Monson: Jeff Hornacek on fast track for head-coaching job
Jeff Hornacek will be a head coach in the NBA, probably but not certainly somewhere other than Utah. It's a matter of time, and that time is growing short.
The Jazz know this. They know it enough to worry about it, to suffer heartburn over it, but not enough to immediately or automatically alter their current course.
"He'll have some choices, either this year or in the coming years about where he wants to be in his career as a potential head coach," said general manager Dennis Lindsey. "He's very capable â¦ obviously a great basketball mind, a natural."
The Jazz don't know exactly how short that time is, just that they are pretty much bound to lose a valuable asset, a part of their storied past, sooner rather than later. The only way they could rearrange that eventuality would be to let Ty Corbin go and elevate Hornacek to their top spot.
Some fans might encourage and embrace that change, given Corbin's mixed reviews and Hornacek's high standing around here. There's only one other local name that would surpass Hornacek in a popular vote for the position: the ever-eminent John Stockton. Over the better part of two decades, Hornacek has thoroughly woven himself into the fabric and pattern of the Jazz tapestry, with his retired jersey hanging as proof in the rafters at EnergySolutions Arena.
But Hornacek also has done the grunt work, spending the past two seasons deep on the Jazz's bench as an assistant, behind coaches who were nowhere near the player he was. He worked for the club for a few years before that as a shooting coach, teaching players with hands of stone how to squeeze off shots with a softer touch.
Among others, Gordon Hayward gave Hornacek major credit for improving his stroke this past season: "Having a great shooter like that work with me helped a lot not just with mechanics, but with my confidence," he said.
And that's the key similar in some ways to what Mark Jackson has done at Golden State to what Hornacek could bring to a team as a head coach: an easy, intelligent approach, but one that still has high standards for success. Some observers might think Hornacek is too nice of a guy, too well-adjusted. But he has always had a no-nonsense competitive streak that runs to his core. That's what enabled him to go on playing on one leg, dragging the other up and down the floor, in his latter seasons. It's what helped him walk on at Iowa State and win, what helped him become an All-Star as a second-round pick by Phoenix. Former Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo once said of Hornacek: "Most of the people in the league thought Jeff was too slow, not good enough to play in the NBA. But there was something special about him. He had a big heart."
He could play the game and he can think it and teach it, too. He's the son of a coach and has been a student of the game for as long as he's been around it. But, equal to that, he's a self-assured person who made up for those physical limitations with a combo-pack of toughness and acumen. When Hornacek played, he was fully aware that he was smarter than most of the guys he was going up against, and smarter than most of the guys on his own team. Still, he never beat anybody over the head with his IQ. He's not, nor has he ever been, bombastic, just bright.
His value to the Jazz as an assistant coach runs through all that, same as it did when he played for them. Remember, before Hornacek came to the Jazz in 1994, even with Malone and Stockton here, the team struggled to win on the road. After he arrived, they regularly won away from Salt Lake City. It's that kind of confidence that he could pass along to his team as a coach, even more effectively from the captain's chair, a confidence that is harder to share from a few spots down the bench.
Hornacek wants to be a lead dog, although he's not desperate enough to take just any job. Immediately after he retired from playing, he was satisfied to sit back and enjoy his young family for a period. Now, his kids are grown and he's ready to take the risks and reap the rewards of running his own shop with a franchise willing to give him the support necessary to win. In the past, he's interviewed with a few teams, including Chicago before the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau. He's now reportedly drawing interest from places such as Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Charlotte. In Phoenix, where Hornacek has had a home, columnists and commentators have been suggesting that new general manager Ryan McDonough hire him.
At some point, somebody will.
It would be a smart move.
And a big loss for the Jazz.
Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 AM and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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