Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder reacts to a foul being called against Jazz center Rudy Gobert during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Snyder will coach the West in the upcoming NBA All-Star game. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
After leading the Utah Jazz to the best record in the NBA during the first half of the season, Snyder will make his All-Star Game debut Sunday. Here is how he got there
If you do a Google image search for Quin Snyder, the most recent photo of him smiling is from the day he was named the Utah Jazz head coach back in 2014.
Search for a GIF of the Jazz coach and you’re likely to be greeted with snippets of him screaming at officials and players, or slowly turning his head with a look of anger that could inspire fear in even the most brave.
Snyder has cultivated a reputation as one of the most intense and laser-focused coaches in the NBA, and that reputation is not without merit.
But, there’s a side to Snyder that doesn’t get talked about nearly as often as his fierce sideline pacing. There’s a lighter and fun side to Snyder and it’s likely that when he heads onto the court the night of March 7, to coach in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game — the first Duke alum to do so — fans might get a glimpse of a Snyder that they rarely get to see on game nights.
The ‘it’ factor
Snyder has a knack for drawing people in and making them feel comfortable. He’s been that way since at least as far back as his playing days in high school.
“I love Quin, I’ve loved him since he was a star at Mercer Island,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told the Deseret News this week. “I remember visiting him at the high school and he showed me around and was proud of the school and every kid there wanted to say hi. You know, he just has it.”
The ‘it’, the undefinable quality that makes people want to be around Snyder, that charismatic draw, is not fleeting. It’s something that lasts and persists. But what is ‘it’?
It seems to be a mixture of his obsessive need to keep getting better, his deep affection and care for the people around him, his thirst for knowledge and his charm.
It’s why Krzyzewski loves him, why Keyon Dooling — once a player under Snyder at Missouri and now an assistant coach with the Jazz — said he would run through a wall for him. It’s why Derrick Favors wanted to come back to Utah. It’s why Jordan Clarkson didn’t want to leave the Jazz.
“He cares for each one, everyone that has been here over the seven years,” Joe Ingles said of Snyder. “When you’ve got a coach that actually cares about you, not just as a player and how I can get left and how he’s gonna put me in the best position, but to ask about your family, ask about your kids, ask about what’s going on and off the court. ... It’s something I’ve never had before.”
Part of that care is an ability to nurture. He doesn’t want to shape and mold the players that come to him. Instead, Snyder wants to bring out the best in each player without stifling their individuality.
That’s one of the qualities that made Clarkson and Snyder gel so quickly when the Jazz traded for the seven-year veteran. There were some parameters, but as long as Clarkson would shoot at the rim or from beyond the arc, Snyder wasn’t going to hold him back.
“He will not only give you the structure that you need around you, he will give you the freedom within that structure to be who you are,” Krzyzewski said. “That combination is incredibly unique and only a few people can create that. And he is born to do that.”
Attention to detail
Snyder is not someone who comes to coaching with a super chill attitude. He works incredibly hard at his craft, spends countless hours pouring over game film, devising plays, schemes, ideas.
“The man never sleeps,” Donovan Mitchell joked. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a conversation just about schemes and what I see, what he sees. ... In the bubble, countless times where he finished the game and then he’s writing, watching, getting ready for the next game. Season’s over? He’s sending me clips, coming to see me and talk to me just about what he sees going forward for this upcoming year ... the amount of effort that he puts into his craft is truly incredible.”
It can sometimes seem like Snyder doesn’t spend a single minute during the day not thinking about a way to gain a competitive advantage, not thinking about a basketball scheme. So, when Snyder was named as the Western Conference All-Star coach, it was humorous for many to think about what that might look like.
“He’ll probably have a two-hour practice with them or a shootaround,” Ingles said with a laugh. “Who knows what he’ll do. It will be a hell of an experience for him.”
Ingles wasn’t the only one that joked about what Snyder will expect of the players.
Duke guard Quin Snyder goes up during during first-round NCAA East regional action in Greensboro on Thursday, March 16, 1989. The current Utah Jazz coach has led the Jazz to the best record in the NBA and will be coaching in the All-Star Game come Sunday.
“Probably going to have LeBron getting back in transition defense, those guys playing hard, crashing the glass, doing all that,” Clarkson said through a huge grin.
