“There is only my gut and my heart.”
That’s what Quin Snyder said to me the other day, as he was loading and mudding the last bricks into his decision to remain as coach of the Utah Jazz or to not remain.
He preceded that with this: “There is no piece of paper with [a list of] pros and cons.”
All good, with some melancholy.
He said to me, after his intention came to light: “I am so proud of what we did. I know we don’t have a banner or a ring, but I don’t need one to validate our journey. We did it with respect and we did it with authenticity.”
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He also said that he has “a deep sense of sadness, as well as an incredible amount of pride and gratitude. In the end, I just couldn’t see a clear path forward. I’m sure I will feel the heartache I feel right now for a while and periodically for a long time.”
One more thing: “This is really hard and I am really emotional. I guess that’s exactly what it should be.”
The man has his reasons for leaving and they are sound ones, honest ones. And they are his. He simplified it down to: “It was time.”
I got to know Snyder well over the years. I had the opportunity to discuss significant matters far beyond basketball, about life, about philosophies, with him. The conversations we had were … wonderful — in their earnestness and in their humanness.
I’ve had strong relationships with other people I’ve covered. Ron McBride is a king of a human being. LaVell Edwards? Was the same. The wise and wiseacre conversations I had with Larry Miller still bang around in my head. I really liked the guy.
But Quin I regarded at a different level.
It was an odd deal — the crusty columnist and the coach, the former initially wondering if he was getting played en route to positive press, the latter at first suspicious that a person with a pen could expose him. It was, indeed, strange, especially because Snyder was so very careful about what he revealed to anyone, let alone a loudmouth such as I. We laughed at the irony in it all. And yet, when our discussions went off the record, they stayed there.
We had an honored spoken agreement, though, as a part of my job: If he did something dumb, made bad decisions, I would rip him for it. He welcomed the idea, offering even to admit from time to time when from his vantage point his brilliance — my term, not his — turned into brain fog.
There were occasions. Not many.
In recent months, I was never sure whether Snyder would stay or go. And I got the feeling that he rather truthfully wasn’t sure either. Like Tevye, the main character in Fiddler On the Roof, his thought process went like this: “On the one hand. … On the other hand. …”
He struggled to explain it.
Snyder expressed with appreciation the mostly good times with the Jazz and with heaviness the occasional strain with the bad. It was that kind of to-and-fro within him. And that’s the man’s right.
What he did with the Jazz was notable. He took a once-proud franchise, a team that had fallen into disrepair, and built it into a consistent winner.
Some critics said the Jazz, particularly in the playoffs, never won enough.
It is true that the club, especially last season, after it ran up the regular season’s best record, flopped in the second round against the Clippers. Snyder went into a deep funk because of that, a funk that he never completely shook this past season, largely on account of personnel deficiencies that were not solved from the previous playoff loss.
Some thought he struggled to make adjustments, but upon his explanations — not excuses — it was clear to see for anyone who looked that the Jazz needed more of what they didn’t have — on the floor, not on the coaching bench.
So it was that he got blamed for things that were not his fault — he fully admits that he was not perfect — in the Jazz’s front office and on the court. Those who claimed he “won” when former general manager and vice president Dennis Lindsey was removed from his post, and some of them had agendas to protect. What did Snyder win? He might have had disagreements with Lindsey at times — many in the Jazz organization did — but he did not run Lindsey off.
He unjustly took the blame for it, and wore the scars for that.
But he never said anything publicly, one way or the other.
He just powered on.
Anybody who’s ever gone down the super highway of having in-depth discussions with Snyder about basketball, and its intricacies, usually trailed him by a minimum of three freeway exits. I could rarely keep up with him, but it all made sense in his mind. I always told him that if he ever got tired of coaching, he could make buckets of money as a television analyst. Never got the impression he would actually do that, but … who knows? He probably could have made more money in banking and investing or some other corporate endeavors than in coaching a game, substantial though those gains were.
He told me he was in no hurry to make this decision about whether to stay with the Jazz or to go. After this most recent season ended, he wanted to spend quiet time with his family and let all matters just settle in his … gut and heart.
On the other hand, even though he was under contract with the Jazz for more seasons, he didn’t want to hamstring the team with uncertainty about him, didn’t want it to swell up and crash over everyone, everything.
So, he decided it was time for him to leave.
I don’t know where he’ll end up. He indicated privately that he had no rock-solid plan in place as to whether he would take some time off or jump into another job right away. He did not disclose that.
This much is sure: He has or will have, either in the immediate future or later on, opportunities to coach elsewhere. And teams will take their place in line to hire him, if they’re fortunate enough to have him consider them.
And he’ll go on winning — to what degree will depend on the tools he’s given with which to build. Great coaches admit as much. He’s one of them. What he’ll ask for, more than anything, is the support necessary to do the job at hand.
That job will get done — with respect and authenticity.
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