HOUSTON — As the Utah Jazz prepared to play Houston during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Toyota Center on Wednesday, May 2, 2018, breaking news leaked about a member of the coaching staff.
Former assistant Igor Kokoskov was officially hired as head coach of the Phoenix Suns.
After the Jazz’s 116-108 road victory, Jazz coach Quin Snyder heaped praise on his good friend for earning the opportunity.
“I think Phoenix is getting a guy that is both a terrific teacher, a tactician," Snyder said during his postgame press conference.
Nearly a year later, at the same site, Snyder addressed Kokoskov’s recent firing after just one season in the desert.
“We talked and I don’t need to comment on the situation,” Snyder said. “You can imagine kind of my thoughts, but I will say having worked with Igor recently and over the years, as far back as the previous century, I know what a quality coach he is and the kind of person he is.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder on firing of former assistant coach Igor Kokoskov in Phoenix: “It’s unfortunate but I think, knowing him he’ll move forward and look for his next opportunity which I’m certain will be there.” pic.twitter.com/B1uGjcbMrt— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) April 24, 2019
Early Tuesday morning, Kokoskov was fired just a couple of weeks after his first season ended.
Phoenix went 19-63, which was the worst record in the Western Conference, but the team hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2009-10. Phoenix also hasn’t won more than 24 games in a season since 2014-15, so Kokoskov was already placed in a difficult position for his first NBA head coaching gig. He made history as the league’s first-ever European-born head coach.
His relationship with Snyder stems well beyond their years spent together on the Jazz coaching staff from 2015-18, but began more than two decades ago when Kokoskov first toured the United States as a young coach while living in Belgrade, Serbia and Snyder was at Duke. They have been close buddies ever since then.
During the regular season, Snyder even praised him as a “genius” who taught him things about keeping the game simple.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have future opportunities and anytime you’re in a program and it’s your first year with whatever type of adversity,” Snyder said. “When something’s new there’s always challenges. Obviously, as a coach it’s always unfortunate when you see a colleague let go and with Igor it’s much more personal than that for me.
“Like I said, I know how good he is, he’s got a world championship under his belt in Slovenia, he was instrumental for us when I first started and what he did for me personally with support and his intellect, he’s got an unbelievable mind and a feel for the game, so it’s unfortunate,” he continued. “But I think knowing him, he’ll move forward and look for his next opportunity, which I’m certain will be there.”