While it’s no surprise that Snyder is so detail oriented to someone like Krzyzewski, who has known Snyder for decades, it wasn’t always like that.
During his playing days with Blue Devils, from 1985-89, Krzyzewski describes a player that was sometimes aloof and not as concerned with the details.
“He has changed in that regard,” Krzyzewski said. “As a player he was somewhat flamboyant. He had a great assist-to-turnover ratio, but when he did turn it over it was flamboyant. But I liked it because he had daring, and our team needed that. He was never afraid, never afraid.”
Snyder began his coaching career as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1992 and joined Krzyzewski’s staff the following year, coaching while he was finishing law school and getting an MBA. It was during his six years as a Duke assistant coach that Krzyzewski started to notice a shift in how Snyder saw the game.
The long-time Duke coach noticed that Snyder was placing more value on every movement of the ball and “studying the game like a research assistant.”
He went on to coach at Missouri, then became the head coach of the then D League Austin Toros. He had stops with the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, in Russia, and with the Atlanta Hawks as an assistant coach before taking over as head coach of the Jazz. All the while he was learning and soaking up every bit of knowledge he could from the likes of Gregg Popovich, Doug Collins, Mike Brown and Mike Budenholzer, among many others.
Missouri head coach Quin Snyder barks commands to his team Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, during game against Louisiana Monroe in Columbia, Mo.
Snyder craves learning and that hasn’t stopped since he took the helm with the Jazz, and it likely won’t stop for the All-Star Game.
“Quin enjoys every moment as a coach,” Krzyzewski said. “This will be a unique moment ... and it gives him an opportunity to work with and be with the very best. He’ll relish that, and he’ll learn from it. He’ll learn from coaching those guys even in a short period of time.”
Enjoying the moment
For all the jokes about Snyder going into the All-Star break with a backbreaking practice schedule for the league’s best players, he is going to have the chance to have fun while being recognized for his accomplishments.
“As a player he was somewhat flamboyant. He had a great assist-to-turnover ratio, but when he did turn it over it was flamboyant. But I liked it because he had daring, and our team needed that. He was never afraid, never afraid.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Quin Snyder
The criteria for being an All-Star coach is to have the best record in the conference. Snyder takes the Jazz into the All-Star break, not just with the best record in the West, but the best record in the league.
Snyder is reluctant to take credit for what he’s helped build in Utah, but he’s fortunate to have people around him that remind him of his success.
“My wife, she’s just, she’s excited,” Snyder said. “I mean, when you started in the D League together there’s a gratification about the evolution of your time together and especially when you move, six times in six years, something like that. So, long road together.”
And, of course, the Jazz players are there to remind Snyder how much he means to the team’s success. They have said time and again that they want Snyder to enjoy the moment in Atlanta, and understand that the team wouldn’t be where it is without him.
Rudy Gobert often says that there’s no way he’d be where he is or as successful as he’s been in his NBA career if not for the guidance of Snyder.
“He’s one of the wizards of basketball,” Mitchell said. “He’s thinking about it 24/7, he’s thinking about how to be perfect, and I think that’s something that you see in our team. We just want to find a way to continue to elevate our game and be better and be perfect. That’s a reflection of him.”
Though reluctant to accept praise, Snyder said that when the players all texted him to congratulate him on the day the All-Star coaching nod was announced, it made him reflect on his time with the Jazz.
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with guard Donovan Mitchell as the Jazz and the Perth Wildcats play in an exhibition basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.
“When the players were really excited for me to have that opportunity, it sunk in, in a lot of ways,” he said. “What they have done, what we’ve been able to do together, over time. You reflect a little bit on the year before I got here when we won 25 games. And we lost some in a row in December and I was trying to figure out a lot of stuff, maybe when we were going to get another win. So you do have a chance to reflect on a lot of those things.”
Now it often seems as if wins are easy to come by. On any given night, the other head coaches in the league are telling reporters that Snyder is one of the best in the business.
Snyder is on a short list of candidates for the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, he is the Western Conference All-Star coach of 2021 and he’s guiding this season’s winningest team toward another playoff berth, the fifth of his seven-year tenure. Mitchell and Gobert will be making their second-straight All-Star appearances but in their eyes, there’s no one more deserving of being called an All-Star than their coach.
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