When Igor Kokoskov departed the Utah Jazz to become the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Jazz coach Quin Snyder didn’t want to replace him with just one man.
“It’s more about how we redistribute responsibility than ‘we lost a quarterback, we’ve gotta go find a quarterback,’” Snyder said.
But Kokoskov was important to the Jazz. He had been Quin Snyder’s right-hand man since 1999, when Snyder made Kokoskov the first European full-time assistant coach in NCAA history. While they occasionally split for various jobs over the years, Kokoskov was a natural hire for Snyder just a year after he became Jazz head coach.
Kokoskov also had big-time European coaching experience, having been the head coach of the Georgia and Slovenia national teams. He’d also been employed by the champion Detroit Pistons, as well as Clippers, Suns, Cavaliers, and Magic, so he had an incredibly diverse background from which to draw tactical ideas.
That expertise also helped him mold the Jazz’s point guards, from George Hill to Ricky Rubio to Raul Neto. He worked with them daily after practice and before games on all types of shooting and playmaking.
Finally, Kokoskov worked as Snyder’s replacement when Snyder was sick (he led the Jazz to a road win over the Lakers in December 2016), or if Snyder was ejected out of a game (only once, in 2018).
So instead of replacing Kokoskov individually, Snyder sought to strengthen his staff collectively.
All of the staff will chip in to replace what Kokoskov brought, but among the names filling those roles: newcomers Fotis Katsikaris and Raul Lopez, as well as longtime staff members Tony Lang and Alex Jensen.
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Katsikaris has been the head coach of the Russian and Greek national teams, as well as for club teams in Athens, St. Petersburg, Valencia, Thessaloniki, Bilbao, Murcia, Krasnodar, Jerusalem, and San Cristóbal de La Laguna. With that kind of head coaching experience, there aren’t many coaches who would have welcomed the step down like Katsikaris did.
“For me, when I talked to Fotis, one of the biggest things that stood out to me was his humility,” Snyder said. “The reason I was so comfortable and excited about it was his desire to be here and contribute. He fits, and we’re happy to have him.”
Raul Lopez was brought into the staff as well, largely due to his relationship with Ricky Rubio. Lopez, who the Jazz selected with the No. 24 pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, was familiar with the organization, sure. But Lopez' work with Rubio in the 2017 offseason and during stretches of the 2017-18 season was working, and Rubio became a better player. Now, Rubio works with Lopez and Jeff Watkinson, another coach brought in by Snyder in 2015.
Meanwhile, Tony Lang moves from the behind the bench to one of the three chairs on the bench itself next to Snyder. Alex Jensen will replace Snyder if he’s absent.
Another notable addition to the Jazz’s coaching staff: Vince Legarza. Legarza worked with Snyder in Atlanta before moving to Minnesota, in part to work with Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns credited Legarza in his Rookie of the Year speech for his success, though Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau let Legarza go without Towns' knowledge in May.
“There was an opportunity to potentially add him to the group,” Snyder said. “I knew Vince, he’d worked with me in Atlanta in a player development capacity, in a similar fashion to Lamar [Skeeter]. [We like] his energy, he’s a young guy with an old basketball mind.”
You may have noticed: all of those names on the Jazz’s coaching staff above don’t have specific titles, just responsibilities and roles that they’re responsible for filling. That’s intentional: Snyder wants to create an egalitarian staff that works together for the common cause, rather than one that worries about a hierarchical structure.
“For the most part, we have guys who are coaches. We don’t have player development coaches, we don’t have offensive coordinators, we don’t have defensive coordinators. We don’t have video interns,” Snyder said. “Lamar Skeeter is as much of a coach as Johnnie Bryant.”
Again, Snyder used Skeeter as an example. “Lamar Skeeter, is he the second assistant, the fourth assistant, the sixth assistant? I don’t know. But I know he’s the coach that worked with Royce O’Neale, and he got a heck of a lot better.”
That’s not to say that Skeeter is just a player development coach. Snyder’s vision, informed by his own experiences as an assistant coach across the world, is to teach all of his coaches holistically rather than pigeonholing them into one responsibility.
“As guys grow, you don’t want someone to be stuck in a certain role. Johnnie’s role is different than Lamar’s. But hopefully everybody’s got room to grow, and everybody has some parts of responsibilities across a lot of areas, because that’s what the job really is," Snyder said. "It’s not compartmentalized by nature, and if it is, you’re probably a lot less effective as a coach.”
In the end, it’s a coaching staff off the court that reflects the team he’s built on the court.
“Like a team, when you get a staff that’s selfless, hardworking, and talented, guys are able to work collectively. That’s where the players benefit the most.”