SALT LAKE CITY — Will Hardy knew some of the inner workings of the Utah Jazz before he was named the youngest current head coach in the league.
Sure, it was 2009, and he was just an intern.
Before his senior year at Williams College, he spent eight weeks in the business operations department, spending mornings with the Jazz, afternoons helping the Salt Lake Bees, a Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, and nights at the gym rehabbing from hip surgery.
One of Hardy’s initial assignments was giving tours of Vivint Arena, a building he had never entered before his internship. That didn’t stop him, and his ability to adapt on the fly now could come in handy for the Jazz.
“Those (tours) were adventurous for sure,” Hardy said. “I was learning the building as I went along.”
Utah introduced Hardy as their coach on Tuesday. The 34-year-old, who was an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, will steer the ship as the team navigates a rebuilding process with All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell as the cornerstone.
The change began when Quin Snyder resigned in June after eight seasons, followed by trades that ousted three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale and brought in Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley. The team also collected a variety of first-round NBA draft picks to use as building blocks.
Hardy is ready to accept whatever direction Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik decide to take.
“I trust Danny and Justin,” Hardy said. “Their track record and story speak for themselves. But they have been very open and forthcoming with me and have been supportive throughout the entire process.”
Hardy’s training philosophy won over Ainge and Zanik 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, but he didn’t look like 34 to us and we didn’t really pay much attention to that,” said Ainge, who was impressed by Hardy with his basketball acumen. “He 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, Will was our guy and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Ainge.
Another thing that caught Ainge’s attention: Hardy’s commitment to frequent practices, because, for him, repetition is a central element. But it doesn’t have to be the traditional 90 minutes, Hardy said.
“We need to rethink that a little bit. Practice can be 30 minutes. The middle of the season can be tough. The schedule is exhausting… But I think in order to develop habits and know what it feels like to do it right, you have to do it at full speed.” Hardy said.
Hardy has some coaching experience, albeit limited, with some players currently on the Jazz roster. He was an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff when Rudy Gay played for the Spurs from 2017 to 2021 and helped out with the USA team, which Mitchell played for, during the 2019 Basketball World Cup.
Hardy knows he needs to get the team back on track after chemistry issues caused Utah to fall apart late last season.
“Toughness, sacrifice and passion are the three most important things to me,” Hardy said. “I want our group to be deeply competitive and able to deal with adversity. I’d like everyone to recognize that this is bigger than them individually. Everyone is going to have to step out of their comfort zone a little bit as we go forward.” “