Since Quin Snyder came to the Utah Jazz, a lot of people have wanted to know a little more about him, about who he is and how he thinks and what he believes in. And, ironically, as it is with so many individuals who have much to offer, he’s a bit reticent to open up about himself.
But, in his case, he doesn’t have to.
His team is a reflection of the man.
You want to get to know Snyder, get to know his team.
That, he’ll shed all kinds of light on.
It’s a team that already has assimilated much, but doesn’t know everything, doesn’t purport to know everything. It’s a team that’s capable, but learning as it goes, discovering for itself the costs of success, stumbling at times, soaring at others, suffering and celebrating those undulations en route.
“I want these guys to learn from their mistakes,” Snyder says.
That’s life. That’s basketball. That’s his view on both.
Snyder has seen all sides of mistakes and learning. He knows what it’s like to play in three NCAA Final Fours at Duke, what it’s like to ascend at age 32 to the head coaching job at Missouri, what it’s like to be sent packing and to start all over again — getting a law degree and an MBA, asking existential questions, coaching in places from Austin to Moscow to Atlanta. In the throes of professional and personal challenges, he learned his craft and he learned to fight back.
“There’s always challenges,” he once said. “Adversity is something I’m comfortable with. I just want to see everything with the right perspective.”
And so, he usually does.
“There’s much more to Quin than just basketball,” says Jazz assistant Alex Jensen. “He’s educated, he’s well-traveled, he’s well-read, and all of that helps him as a coach now. When he looks at things, including basketball, he sees them in different dimensions. It’s almost like science fiction. He sees things others don’t see.”
What Snyder sees now is a team that in order to win has to play by certain rules, underscoring togetherness and unselfishness: “Our strength isn’t a guy just beating his man and creating a shot,” he says. “We really need each other … need to help one another.”
After Friday night’s loss to Toronto, he succinctly said: “We weren’t solid enough.”
He was right.
The Jazz play diligently and selflessly at both ends, then, because they must, because they should. If they don’t, defeat is their reward.
It begins with point guard Ricky Rubio, a player who has been competing as a pro since he was a teenager. He played for Spain against Team USA and Kobe Bryant in the Olympics when he was 17. He started for the Timberwolves for seven years before coming here a few months ago. And now, under Snyder, Rubio is being properly tutored, and his game is beginning to expand.
“I felt like it was important this summer to really begin to let him know that I trusted him and felt like he could get better,” Snyder says. “He’s really bought into that. There’s some confidence there. We want to instill that in him. … He’ll reward us tenfold.”
Jensen says Rubio is simply channeling his coach: “Quin is always working on getting better, learning better, doing better. He knows nothing is perfect, but it’s just a vision of working to improve. Look at the players here who have gotten better.”
That Snyder mantra extends to Donovan Mitchell, and everyone, really. Snyder wants to instruct the rookie without swamping him, allowing him to express himself within the boundaries of the team, mistakes and all.
“The way Donovan carries himself is infectious,” he says. “There’s an innocence to the way he plays. He’s not showboating, he’s just smiling. He loves to compete. He’s a sponge right now. … He could get discouraged or paralyzed, and that hasn’t happened. He’s managed not to overthink the game, while absorbing a lot of information. That’s hard to do.”
Says MItchell: “When you have a coach who wants to do things right in every situation, it creates a certain vibe. He gets fired up and we play our butts off. He doesn’t like guys slacking. That makes him mad. And he can yell. Sometimes, he lets me have it. But if a coach isn’t screaming at you, he probably doesn’t care.”
The way he sees it, the way he reveals himself, is this: His entire team — rookies, veterans and coaches included — are on an ongoing journey.
“There’s a lot of teaching going on,” Snyder says. “When you’re teaching, you’re not always going to get immediate results. There are some things you need to live with in the short term, not ignore, but … it’s comprehensive. When guys think you’re leading them in the right direction … they’re going to respond.”
From there, Snyder gets into another aspect of the game and of life that’s important to him: Suppressing egocentrism for the greater good.
“We expect guys to put the team in front of themselves and support each other,” he says. “And that includes me. We can demonstrate that as a coaching staff, show the players we have confidence in them and then be unbelievably demanding of them. I told them, I’m going to be relentless. And that will take a lot of different forms. [He laughs.] But it has to be mixed with patience, and that over time pays off.”
That payoff is spawned out of necessity as much as altruism.
Snyder is more Napoleon than Florence Nightingale.
A conqueror, not a saint.
“The way we play, we have to get better at doing it,” he says. “The ball has to move more on offense, it gets stuck too much. Those are things, if you have the right mindset and have a commitment to it, you figure that out. It’s a group that’s competitive. You’ve got to be careful not to stretch them too far because they’re giving everything they have.”
Snyder believes his team is tracking toward his vision for the way basketball and life should be played, but …
“When you’re reliant on so many people to make plays for one another, the probability of mistakes goes up astronomically. If you have one player that has the ball and is making all the decisions for everybody and he’s a good player, there’s a level of efficiency. For us, there are so many guys on a given possession that have to do their jobs that if someone doesn’t do his job there’s a breakdown.
“When that’s working, it can be gratifying.
“That collective mindset, down to the smallest things … cutting hard, screening, recognizing all those situations … is difficult. We’re a team that needs each other in a desperate way. When we do that, we can be difficult to guard. When we don’t do that …”
“Quin’s never satisfied,” Jensen says. “He’s good at getting his point across in a direct way.”
“… All those moving parts,” says Snyder. “It takes time to get them connected and to play to one another’s strengths.”
So, that’s pretty much it.
Snyder is smart, enlightened, kind of a renaissance man, and a hard-driving basketball coach. He sees things on a different dimension, whatever that means.
But if you really want to get to know Quin Snyder, watch the way his team plays, the way it attempts to play.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM.