Ty Corbin and the “Haters”

April 22nd, 2014 | by Laura Thompson
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

With yesterday’s news about Tyrone Corbin, we thought it might be interesting to tackle how the Jazz’s former head coach handled “haters.” Is there a right response to the people who disagree with you? Were Corbin’s comments at locker room clean-out day—and comments throughout the year—along those lines? What should Corbin have done or said? And were his responses understandable?

First off, many of the so-called “haters” took issue with Corbin’s response to the question about management’s decision to go young. Here’s his full response:

“You wanna have a fair shake, and you want the best opportunity you have, can have, to win. We just, the organization decided to go in a different direction from the guys we had the year before. I knew it would be difficult. I said right from the beginning, is, in no way when you change the roster like we changed, is good for a coaching staff, especially in the last year of their contract. And it brings a lot of questioning and everything to do with young guys…You see why coaches that’s been in it a long time won’t put themselves in a situation where they have a young team because of those things. It doesn’t matter how you scheme things when you have young guys. Young guys make mistakes in this league. And the consistency of play, and that’s why they’re young in this league…I would have liked for things to be different and have been handled differently, but they weren’t. So, it is what it is.”

I’ve seen quite a few complaints regarding this response in the Twitterverse, on blogs, on message boards, and among friends. I can’t claim to know all of the viewpoints out there or to speak for the “haters,” but of what I’ve seen, Corbin’s constant response to criticism has been to place blame on the youth and inexperience of the team, even though Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson both logged significant minutes with the starting lineup when healthy. And that rubbed many folks the wrong way, especially when “development”—specifically development of the F5—was one of the three D’s that Dennis Lindsey said Corbin would be judged by when the season began.

I do appreciate Corbin’s honesty in admitting that he knew he and his coaching staff would be facing an uphill battle when management decided to let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk last offseason. But I think a better response, while still acknowledging his disappointment in that, is that Dennis Lindsey gave him milestones to reach that had nothing to do with wins. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the number he most consistently worked for, but something along the lines of, “Obviously we were disappointed, from a win-loss standpoint, that we lost the veterans we did in the offseason because they helped us win. But management gave us three areas where we knew we could make improvements. We have talented, defensive-minded players, and it was up to us to develop schemes and teach them in a way that we could all be successful.”

Also, the cliché “it is what it is” has been so overused by Corbin in the last 3.5 years that I’ve developed a bit of rage every time I hear it or read it. But that’s my issue, not yours.

What about Corbin’s response specifically to the “haters”—how was that handled?

Was it hard to take the negativity?
You know what? Misery love company, man. You know, I, you know, there are some miserable people, and they love talking about what somebody else is doing or not doing…People like to criticize, and that’s what it is. People like to read it. I don’t give a lot of energy to it myself.

Oof. So, I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist and don’t have any fancy letters after my name; however, my friends have called me Dr. Laura for many years, for relationship/friendship advice. I’ve read more self-help and business/PR/marketing books than I’d like to admit, and it seems like public relations/relationship advice 101 is, if you’re being criticized and you want to handle it with class and grace, tossing out insults is not the right way to go about the situation. To rise above, validate either the criticism or the criticizer as having a valid opinion, and then discuss—without getting defensive—reasoning behind choices, while asking for clarification if necessary.

I think there are plenty of Jazz fans out there who don’t just criticize to criticize, but point out areas where they feel like their beloved team could become demonstrably better.

What could he have said? How do you handle all the negativity?

“Try to understand the source—it comes from a fan base that cares deeply about their team and they want to see an improving team. We were told defense was going to be a yardstick by which we were measured and so we tried to make defensive changes—for example, changing from showing out on pick and roll defense to dropping back more so our bigs could be closer to the hoop and protect the basket—along the way to help, but we weren’t able to find the right scheme or player combinations that offered that. (Doesn’t throw the players or management under the bus, while offering a specific example of something they tried instead of clichéd platitudes)

Or even saying, “I try to stay away from the negativity as much as I can, but Dennis Lindsey and I have a collaborative partnership where we’re often bouncing ideas off of each other to make sure.”

From what I’ve read, listened to, and heard, whenever specific criticisms were levelled at Corbin, he took the lowest, easiest route out: used excuses (“We’re inexperienced, man”), assigned blame (not good for a coaching staff to lose all the veterans, players are young), or deflected onto fans (for example, as being miserable and wanting company). If he had said, “You know, we need to see what we can do better to make sure our schemes are being run with precision and that rotations are quick, and adjust the schemes accordingly, if need be,” that would have both taken some of the blame on himself and his coaching staff, while acknowledging that improvement is part of the player’s responsibility.

