SALT LAKE CITY — By now you’ve probably decided you know all about the Utah Jazz. They’re the people who always drive the speed limit. The folks that cinch their neckties, wipe their feet and tip exactly 15 percent.
But on Friday the organization that time (and the playoffs) forgot actually made an interesting move. It hired Quin Snyder as its coach — a man with a past. It didn’t choose Brad Jones, Jerry Sloan’s nephew, or Alvin Gentry, the veteran NBA head coach, or Adrian Griffin, the Chicago assistant that intrigues many.
Instead it selected the guy with Duke MBA and law degrees, seven years of Division I head coaching experience, Developmental League and NBA assistant coaching experience and, boy, oh boy, does he have nice hair.
An endorsement deal with Pantene can’t be far behind.
He’s also the guy who got fired at Missouri for losing games and running afoul of the NCAA.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey hired someone he knew from his days in San Antonio. Lindsey was assistant general manager and Snyder was head coach of the Development League Austin Toros, making his way back into the game after a sabbatical.
Once again, it’s easy to see who is driving the Jazz bus. In one year, Lindsey has allowed the team’s top scorers, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, to leave, traded on draft night to get Trey Burke, fired Tyrone Corbin and hired a guy who practically went invisible for 16 months as he sorted out his priorities. After visiting Costa Rica and moving to North Carolina, following his exit at Missouri, he took a job with the Toros.
Austin is a nice town, and not a small one. But the D-League isn’t exactly the lead news every day.
Friends had encouraged him to get out of coaching and use his law degree. He could have landed a nice job in some firm, buried amid the tort books. There’s not a firm in the country that wouldn’t want a big-time coach on hand to tell recruiting stories and drop names.
Instead he went to Austin from 2007-2010, where he met Lindsey. Later he became an assistant with the 76ers, Lakers, CSKA Moscow and, most recently, the Atlanta Hawks.
“I decided, you know what, I like my horse,” he told Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times in 2010. “I don’t want to get a different horse. I’ve got a good horse. But I didn’t want to put my life on public display again.”
Too late for that.
From here on he’ll be as incognito as a marching band.
Lindsey is bound to get at least some criticism. Snyder was hired in 1999 to follow legendary Missouri coach Norm Stewart. He made the NCAA tournament his first four years, even reaching the Elite Eight once. But soon things began unraveling. His program was dogged by NCAA violations, and unhappy Tiger fans snapped at his heels as the record fell below .500. Although the official term was “resigned,” Snyder has said he prefers to call it a firing.
Either way, it was a big public deal. It wasn’t just that he was coach at a Big 12 program. It was that the cameras loved him. He wears a suit like Tom Cruise wears a killer smile. When asked last week what he knew about Snyder, one former NBA coach’s first response was: “Nice hair.”
But he’s more than looks. Snyder has coached under Larry Brown (Clippers), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Doug Collins (Philadelphia), Mike Brown (Lakers) and Mike Budenholzer (Hawks).
In seven years at Missouri he went 224-128. The NCAA violations were numerous but deemed minor.
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Throughout his return, he has consistently told reporters that being around basketball was his motivation. The fame he could skip. Now he’s with a youngish team that lacks both superstars and leadership, but also has the fifth pick in the draft.
“We have taken a significant and exciting step forward in the evolution of this franchise,” Lindsey said on Friday.
There’s no denying Snyder has a strong resume. But he also has a little bit of history. The Jazz aren’t taking the safest route, but they are taking the most interesting. Kind of like the way they’re trying to rebuild the franchise by first tearing it down.
Who says they never do anything edgy?
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