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Profiles in Coaching: Tyrone Corbin is Trying

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The fates of NBA head coaches are hopelessly intertwined with the abilities and personalities of their players. For that reason they usually only get attention for performance on the extreme ends of the spectrum – utter disaster and chest-beating success. But that perspective ignores a creatively rich middle class of coaches grinding away in relative anonymity. Here at Hickory-High we fancy ourselves as the bane of relative anonymity and so for the next few days we’ll be looking at these leaders, both lauded and ignored, for our Profiles in Coaching series.

One assumes that, if a player enters the modern NBA and manages to stick around for a full 16 seasons, then that player will enter into retirement as the odds-on favorite to be the suavest, most compelling person of any room he enters.

How could they not draw your interest as if by magnetism? The ex-player is so intimately acquainted with the near-mystical forces of rhythm and flow, equipped so encyclopedically with outrageous early-AM tales set in every major American metropolis, and drained entirely of any trace of the performance anxieties that paralyze so many of us civilians. We’re not talking about the dorky vets of the dimly lit fifties here–a mess of spectacles and knobby kneepads and gangly gams so brazenly exposed by those shorts. No: the modern veteran has by definition earned multiple millions of dollars and thereby exclusive social cachet. Their constant televised presence always capable, if nothing else, of transforming their lithe, muscular selves into one of the nation’s most sought-after sex symbols.

Then there’s Tyrone Corbin.

Tyrone Corbin would be the least-feared coach in the league right now, if not for the farcical circus unfolding on one side of New York City and also Mike Woodson’s imminently .gif-able facial expressions on the other. The Utah Jazz appointed Corbin as their head coach back in 2011–that’s, well, that’s actually kind of a long time ago by now–and the entire time since he’s presumably been a lame duck, a Benedict XVI, tasked with little more than keeping the sideline seat warm for the head coach “of the future.” After Utah spent their summer meticulously dismantling the 2013-14 roster–in the meantime exquisitely positioning themselves as a youthful juggernaut of 2015 and beyond–their faceplant out of the gate this November was broadly interpreted to mean that the hot seat sizzling underneath Corbin was basically singeing his glutes. His release felt–feels–swift and inevitable. As if Utah’s front office doesn’t understand that the vexing roster they’ve handed to Corbin is a riddle with no solution; as if they’re befuddled and exasperated that this coach can’t get this twine-and-sticks team to win.

Nobody’s really a fan of Tyrone Corbin–no followers of the other 29 would clamor for their team to hire him if he were to be relieved of his duties. But count me as a fan. Let me propose that the reasons we don’t respect Corbin’s coaching abilities have a lot less to do with giving Marvin Williams and Randy Foye minutes over Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, and a lot more to do with how burdensome and how thoroughly un-cool Tyrone Corbin makes basketball appear to be.

After his 16 years playing in the NBA, Corbin entered the coaching world exuding none of his peers’ shrewd gamesmanship or relaxed, ice-veined savvy. He doesn’t/can’t make any effort to conceal the true nature of his job, which is: crushingly stressful.

Please look at this picture, because it speaks multitudes. (There is, impossible to ignore, the omnipresent pencil mustache, the NBA’s most troubling hair feature this side of Anthony Davis’ forehead.) It is the coaching term of Tyrone Corbin encapsulated in-frame: the media shoves their microphones/verbal lances in Corbin’s face from a slew of angles, and while Corbin is, yes, physically present–his mouth dutifully working out the trite responses the masses need to hear–his mind and his baggy-eyed gaze are elsewhere, synapses almost visibly flashing as he churns in mental circles for the ten-thousandth time, trying madly, desperately to come up with any earthly way to procure any possible additional victories. (Is it his own shadow or Jerry Sloan’s that looms behind him?) This is what coaching in the NBA looks like.

It’s easy for me from my warm, quiet room to declare that Corbin should have been giving Utah’s 24-and-unders the lion’s share of the minutes all along, meantime purchasing Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins one-way tickets to a Caribbean resort. It’s easy for me to say, and also correct: it was absolutely worth aborting Utah’s 2012-13 quest for the eighth seed in favor of letting the young guns run, thereby expediting the rebuilding process. But look at that picture again–Corbin is a man who cannot ignore the zap of pain that wilts his whole being with each loss. It’s hard to conjure visions of 2015 when all you can see is the ceiling of your hotel room until the early sunlight creeps in.

Corbin’s position is very stressful. It looks very un-cool. And that’s okay.

  • MDMH1787

    I have, in fact, always thought that Corbin looks stressed out on the sidelines. Not angry, a la Woodson, but just overwhelmed by the enormity of the job — making the Jazz “work” as a team. There must be, to some extent, a specific emotional/mental makeup that permits some people to be “good” at the aspect of coaching that allows one to forget the emotional intensity of winning or losing one game and then move onto the next. It is not clear to me that Corbin is blessed with this gene. He always looks like he is calculating this negative effect of this specific loss on his career, his team’s chances, and his ability to eat dinner that night without heartburn. This cannot be an easy way to live.

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