Obviously, for Jazz fans, this is a moot point 1, but it’s one Corbin will hopefully learn as he looks to find a spot on another team’s bench for next year. The best way to make sure your critics—whether local bloggers or well-respected national columnists—don’t escalate the debate is to validate that they’re entitled to their opinion, acknowledge where they may be right, and then be open and honest about your reasoning behind your decisions (as much as is appropriate to not give away strategy).

Were Corbin’s responses understandable? From the point that he felt unfairly attacked and criticized, you can see where his responses came from. But I think, as a coach, and as a coach of an organization that prides itself on doing things the right way, he would have been better off taking the higher road.

What do you think, SCHoopsers? How do you wish Corbin had handled the haters differently?

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson

I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
Laura Thompson

28 Comments

  1. Dallan Forsyth says:

    This is why he just wasn’t cut out to be a head coach. Which is fine you can still make a career out of being an assistant coach in the NBA. There is always going to be a level of criticism in that profession. He wouldn’t be able to handle most of the markets in the NBA if he can’t handle Utah. A market which for the most part is pretty easy as far as criticism goes.

  2. LKA says:

    Just because you disagree does not mean you are a “hater.” Instead of using the older vets so much let’s say he did go with youth and they got better every game. By the end of the season the kids were fighting for a playoff berth. That being the case Ty would still have his job. Problem is several games within reach of winning he threw in Lucas, Rush, and the likes. He did not really do the “three d’s” he tried to win with his vets and failed.

  3. The Monk says:

    Great comments. Great write up. I still think he could be a good NBA coach – but with veterans that don’t need to be taught the game. Or that has plenty of internal leadership perhaps. Enes Kanter’s comments and understanding about defense in a year like this – where it was supposed to be one of the three areas of focus – I found just mind boggling. And that blame has to be placed on Corbin. Good man, had done a lot for the Jazz organization over the years. But has been obviously in over his head. It’s too bad because his own ‘learning’ experience and the organizations commitment to it. Now feels like somewhat of a waste. But then again, if we land a decent draft pick that works out. And Hayward can stick around. Maybe in the long run, it will have been worth it. I.E. you don’t get Karl and John if you Dominique Wilkins isn’t traded away to Atlanta for $1M.

    I’m excited for this new hire. I see it has the most critical decision the organization has ever faced in the last 30 years.

  4. Dylan says:

    Very thoughtful and intelligent piece.

  5. Clint Johnson says:

    I think this is a wise decision by the Jazz. That said, I think Corbin is judged far more harshly than he deserves. Rick Adelman has been more overtly antagonistic toward young players than Corbin ever was, and he’ll retire as a coach worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Stan Van Gundy, who many Jazz fans would LOVE to have as their next coach, has gone on the record as flatly disbelieving NBA front offices when they say they are willing to exclude winning in judging a coach’s performance. Jerry Sloan himself has admitted upon reflection he was more recalcitrant to play young players (particularly Deron Williams) than he probably should have been.

    Corbin has been, in moments, defensive and dismissive of others’ opinions. Comments at the end of a profoundly difficult tenure filled with non-stop criticism, often vitriolic, strikes me as not representative of his typical responses to criticism. Even this worn down and depressed climax of Corbin’s is far less confrontational than many coaches, such as Nick Saban, have behaved routinely.

    Honestly, I think Corbin is frequently condemned for what is commonplace in coaching, both rhetorically and strategically. I think he is, generally speaking, both a better coach and a better person than acknowledged locally, while fan treatment of him has often been far worse than acknowledged. While I believe the Jazz did him fair justice (though certainly not many favors sometimes), I’m ashamed of how we as fans treated him in general.

    • Laura says:

      Very insightful comments, Clint (as usual!). I’m curious if you think fan treatment of him was worse than if he had been in, say, LA or NYC. I see comments about D’Antoni quite a bit–since I live in Southern California–and it seems to me like Corbin got a lot less than MDA does. Maybe it’s just the age of social media, the Internet, and the ability to criticize or insult facelessly? Not that it makes it okay, but I wonder how much of that plays into it.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        Good point, Laura. I guess I compare fan reaction not to big market situations but to past Jazz coaches. Tyrone Corbin is no Jerry Sloan, but there is an awful lot of Jerry Sloan in his perspective, philosophy, and even approach to the media. I saw Corbin fervently attacked for things I could imagine Sloan doing or saying and getting away with.

