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Monson: Getting to know the Jazz's new head man

Published February 13, 2011 9:35 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There are things you have to know about the new head coach of the Utah Jazz, things you want to know and things that are completely extraneous — unnecessary little things that may be the most interesting of all. The mixture of those, in no particular order, reveals the real Tyrone Corbin. Here they are:

1 • When the Jazz traded for Corbin, the player, in the middle of his 16-year career back in the early '90s, he was thrilled to come to Salt Lake City, primarily for one reason. Something he calls the "Utah mystique," a notion he describes thusly: "I knew Jerry Sloan was here, and John Stockton and Karl Malone were here. It was a straightforward, hardworking, disciplined, winning atmosphere. You had to act a certain way, do certain things, the right things. It taught me a lot, and it rejuvenated me because we won a lot of games."

2 • A graduate from DePaul University with a degree in computer science, Corbin might have made a bazillion dollars working for Apple or IBM, two companies for which he completed internships in college and in the offseason while playing for Phoenix, back before the personal-computer boom launched into the ionosphere. Moving his career in that direction "crossed my mind," he said. "We were working on education programs for schools, putting software packages together."

3 • Corbin's general aura in college: "I was cool."

4 • His self-description now: "I'm kind of a weird guy."

A weird guy who alters his route home from work because driving the same way bores him. He reads owner's manuals for fun. Manuals for electronic gadgets, computers, appliances, cars and garage-door openers.

5 • The Jazz can thank a backwater basketball outfit, known as the North Charleston (S.C.) Lowgators, for channeling their future head man toward them. After Corbin retired as a player, he hung around his home in South Carolina, being a husband and father, learning to play golf, a passion that grips him still, and consulting the 'Gators, helping develop their players. The coaching bug bit him, and he's been infected ever since. "I found out early you had to know what you were talking about," he says. "But I also discovered the impact you could have from the sideline on what was happening out on the floor. You answer the question: 'Can I get these guys to play basketball the right way?' " Apparently, he liked the answer.

6 • Corbin once played golf with legendary pro Chi-Chi Rodriguez. The most beautiful course he says he ever played is the track at Kapalua on Maui. He typically shoots in the low 80s. His favorite golfer to watch: Tiger Woods. His current clubs: Nike Split Cavities. He can hit the ball 300-plus-yards off the tee. He once had a hole-in-one on a 309-yard par 4 at Thanksgiving Point, for which he won nothing. On the next hole, a par 3, an ace would have won him a new car. He chunked it into the bunker. He doesn't cheat, he says, "unless the people I'm playing with are cheating."

7 • His emotional response to losing his first game as head coach on Friday night: "Intense disappointment." His solution to Jazz problems: "Get better." His new contract status: "I haven't signed it yet."

8 • When Corbin played for Phoenix, he was on a road trip, traveling on the team bus in excruciatingly hot, humid weather in Miami. When the air conditioning broke down, Corbin sweated so profusely that he stripped down to next to nothing. Jeff Hornacek, his new assistant with the Jazz, who also was a teammate at that time on the Suns, witnessed the whole thing. "Before Friday night's game, I looked over at him on the bench, and sweat was coming off his head," Hornacek says. "I thought, 'Uh-oh,' and handed him a towel."

9 • Hornacek says Corbin will make a good head coach for a number of reasons: "He's a hard worker. I played with him twice, once here and once in Phoenix. He was always a team player. You see guys who get to be a head coach, and they change. Ty won't. He played with energy and hard work, and he'll do the same as a coach."

10 • If there's a nicer, more polite man on the planet than Corbin, nobody's ever met him. But both Corbin and Scott Layden, Corbin's other assistant, warn that he can be a bad mother if he has to be. "He played 16 years in the NBA," Layden says. "You have to be ultra-tough to do that. This is his time. This is his moment. He deserves the opportunity. He can't miss." Says Corbin: "I'm a friendly, easygoing guy. I love to have fun. I like to encourage people. If I have to say something bad, I say it as nice as I can. But don't think I'm a pushover. If I need to be nasty, I can be."

11 • During his 16 years as a player — and at DePaul — Corbin played for well-known and, in some cases, iconic coaches. Among them: Ray Meyer, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Lenny Wilkens, Rick Adelman and Sloan — mentors from whom he says he will now draw philosophy and methodology, melding the borrowed with his own ways and means to coach the Jazz. His seven seasons here under Sloan, which followed a year as the director of player development for the Knicks under Layden — have profoundly influenced his coaching style. "I've played for great coaches, but I have to be myself. … I have to be who I am," he said.

12 • Corbin understands the vicissitudes of playing in the NBA, having been drafted in the second round and waived, traded, or signed by nine teams.

13 • When Corbin was called by Sloan to measure his interest in becoming a Jazz assistant, his response was: "I'll be there tomorrow."

14 • As for Corbin's position and place to lead the Jazz, veteran guard Raja Bell says the new head coach is unique: "He's a players' coach who has been brought up under Jerry but who isn't that far removed from his playing days. It's a nice fit."

15 • Corbin was raised on the harsh streets of Columbia, S.C., living in the projects, a set of apartments known as Gonzales Gardens, which were wedged hard between difficulty and despair. But his family was a huge support — five brothers and a sister, headed by a devoted and determined mom, Mary, who insisted that her kids not only stay out of trouble and in school, but also work their brains in the classroom. "She was a loving mom who showed tough love, too," Corbin says. "She knew education was the way to success. I always thought my mom worked too hard to give her any heartbreak." Mary, who was employed at a dry-cleaning business, is the one whom Corbin credits for his work ethic. "She told us, 'If you're going to take money from anyone, make sure you earn it.' "

16 • Twenty-four years ago, Corbin married his wife, Dante, his high school sweetheart, although, technically, she was a cheerleader for his rival school. "She's smarter than me and way prettier. I chicked way up." The couple have two children: Tyjha and Tyrell. Tyrell is a star basketball player at Salt Lake City's West High School.

17 • Corbin's definition of culinary delights begins and ends with soul food: "Catfish, yams, collard greens, food like that."

18 • In high school, one of Corbin's teammates was Xavier McDaniel.

19 • Old movies are a love of Corbin's. Old comedies, old dramas and action films. His all-time top flick is "Lean On Me" because, as he says it, "I love the principle of making a bad situation better." It's a perfect principle to love for the current state of the Jazz.

20 • His favorite thing about coaching basketball: "Winning."

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com.