Since high school, when Larry Brown tried to lure him to Kansas and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski drove to Mercer Island, with a video projector in the car, Quin Snyder has been around some of the game’s best coaches.
From his playing days with the Blue Devils, to a winding coaching career of his own, Snyder says his experiences with those greats has shaped him, molded his own philosophies, and prepared him for his new task.
“I have had a chance to work for some of the best minds in basketball,” Snyder, the Utah Jazz’s new head coach, said at his introductory press conference earlier this month. “It’s humbling to think that I’ve had a chance to be around those people.”
So as he begins the job of trying to help coach a young Jazz team, turning a squad that won just 25 games a season ago into a winner, Snyder will try to channel some of the best qualities his former bosses possessed.
In Krzyzewski, for whom Snyder played point guard from 1985-89, Snyder got his first major taste of top-level coaching.
“I played for Coach K in addition to coaching with him, so a lot of these things kind of meld together,” Snyder said. “He was very aware, especially for me as a young player, of your growth. And he was always able to adjust. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s been so successful over time, because he’s been able to adjust with the game.”
After finishing his playing career at Duke, Snyder’s first NBA job came working under Brown, who had been unsuccessful a few years earlier recruiting Snyder to Lawrence.
“He’s a bright kid, a great kid,” said Brown. “He’s a point guard. He had a passion to learn and he wanted to get better. … And he’s just gotten better and better and better.”
Snyder watched Brown run the Clippers, especially admiring his ability to impart knowledge to his players.
“Coach Brown, he’s just a gifted teacher,” Snyder said. “When you watch one of his practices, it just jumps out at you, whether it was a practice in college or a practice in the NBA.”
Snyder left Los Angeles after a season to return to North Carolina, where he spent six season as an assistant under his former college coach. That time helped him become one of the hottest names in coaching, landing him the head coaching job at Missouri, beating out Bill Self and John Calipari. But when recruiting violations and losses mounted at Missouri, Snyder and the Tigers parted ways and the coach questioned his future in the game.
When he re-emerged, he forsook the glamour of a major program for a job coaching the D-Leauge Austin Toros. In three seasons in Austin, he won 94 games, leading the Toros to the playoffs each year, despite sending more players to the NBA than any other coach.
It was a humbling experience, marked by long bus rides and empty arenas, but it was also where he met future Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich.
“Coach Pop, to this day, has probably had the biggest influence on me,” Snyder said. “I started working in San Antonio at a time when I was … becoming more and more passionate about coaching and coaching in the pros. I was a sponge. I had worked for a few other guys, so I could appreciate what was going on there in San Antonio. … I took some time to observe and figure out what was going on. Once that happened, there was a wealth of knowledge.”
From there, Snyder made stops in Philadelphia and Los Angeles before following European legend Ettore Messina back to Russia. CSKA Moscow won the Russian championship and finished third in the Euroleague.
“Ettore opened my eyes to a lot of things in Europe,” Snyder said. “I saw the game, tactical aspects of the game, matchup basketball, different ways to approach the game.”
Playing just one game a week in Europe, Snyder’s team was able to run scout teams and prepare exhaustively for opponents — some of the same lessons he was able to apply last season in Atlanta, where he was charged with scouting the Indiana Pacers, helping the Hawks develop a game plan that pushed the heavily favorited Pacers to the brink, despite injuries and inexperience.
Now Snyder is in charge once again, ready to use a lifetime’s worth of basketball knowledge to help turn around a franchise.
“I’d like to think I took advantage of those opportunities,” he said of his stops along the way, “I worked hard and this is the fruit of those labors.”
Quin Snyder’s coaching trinity
The Jazz coach’s position under these coaches:
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke • Player, assistant coach
Larry Brown, Clippers • Assistant coach
Gregg Popovich, Spurs •D-League coach