A lot has been said about coach Tyrone Corbin during his three and a half seasons at the helm of the Utah Jazz, and much of the rhetoric regarding Corbin has been an amalgam of ire and praise. While that can be said of nearly any coach in the league, the balance of ire and praise seems to dip in ire’s favor. Corbin even acknowledged this during locker room cleanout.
“You know what? Misery loves company. There are some miserable people, and they love talking about what somebody else is doing and not doing. I think if (they) focus more on what they are doing they may have a chance to do something well. People like to criticize. That’s what it is. People like to read it. I don’t give a lot of energy to it myself,” Corbin said.
It’s true that a large amount of the talk surrounding Corbin, his development of young players, and defensive philosophies, were negative. The question is, now that Corbin has moved on and we have hindsight to look back, was that negative talk warranted?
By now, everyone knows the Corbin story inside and out – he succeeded Jerry Sloan following Sloan’s retirement. For the following two seasons, the teams Corbin was in charge of coaching had the potential to make the playoffs. He then saw his roster blown up this last off-season. With the reshuffling of players came a new direction – rebuilding.
However, Corbin didn’t receive a contract extension along with the edict to rebuild, develop the young talent, and prepare for the future. Instead, Corbin was stuck very much in between a rock and a hard place.
Take his first two full seasons as coach for example. Corbin had Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, both stellar players, captaining his squad. Those teams were teams without any clear direction or identity. Were the combined talents of Jefferson and Millsap enough to pull Utah through the playoffs, or were the Jazz at best contenders for a six seed with those two players? As it turns out, they weren’t. Utah made the playoffs one of those two years, getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Those teams reached their collective ceiling when they played the Spurs in the post-season, but in the midst of those teams gunning for post-season play, the Jazz picked up a few assets. Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter were all with Utah while Jefferson and Millsap were playing in Salt Lake City.
Corbin knew he had young players sitting on the bench, and he knew they were going to be the future of the franchise at some point. He worked the guys into games when he could, and helped them get their feet wet, but Corbin always had a focus on winning. Many nights, he’d pull young players in favor of veterans when games were close, because Corbin was focused on putting the team into the best position to win as many games as possible.
Winning is what a coach is hardwired to do. With Corbin not knowing if he was going to be a part of Utah’s plans moving forward, he had to try and fight to find a happy medium between whatever plans the Jazz front office might have had for the future and what would be best for his future coaching career.
That resulted in the younger players not playing nearly as much during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, the first full seasons Corbin was coach. Corbin had enough talent to pilot his teams to the playoffs, and that’s what he tried to do.
This season, veterans Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson saw quite a few minutes, but they didn’t take away minutes from the young players nearly as much as past veterans did for Utah. Hayward, Burks, Favors, and Trey Burke led the team in minutes per game, with Kanter .3 minutes behind Jefferson.
Kanter has had a lot of defensive troubles, which is why his minutes were limited in part by Corbin. Corbin wanted to go out every night and play the lineups which gave him the best chance of winning, and those lineups didn’t always involve Kanter.
From a coaching standpoint, no one can blame Corbin in the slightest for trying to win basketball games night in and night out.
The other argument here is that development of the young players is more important than winning now, and that argument has immense validity to it. However, purely from a coaching perspective, what Corbin did with the Jazz is worth taking a second to really evaluate.
He had his issues. As does every coach. No team Corbin has had in the past four years has been a good defensive team, but every coach has his weakness. The thing Corbin did best was simple, though – he made the best out of every situation he was given. He tried as hard as he could to win basketball games and put a competitive product out on the court every night.
Every loss hurt Corbin. The stress of trying to win while simultaneously developing young talent was visible in his eyes every night he stepped outside the locker room. For that, he needs to be admired and praised. Corbin honestly gave this head coaching job his all.
Regardless, Corbin will always be remembered in the history of the Utah Jazz.
One can just hope that it’s for the right reasons.