        I like to think Jazz fans are, in large part, particularly astute when it comes to the game. That belief took a hit with the frequent straw man criticisms I saw tossed Corbin’s way.

  6. Johnny Martin says:

    Are you serious? Ty was a gentleman in every respect! He didn’t whine or throw his players under the bus like you indicate happened! He stood up and took responsibility for his actions.
    The deck was stacked as soon as Lindsey came on board and let vet free agents go without EVEN trying to sign them! Milsap has improved his game every year in the league.
    His experience alone could have helped Haywood develop leadership skills he didn’t show. Lindsey trades for 3 vets with expiring contracts and didn’t play much
    The year before. RJ and Marvin did what they could but they didn’t know the system or the young players well enough to help more than Milsap would have.
    That was Lindsey’s decision not Ty’s! Each year he was head coach would have made the most seasoned coach sweat! First Jerry Sloans abrupt retirement
    because of player tormil. Said player who was the heart of your team is traded for players of the future. Next year a short season and the next year more than half the team
    were in the last year of contracts. He got the most out of players who could’ve padded their stats but didn’t. Then he is given the youngest roster in the league
    with no proven leadership and a point guard who missed the first part of the season due to injury and to make do with a mediocre point guard at best who was also new and learning the system
    in John Lucas. Show me one season that Ty had that had consistent dependable leadership and a go to guy. One thing I’ve learned about Jazz fans and appears
    Writers too are they both are whiners. These are same guys that wanted Frank Layden and Jerry Sloane fired early in their careers! Nobody mentions that Ty was a rookie
    coach or that he wasn’t a lead assistant! Ty was put in a pressure cooker position and NEVER given a real chance to prove himself like Jeff Hornacek was given
    in Phoenix. I think Lindsey came in here to bring his own coach in! I don’t think Ty had any chance to stay as coach because Lindsey had decided Ty had to go!
    I’m not impressed with his ethics either! According to him they all were going to take some time to decompress! That didn’t even last a week! Ty knew he was gone
    long before this week. Oh BTW most of comments are negative because YOU LARA were totally negative! I wonder if you aren’t the leader of the “Haters” group!

    • Hess says:

      Uh… physco!

    • Aaron says:

      False, on almost all counts. Show me a situation where a coach comes into the ideal situation. It doesn’t happen unless he’s replacing a retiring legend, and even that creates problems few would want. The comments that I saw from Lindsey said that they would take Easter weekend. You don’t want to drag out a decision that affects someone’s livelihood. And as far as Millsap’s concerned, he wasn’t significantly better than he’s been throughout his career. His team barely made the playoffs in the godawful East.

      On to your point about Hornacek… are you seriously arguing that he was given more of a chance in one year than Corbin was in 3 1/2? How does that even make sense? Phoenix was supposed to be a frontrunner for the top pick in the draft. No one thought he would win with that roster. I have to wonder how many games you watched this year.

    • Jordan Cummings says:

      Ty… is that you?

    • Laura says:

      I’ve learned a few things from this comment: I spell my name wrong, I’m negative, and quite possibly the leader of the “haters.” So tempting to stoop a level or two, but that’s not the right thing to do here. Johnny, you clearly care passionately about the Jazz and put a lot of thought into your comment here and for that I thank you. If we all agreed around here, things wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining, would they? However, I disagree with many apsects of your comment, and others have already tackled a few areas in which I disagree.

  7. Timothy says:

    Glad that Corbin is gone. In my opinion he should’ve been gone last year, but giving him a 3 year trial was more fair, and we saw how he coaches young guys.

    Does anybody know how the coaching staff is formed? As far as I know, the front office hires the head coach. Under the approval of the front office, the head coach selects his assistants.
    I hope Alex Jensen and Jonnie Bryant are still working with the Jazz players next year.

  8. Aaron says:

    That kind of attitude is what sealed his fate, in my opinion. I spent a lot of time defending Corbin against people who could rightfully be called haters, who irrationally believed he was the worst coach in the league. Corbin refused to talk numbers, and he seemed to get thinner and thinner-skinned as the year wore on. Certainly it wasn’t ideal circumstances, but I believe that although he didn’t have a chance to win a championship, he had every opportunity to keep his job. Every coaching vacancy comes about because there are problems. The Jazz could have easily given him the “interim” tag, but they gave him a 3-year contract almost immediately. I respect Corbin as a person and believe he probably brings some good things to the table as an assistant, but he was not cutting it as a head coach. Saying it’s easy to criticize doesn’t automatically refute the criticisms. So, cutting ties is Step One. Step Two is not hiring Jim Boylen.

