SALT LAKE CITY — Within the next month or so, the Utah Jazz will name the franchise's fifth head coach since the club moved to Utah in 1979.
If the Jazz proceed according to form, they’ll select a former NBA player who has worked for at least eight years as an assistant in the league and is around 47 years old. That is, if they choose a coach that fits the profile of the current head coaches in the NBA.
Of the 30 coaches who finished the 2013-14 season, 18 have experience as players in the NBA. All but five — 25 — have worked as an NBA assistant and their average length of service was 8.6 years.
Wait a minute, that sounds a lot like the coach the Jazz just got rid of, doesn’t it? Tyrone Corbin was 48 years old when he took over as the franchise's fourth head coach after working for seven years as an assistant, following a long career in the NBA as a player.
That happens to be the profile of the majority of the 30 NBA coaches who completed the season last month. (Besides Corbin, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman and Knicks coach Mike Woodson have subsequently resigned or been let go since the end of the regular season.)
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey hasn’t said much about his requirements for a head coach since the end of the season and indicated on a recent local radio show that the Jazz are still in the process of identifying candidates and aren’t real close to naming a successor to Corbin.
There has been talk that the Jazz might decide to “think outside the box” with their selection and perhaps take a coach with extensive international experience such as Italian Ettore Messina, who currently coaches for CSKA Moscow.
Only three of the 2013-14 coaches have had international experience — D’Antoni, who coached in Italy for eight years; Philadelphia’s Brett Brown, who coached in Australia for 14 years' and Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who coached a junior team in Denmark after playing there. So the Jazz would be going against the grain if they chose a foreign coach.
If they decided to pluck a top coach from the collegiate ranks, someone like UConn’s Kevin Ollie or Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, they would also be going in a direction few NBA teams go these days.
Former big-name college coaches are almost non-existent in the NBA. Of the six who were once head coaches, only Brad Stevens of the Celtics coached for a Division I university. Among other former collegiate head coaches, Charlotte's Steve Clifford coached four years at Adelphi, a Division II school; Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau had one year at Salem State; Detroit’s John Loyer coached a year at Wabash Valley CC; San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich coached eight years at Pomona-Pitzer; and Adelman coached seven years at Chemeketa State in Oregon.
Just as many current coaches started their careers as NBA video coordinators as former college head coaches.
That list includes Loyer, Budenholzer, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, Sacramento’s Mike Malone, Miami’s Eric Spoelstra and Cleveland’s Mike Brown.
The biggest common denominator among the NBA coaches is experience in the league as assistant coaches. Only five didn’t work as assistants before becoming head coaches, including Houston’s Kevin McHale, who had experience as an executive in Minnesota; Doc Rivers, who was hired by Orlando a couple of years after he retired as a player; Mark Jackson, who went from the TV booth to Golden State three years ago; Jason Kidd, who went directly from the playing ranks to coach the Brooklyn Nets; and Stevens, who was hired out of Butler University to take over the Boston Celtics last year.
The coaches who worked longest as assistants are Thibodeau, who spent 20 years as an assistant for six different teams; Budenholzer who spent 17 years in San Antonio as an assistant; Portland's Terry Stotts, who assisted four different teams in 15 years; and Toronto’s Dwane Casey, who was an assistant for 14 years at Seattle and Dallas.
Four coaches, Brett Brown, Mike Brown, Budenholzer and Jacque Vaughn, worked as assistant coaches in San Antonio under Popovich. That bodes well for former Utah coach Jim Boylen, who is the current top assistant for the Spurs.
Another large list is the number of current coaches who are re-treads — guys who have already been fired as NBA head coaches before getting a second chance. Nearly a third of the coaches fit in that category, including Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who had winning records in both Detroit and Indiana but was still let go; and Washington coach Randy Wittman, who has had overall losing records in Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington, although he has led his team into the second round of the NBA playoffs this year.
One last thing. Of the 30 coaches in the NBA this year, five (that’s nearly 17 percent) were named Mike. So if the Jazz were to follow that trend, you might want to keep your eye on Phoenix assistant Mike Longabardi.