filled the same day by his lead assistant, Jerry Sloan.
Corbin, the eighth-longest-tenured NBA coach before Monday, followed suit by replacing Sloan on the same day the Hall of Fame coach resigned — and after the job was turned down by longtime top assistant Phil Johnson — back on Feb. 10, 2011.
In fact, the Jazz have only had two offseason head-coach searches in the franchise’s 40-year history — before the inaugural season when Scotty Robertson was hired on May 28, 1974 and leading up to the move from New Orleans to Salt Lake City when Nissalke was hired on June 18, 1979.
Lindsey’s only experience with an NBA coach search came in 2003 when he was the Houston Rockets’ vice president of basketball operations and player personnel, working with then-GM Carroll Dawson. That summer was the transition period between Rockets coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Jeff Van Gundy.
Three-time NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich was the Spurs’ bench boss during Lindsey’s time with San Antonio from 2007-12.
Despite the relative inexperience Utah has with coaching changes, Lindsey vowed that the organization would conduct this search “with the right professional decorum.” Per NBA rules, the Jazz will have to receive permission from other organizations to talk with potential candidates (although there are backdoor ways to gauge interest before that happens, of course).
“So it won’t be the Wild, Wild West with our search. We have Jazz and professional integrity that we want to stick to,” Lindsey said. “This is a little new to all of us, but we’ll do it the right way, you can be assured of that.”
If the Jazz take the same amount of time as other NBA teams have in recent coaching hires, that process will take about a month. Last offseason, a record 13 organizations picked up new head coaches, with an average of 28.4 days between the time one coach left for various reasons and when the successor was named.
Phoenix (Jeff Hornacek) and Atlanta (Mike Budenholzer) announced their new hires on the same day they announced they wouldn’t be renewing their previous coaches’ contracts.
The Kings (Mike Malone), Cavaliers (Mike Brown) and Celtics (Brad Stevens) all moved quickly, filling their vacancies between three and eight days. Philadelphia took the longest time, spending almost four months (118 days) between Doug Collins’s resignation and hiring Brett Brown.
The other seven organizations endured hiring periods that lasted from 17-59 days.
Lindsey said the Jazz hadn’t spent any time meeting about potential candidates before Monday when he said the final decision on Corbin’s fate was made. Although rumors swirled about a coaching change being inevitable after a 25-57 rebuilding season, there were Jazz employees who believed Corbin would get another chance late into the evaluation process.
“Now that the decision’s closed, we’ll meet quickly, internally,” Lindsey said. “We’ll set some criteria. We’ll look at some objective measures. We’ll look at some subjective measures about coaches and who’s going to be the new leader of the Utah Jazz and define some timelines about who we’re going to interview.”
Lindsey acknowledged that he understands his former acquaintances from Houston and San Antonio might be considered logical candidates by outsiders. Former University of Utah coach Jim Boylen is one of those names to have already surfaced, as sources have indicated that the former Houston co-worker and friend of Lindsey’s is his top choice.
Lindsey also has close ties with Van Gundy, Suns assistant Mike Longabardi, Bulls assistant Andy Greer and Jazz assistant Brad Jones from previous NBA stints.
Lindsey won’t talk about candidate names, of course. But he isn’t shying away from the fact he’ll lean on experiences from his old jobs and mentors in this process.
“Will Gregg Popovich’s influence weigh on me? Will my Houston experience with Rudy (Tomjanovich) and Jeff (Van Gundy) and Carroll (Dawson) and Leslie (Alexander) influence me? Absolutely,” Lindsey said. “There’s no way to separate (it). It would be like you trying to separate yourselves from your parents.”
Ultimately, though, Lindsey said the new hire will be decided upon as a group, just as the decision to let Corbin go after three-plus years was made. The decision-makers include Jazz owner Gail Miller, CEO Greg Miller, Miller Sports Properties president Steve Miller, team president Randy Rigby, O’Connor, CFO Bob Hyde and Lindsey.
“Those (former experiences) will all have influences, but the team influence around the Jazz will dictate what we do going forward,” Lindsey said. “ I’m very confident in the group and our experience and our networking contacts that we’ll come up with a good decision coming forward.”
Continued development of the young core will be a high priority. Defense will also be critical, especially after the Jazz finished ranked 30th this season. But Lindsey believes the game is won and lost on both ends, so it’s more complex than just wanting a defensive improvement.
“What I find is important is everything. All the details really matter,” Lindsey said. “You can be great offensively and be terrible defensively and your season will end prematurely. And you can switch that ratio. You’d better be great at both at the end of the day.”
In terms of the length of search, if Boylen or any other assistants on current playoff teams are targeted by the Jazz, the hiring process could be elongated because teams aren’t likely to allow important assets to search for new opportunities until they’re eliminated.
It’s also possible the Jazz could be forced to wait until the end of the European season if a coach like Italy’s Ettore Messina (CSKA Moscow) proves to the preferred option, as has been reported by national writers.
To that point, one source told the Deseret News the Jazz “will be the team that hires a Euro coach.”
So who will it be? And when?
At this point, your guess is as good as anybody’s.
TIME BETWEEN NBA COACHING CHANGES IN 2013
Atlanta: Same day, May 28
Boston: Eight days, 6/25-7/3
Brooklyn: 38 days, 5/5-6/12)
Charlotte: 36 days, 4/23-5/29
Cleveland: Six days, 4/18-4/24
Denver: 19 days, 6/6-6/25
Detroit: 59 days, 4/18-6/10
L.A. Clippers: 35 days, 5/21 - 6/25
Memphis: 17 days, 6/10-6/27
Milwaukee: 30 days, 5/1-5/31
Philly: 118 days, 4/18-8/14
Phoenix: Same day, May 28
Sacramento: Three days, 5/31-6/3