    • Jordan Cummings says:

      And step 3 is hiring Messina, Longabardi, or Blatt. (Or all 3, for a dream team coaching staff!)

    • Laura says:

      Agreed, Aaron, on both of your steps here. Also agreed on “Saying it’s easy to criticize doesn’t automatically refute the criticisms.” I think many folks in Jazz fandom also agree that Corbin is a very good guy–just not the one many wanted as the coach moving forward. That doesn’t detract from his character or his being a good person. Yes, his circumstances were less than ideal, but so were Brett Brown’s, and the way he handled the criticism and the press was just flawless to me. He was completely confident in what he was doing and he KNEW what he was getting into: he wasn’t going to be getting wins; he was about building something and developing something long-term. Reading Brown’s comments just made me wish that Corbin could have taken a page or two out of that book.

  9. cw says:

    Nice job picking those cherries the beating the dead horse with them. I don’t think Corbin was a great coach but the complaints I hear over and over about him are totally amateur hour.

    You wan’t to complain about him, complain about something that matters. Complain about the defense. Tell me why the defense was so bad. But don’t tell me it was his “schemes” unless you can tell me what his schemes were.

    The problem with criticizing coaches is that, while they are the one guy obviously in charge and therefor the easiest target, their jobs are almost completely opaque to even sophisticated fans. Add to that the fact that statistical analysts have tried but failed to find effect coaches have on outcomes. Kevin Pelton estimates that the difference a coach makes is about 4 or 5 games plus or minus.

    • Jordan Cummings says:

      Pelton’s research has also been all but thrown out by most people who are “in the know” and among basketball’s elite.

      As for cherry-picking, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here at all. This is one of the first articles I’ve read on SCH, but I have frequented other Jazz blogs all season and I can say that there have been countless articles and blog posts going into detail about why his schemes are bad and don’t work. Laura chose to focus more on his leadership qualities – or lack thereof – and his accountability as a man and a coach.

      • cw says:

        “…countless articles and blog posts going into detail about why his schemes are bad and don’t work….”

        No way. There’s been endless yammering about his schemes, but I haven’t seen anything that explains what they are and why they are bad. If you can think of something, please include the link.

      • cw says:

        and Kevin pelton’s work has NOT been thrown out by “those in the know.” Again, if you have a link….

    • Laura says:

      “Kevin Pelton estimates that the difference a coach makes is about 4 or 5 games plus or minus.”

      Tell that to the Suns.

      • cw says:

        I think Hornecek did a great job, but the Suns added a lot of new players including Bledsoe so there is no way to reasonably compare the effect of the coach from this year to last.

        This is what I’m saying about amateurish evaluations. They are based on meaningless comparisons and extrapolations, there is no data behind them. Like they idea that you can cherrypick a few statements out of thousands by a coach and declare them negative and then extrapolate some assessment of his leadership abilites. Or use the records of two coaches on two very different teams to suggest something about the effect coaches have on winning. The bulls have just lost two home playoff games to the Wizards. They are most likely toast, Does that make Randy Whitman better than Thibidou? No. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

  10. Jordan Cummings says:

    Great article, Laura.

    I agree with you that Corbin’s cliches became more and more maddening as the years dragged on – especially his catchphrases like “it is what it is” and “ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for us” and “young guys, man. young guys”.

    I have never heard Ty Corbin take the blame for anything, and that to me is the most damning evidence of his weak leadership.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Jordan! I agree with you: if Corbin had accepted more responsibility and taken blame, even just as a PR move alone, I think it could have gone a long way in getting the players to rally behind him more. As it stands, it seemed like only Jefferson and Williams were the ones going out of their way to heap praise on Corbin, and I think that’s the case for obvious reasons.

      Thanks again for the compliments, Jordan!

      • LKA says:

        And RJ, Marvin, and Ty got paid a way lot more money than I will ever see for the past year. And along with their talents I don’t feel sorry for any one of them.

  11. It’s hard to read this as someone presenting an unbiased view when the presenter was very solidly on the #firety bandwagon for a very long time. Fun for those who supported it though, I’m sure.

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