Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz And Their Coaches - The Past And The Future

Well Jazz Nation, by now you have almost undoubtedly heard Monday’s news. The Jazz officially announced that Ty Corbin won’t return as head coach for the 2014-15 season. As Dennis Lindsey and company embark on the search for the 8th head coach in franchise history, let’s take a look at the 7 coaches the team has had so far and a few names being thrown around as candidates for the next coach. One thing of note is that despite having had 7 head coaches, this is only the second time the team has made a coaching change in the off-season. The only previous off-season coaching change was when Tom Nissalke succeeded Elgin Baylor prior to the 1979-80 season, the team’s first in Utah.

SCOTTY ROBERTSON (Record with Jazz: 1-14)

The first coach in Jazz history was none other than Robert Scott Robertson III, better known as Scotty. Prior to coaching the Jazz Scotty coached at Lousiana Tech (a school Jazz fans would become well aware of years later) from 1964-74, guiding the team to three conference titles and  two NCAA tournament appearances. Unfortunately the expansion Jazz got off to a rough start, leading to Robertson being fired after a 1-14 start.  He would later serve as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons. He passed away in 2011 after a battle with cancer.

ELGIN BAYLOR (Record with Jazz: 86-135)

When Coach Robertson was fired, Elgin Baylor was named interim coach. He was considered for the head coach position, but at this time he was only in charge for one game, an 85-99 home loss to the Pistons. However, he would eventually get more of a chance to coach the Jazz.

BUTCH VAN BREDA KOLFF (Record with Jazz: 74-100)

Willhelm Hendrik van Breda Kolff beat out Tom Nissalke (see link to Robertson firing above) for the vacant coach position with the Jazz. The team finished its inaugural season by going 22-44 under van Breda Kolff to finish the season at 23-59. In 1975-76, van Breda Kolff’s lone full season with the team, the Jazz showed marked improvement, earning 38 wins against 44 losses. The team got off to a nice start in 1976-77. Then, with a 14-12 record in the books, van Breda Kolff was fired, evidently for frequently being at odds with the ownership group. He later coached in the collegiate ranks, but never returned to the NBA. He passed away in August 2007.

ELGIN BAYLOR (Record with Jazz: 86-135)

When Butch van Breda Kolff was fired, Elgin Baylor was was given a real chance to coach the Jazz. After its promising start in 1976-77, the team stumbled following the coaching change, going 21-35 under Baylor. In 1977-78, Baylor’s first full season as coach, the team improved to 39-43. Things took a turn for the worse in 1978-79, the team’s last season in New Orleans, with the Jazz posting a 26-56 record. Baylor was fired shortly after the end of the season. He would later be the Clippers’ general manager.

TOM NISSALKE (Record with Jazz: 60-124)

The Jazz, now in Salt Lake City, hired Tom Nissalke as the fourth coach in franchise history in June 1979. As noted, he interviewed for the team’s head coach position following Scotty Robertson’s firing back in 1974. At his introductory press conference, he said he wasn’t going to make predictions for the team’s record. In hindsight, that was a good idea as the Jazz struggled in Nissalke’s two-plus seasons as coach, going 24-58 and 28-54 in the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons. Twenty games into the 1981-82 season, with the Jazz at 8-12, Jazz general manager Frank Layden and President (and original owner) Sam Battistone made the decision to fire Nissalke and make Layden the next head coach of the Jazz. Nissalke coached the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1982-83 and 1983-84, the last two seasons of his NBA coaching career.

FRANK LAYDEN (Record with Jazz: 277-294 Regular Season, 18-23 Playoffs)

Frank Layden took over as the Jazz head coach (while maintaining his GM role) for the final 62 games of the 1981-82 season. The Jazz went 17-45 in those 62 games.  The team went 30-52 in Layden’s first full season as coach in 1982-83. Things really started coming together in 1983-84, with the Jazz going 45-37 for their first winning season and playoff appearance. Layden was named as both the Executive and Coach of the Year. This kicked off a string of 20 consecutive playoff appearances that would continue under Layden’s successor Jerry Sloan. Frank resigned in December 1988, citing the pressure as well as fan abuse.

JERRY SLOAN (Record with Jazz: 1127-682 Regular Season, 96-100 Playoffs)

Jerry Sloan was named as coach of the Jazz when Frank Layden resigned. I feel like there isn’t much that needs to be said about Coach Sloan that Jazz (and even NBA) fans don’t already know. He was a passionate, tenacious, hardworking, and fantastic coach. He had success year after year and is without question the greatest coach in Jazz history. Perhaps his crowning achievement was coaching the team to a 42-40 record in 2002-03, when the team was expected to be miserable as the Stockton-Malone era had ended. Nobody knew when Jerry would step down. He kept signing one-year contract extensions and noted that he could just wake up one day and decide he was done. Sadly, that moment came unexpectedly on February 9, 2011. Following an emotional halftime clash with point guard Deron Williams in what ended as a home loss to Chicago, Sloan met with then-GM Kevin O’Connor and CEO Greg Miller and resigned. His longtime top assistant Phil Johnson resigned  as well. That led to the hiring of the 7th coach in franchise history.

TYRONE CORBIN (Record with Jazz: 112-146 Regular Season, 0-4 Playoffs)

Ty Corbin had some history with the Jazz even before joining Jerry Sloan’s staff as an assistant coach in 2004. Ty played with the Jazz for most of the 1991-92 and all of the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons, with the Jazz reaching the western conference finals in 1992 and 1994. When Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson resigned, Ty Corbin was named as head coach, with a contract guaranteed through the 2012-13 season and a team option for 2013-14. Ty was in a tough situation from the get-go. First, Jerry Sloan would be a tough act to follow for any coach, especially a first-time NBA head coach. Second, only two weeks after Sloan’s resignation, the Jazz traded Deron Williams to the Nets.  The Jazz struggled to an 8-20 finish to the season under Corbin. In the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Jazz turned some heads by going 36-30 and making the playoffs.  The team just missed the playoffs in 2012-13 while posting a winning record of 43-39. Jazz management picked up the option for 2013-14 in October 2012. Prior to the season, it was determined to let the season play out before determining Ty’s fate. After losing key players like Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in free agency, the Jazz weren’t expected to be good, and for the most part, they weren’t, with the result being a 25-57 record.


Who will the Jazz hire as their next head coach? Who should they go after? A couple of early names being mentioned are Jim Boylen, a current Spurs assistant and former University of Utah coach, and Europoean coaching legend Ettore Messina. In reading twitter some have mentioned Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins, and Steve Kerr. I think Van Gundy would be a good choice, but I just don’t see him leaving his analyst job. He’s had numerous chances to get back into coaching. I think Steve Kerr would be an interesting choice, although rumor has it that he is discussing the Knicks’ open coaching position with Phil Jackson. I’d be hard-pressed to think the Jazz could beat out the Knicks for Kerr’s services. I like Lionel Hollins as a coach, but my gut feeling says he wouldn’t be the best coach for the Jazz. Like many Jazz fans, when I think of Boylen I think of how badly things went while he was the coach at Utah. I’d obviously still want him to succeed if the Jazz hired him, but I hope they don’t. I think Messina is the most out-of-the-box name I’ve heard. I don’t know a lot about him but I like what I have heard. I would rank the 5 potential coaches mentioned here as follows.

1. Steve Kerr

2. Ettore Messina

3. Jeff Van Gundy

4. Lionel Hollins

5. Jim Boylen

Let me just add that I’m definitely not opposed to the Jazz finding someone from the collegiate ranks. I don’t follow college ball enough to really have anyone specific in mind. What does everyone think? Feel free to sound off in the comments.


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