For his first hire as the Phoenix Suns general manager, Ryan McDonough wanted a head coach wih a high basketball acumen, an ability to develop young talent and leadership qualities that extend from the bench to the community.
According to McDonough, during the interview process Jeff Hornacek personified those characteristics, and additionally impressed with his ties to the franchise’s tradition and passionate fan base around the Valley.
What Hornacek couldn’t bring to the table was a résumé filled with head coaching experience, yet the new Suns GM said he had no qualms when deciding to hire the former 14-year NBA veteran as the team’s head coach.
“There’s not much trepidation,” McDonough told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo. “He’s been around the game his whole life, grew up the son of head coach in Illinois. Johnny Orr when he was at Iowa State called him a coach on the floor as a 22-year-old.
“He played in the NBA for a number of years and had a great success. As you guys know most it wasn’t based on raw physical ability. It was his mind, his toughness, the way he thought the game and the way he anticipated things happening on the floor.”
McDonough, who worked in the Celtics’ basketball operations department from 2004-2013, noted that despite not having coaching experience of any kind in 2004, Hornacek was granted an interview for the Boston head coaching job because of his well-regarded reputation around the league.
It’s a reputation he’s only built upon with recent experience.
In 2007-2008, Hornacek returned to Utah — where he played for parts of seven seasons — to serve as a special shooting coach with the Jazz. Following Jerry Sloan’s departure in Feb. 2011, the former All-Star joined Tyrone Corbin’s staff as a full-time assistant — a role he held for the past two-plus seasons.
“Going through practices, developing players, in terms of scouting upcoming opponents, in terms of working with the head coach to develop game plans, he’s done all that stuff,” said McDonough. “There’s a little question about any of us who haven’t sat in that head chair — including me going from an assistant GM to a GM — but it’s really a minor concern and not something I’m worried about at all.”