By hiring Will Hardy, Jazz signaling confidence in his ability to lead, no matter what the future brings
There are certainly going to be questions about Hardy. That the Jazz took an alternative route is proof alone they believe he has the tangible and intangible qualities they’re looking for.
Will Hardy, the person set to take over as head coach of the Utah Jazz, has all the credentials of someone who is impressively qualified to lead an NBA team.
He worked his way up through the NBA ranks — from an intern in the film room to a leading role in video coordination then through player development coaching until he was made an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs — he is a branch on the widely respected Gregg Popovich coaching tree, he was Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s first choice for an associate when he took over in Boston, and Hardy has garnered head coaching buzz for a couple of years now.
But, beyond the credentials, there were a couple less tangible things that needed to be considered when Jazz brass were choosing who would lead their team after the departure of Quin Snyder.
Who is going to be able to command this locker room and earn the respect of the players? And, will they be able to do that in both the immediate and extended future?
There were a lot of people who thought the Jazz would take what was considered the easy route in this coaching search — hiring someone that the stars of the team were familiar with or someone who had already walked on the coals as a former head coach in the NBA. That the Jazz took an alternative route is proof alone they believe Hardy has the tangible and intangible qualities that they’re looking for.
When an NBA team hires a coach that is younger than some of the players on the current roster, there has to be some certainty in the level of authority and accountability that the coach will be able to demand.
At 34 years old, Hardy will be the youngest active coach in the NBA. As an assistant during the Celtics’ 2022 run to the NBA Finals, Hardy proved to be a critical piece in Boston’s tactical maneuvering and he is well respected by Celtics star Jayson Tatum. But he was also on the coaching staff that saw incredible production and buy-in from 36-year-old Al Horford.
There are certainly going to be questions about whether Hardy will be able to hold stars like Donovan Mitchell accountable, whether he’ll be able to manage different types of personalities, whether he’ll be able to implement his own culture and system at a place where Snyder’s influence was seemingly so permanent.
These questions won’t be answered on Day 1, and it may take a long time before we are fully capable of answering them. But the Jazz brass feel like, through interviewing and collecting intel, that the answer to all of the questions is yes.
While there needs to be a level of certainty about these things, at the same time, hiring a young coach allows latitude for growth and evolution in a way that isn’t necessarily expected when hiring a more established and experienced coach.
But maybe more importantly, there also seems to be a more intentional focus on the future of the team when young hires are made.
Think back to when the Miami Heat hired Erik Spoelstra. Though Spoelstra had been working for president and head coach Pat Riley for years and Riley hand-picked Spoelstra to take over, it wasn’t on a whim that Riley named the then 37-year-old Spoelstra to be the new head coach, hoping it would work out for a couple of years. He saw him as the future of the franchise.
“The game of basketball is a game about talent,” Riley said back in 2008 when he hired Spoelstra. “The most important talent that you may find has to perform on the bench, in the locker room, on the practice court, late at night, watching film, motivating and executing all the responsibilities of a head coach. … This game is now about younger coaches who are technologically skilled, innovative and bring fresh new ideas. That’s what we feel we are getting with Erik Spoelstra.”
The same can be said for Brad Stevens, who was given the head coaching reins in Boston when he was 36. It was current CEO of Jazz basketball and former Celtics general manager Danny Ainge who hired Stevens back in 2013 and reportedly wanted Stevens to lead the Celtics into the new era of basketball and to be around for a long time.
Originally Stevens signed a six-year deal, then coached the Celtics through the 2020-21 season before taking over front office duties when Ainge left the organization. It was under Stevens that Udoka and Hardy were hired.
Hardy’s deal with the Jazz is reportedly set to span five years. While the Jazz expect to be a playoff contender in the upcoming 2022-23 season and are confident in Hardy’s ability to deliver on those hopes, it’s clear that they also have confidence in Hardy to work through anything that could happen over the next five years, be it a rebuild, retooling, change of direction, or all of the above.
Hardy will be the sixth person to hold the title of head coach of the Utah Jazz. Time will tell whether this was the right hire for the team, but what we can be certain of is that the Jazz are taking a path that they believe will ensure that the team has someone who can lead them with authority and respect while taking on the challenges of the future.