Hardy ready to rebuild Jazz as NBA's youngest head coach
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Will Hardy knew some of the inner workings of the Utah Jazz before being named the league's youngest current head coach.
Sure, it was in 2009, and he was just an intern.
Ahead of his final year at Williams College, he put in eight weeks in the business operations department, spending his mornings with the Jazz, afternoons helping the Salt Lake Bees — a Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels — and evenings at the gym rehabbing from hip surgery.
One of Hardy’s initial assignments was to give tours of Vivint Arena, a building he had never entered before his internship. That didn’t hold him back — and his ability to adapt on the fly could now serve the Jazz well.
“Those (tours) were adventurous for sure,” Hardy said. “I was kind of learning the building as I went.”
Utah introduced Hardy as its coach Tuesday. The 34-year-old, who was an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics, will steer the ship as the team sails into a rebuilding process with All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell as the cornerstone.
The change began when Quin Snyder stepped down in June after eight seasons, followed by trades that sent away three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale and brought in Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverly. The team also collected an assortment of first-round NBA draft picks to use as building blocks.
Hardy is ready to embrace whatever direction Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and GM Justin Zanik decide to take.
“I trust Danny and Justin,” Hardy said. “Their track record and their history speaks for itself. But they’ve been really open and communicative with me and collaborative throughout the process.”
Hardy’s coaching philosophy won Ainge and Zanik over during the interview process. Ainge said they put him through exercises to learn his approach to everything from scouting reports to player development plans.
“Yeah, he’s 34 years old, but he didn’t feel 34 to us and we didn’t really pay much attention to that,” said Ainge, whom Hardy impressed with his basketball acumen. “He just seemed very mature, very prepared … many times in his answers, he spoke my language.”
Hardy beat out veteran NBA coaches Frank Vogel and Terry Stotts for the job during an extensive process that included final interviews with team owner Ryan Smith and minority owner Dwyane Wade.
“It seemed like after the few stages we went through that Will was our guy and we couldn’t be more excited,” Ainge said.
Another thing that caught Ainge's eye: Hardy’s commitment to frequent practices, because, to him, repetition is a core element. But it doesn't have to be the traditional 90 minutes, Hardy said.
“We need to reframe that a little bit. Practice can be 30 minutes. The middle of the season can be hard. The schedule is grueling. ... But I think in order to build habits and to know what doing it right feels like, you need to do it full speed," Hardy said.
Hardy has some, if limited, coaching experience with a few players currently on the Jazz roster. He was an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff when Rudy Gay played with the Spurs from 2017 to 2021 and helped with Team USA — for which Mitchell played — during the 2019 Basketball World Cup.
Hardy knows he needs to get the team back on track after chemistry issues caused Utah to unravel late last season.
“Toughness, sacrifice, and passion are the three things that are most important to me,” Hardy said. “I want our group to be deeply competitive and able to deal with adversity. I would like everybody to recognize that this is bigger than them individually. Everybody is going to have to get out of their comfort zone a little bit as we move forward.”
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