The Utah Jazz may be in the midst of the widest coaching search in recent NBA memory. In all, according to reports, they’ve interviewed at least 15 candidates for the job once held by Quin Snyder.
But three weeks into the process, it looks like the team’s decision-makers are favoring the younger assistant coaches in their search for a new leader. In particular, it’s Celtics’ assistant Will Hardy that is considered by many league insiders to be a leading candidate at this point.
Hardy, 34, played his college ball in Massachusetts at Williams College and has spent most of his NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs. In 2010, he was hired as a video intern by the team, then served as a team video coordinator from 2013 to 2015.
“What helped me in San Antonio was access, transparency. They let me be in film sessions. There’s pretty much an open-door policy with the assistants that you work with,” Hardy said at a coaches’ conference in 2020. “Brett Brown, when I worked with him in the video room, I sat in his office all day and almost watching him go through his process, asking him questions, he’d ask me questions, and starting to learn how he was getting to his answers. How he was evaluating a team we were going to play and how he was figuring out what he was going to do for the game plan.”
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has spoken highly of Hardy. As Popovich told the Boston Globe, “Before long, he became the head of it, the guy that I depended on. If I wanted the post-ups or pick-and-rolls or to know why we sucked at something last night, he’d come in and say, ‘Well, look, this is what they did.’ He’d break it down for me. And I said, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is breaking stuff down just like we do.’”
In 2015, he took an official role on the Spurs’ bench as an assistant coach.
Last offseason, when former Spurs assistant Ime Udoka was chosen to be the Celtics’ head coach succeeding Brad Stevens, Udoka hired Hardy to join his staff. That Spurs’ culture is something Hardy said he tried to bring with him to Boston, too.
“If you’re not actually doing all those things every day, then your culture is nothing,” said Hardy. “So it’s always been about being selfless. Coach Pop says all the time, ‘Get over yourself. It ain’t about you.’ No one person is bigger than this and that goes from him all the way down.”
Hardy also was a member of Team USA’s coaching staff at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, working with Popovich, Udoka, Steve Kerr, Jeff Van Gundy, Jay Wright, and others.
But in terms of his relationships with the Jazz’s front office, it should be noted that Hardy and new Jazz CEO Danny Ainge’s time with the Celtics didn’t officially overlap.
Another highly-considered candidate for the Jazz’s head coaching job is current Suns assistant Kevin Young.
Young, 40, is a former Utah Valley University assistant coach who worked his way to eventually become the head coach of the D-League Utah Flash in 2010. He continued to coach in the G-League until 2017, when he moved to the Philadelphia 76ers assistant coaching staff. Young was then hired by Suns head coach Monty Williams in 2020 — when Williams sat out this season due to COVID, Young took his place as acting Suns head coach.
Young has been considered a key player in creating the Suns’ top-5 offense over the last two seasons, and was interviewed for the Sixers’ head coaching job before the organization chose Doc Rivers.
The idea that the Jazz may go with Hardy or Young, both younger assistant coaches without NBA head coaching experience, was first reported by longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein. As Stein wrote, “The rising expectation in coaching circles is that Utah, with Danny Ainge entrenched as the club’s new CEO, wants to hire a young first-time coach to replace Quin Snyder.”
Hardy and Young aren’t the only young first-time coaches interviewed by the Jazz. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, current Jazz assistant coaches Alex Jensen and Lamar Skeeter were interviewed, as was former Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant, now the lead assistant for the New York Knicks.
The other league assistant coaches interviewed, in alphabetical order: the Pistons’ Jerome Allen, the 76ers’ Sam Cassell, the Raptors’ Adrian Griffin, the Celtics’ Hardy and Joe Mazzulla, the Bucks’ Charles Lee, the Heat’s assistant Chris Quinn, the Mavericks’ Sean Sweeney, and the Suns’ Young.
In addition, G-League head coach Jason Terry, former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, and former Lakers head coach Frank Vogel were interviewed. According to Charania, second interviews were scheduled with nearly all of those candidates, some of those second interviews have taken place.
In an interview Tuesday, Jazz owner Ryan Smith said that he believed that the Jazz were on track to follow a timeline established by Ainge — the process to hire Snyder in 2014 took about six weeks, and Ainge said “I think we’re in a similar boat” about the Jazz’s current timeline. Three weeks have passed since Snyder stepped down.
“I checked in [Monday] night and [Tuesday] morning, and I think Danny and Justin [Zanik] are doing a great job. I trust them and we trust them with 100% confidence. … The good news is, there’s a lot of phenomenal coaches in the NBA,” Smith said. “Danny set [the timeline] up in the press conference. That was not my timeline — he was pretty direct on what that timeline would be.
“That’s what he’s here for — he’s here to lead, and my job is to empower him. … I’m really not [involved with early interviews], to be honest with you. I believe that you hire the best and you empower ‘em. I don’t think there’s a better basketball brain than Danny, he’s definitely on the Mount Rushmore of NBA executives.”