Hornacek Right Hire Because of Past and Future

Jeff Hornacek waves to the fans in Utah during his jersey retirement ceremony in 2000.

“If you love something, set it free; if it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was.”

The famous quote by renowned American author Richard Bach usually is cited when a person wants to sound intelligent about romantic entanglements or wants to feel better about a break-up. It can also be used in reference to the Suns' newest head coach, Jeff Hornacek (whether it’ll make me look smart is for you, the reader, to determine).

On June 17, it will be 21 years since the Suns parted ways with the fan favorite shooting guard in a trade that landed them Charles Barkley. It was a move that, like getting the person of your dreams but having to break up with someone very nice to do it (think Brad Pitt breaking up with Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie), was bittersweet for fans, who had grown to love the man they affectionately referred to as "Horny."

While it was a deal that brought a superstar to the Valley, it wasn’t clear if they’d ever again be able to cheer for the diamond in the rough that the Suns had found late in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft. On Tuesday, that question, two decades after it was originally asked, was finally answered, as Hornacek officially proved he was their man by agreeing to comeback and be the 16th head coach in franchise history.

But is it the right move for the future or a move to bring back memories from the past? The answer is, yes.


Related: One-on-One w/ "Horny" | Hornacek Career Photos | Official Press Release | History Video

This offseason President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby has made it a point to let fans know that the future of the organization will be conducted with respect for its rich past. It is something that the former agent turned front office executive has acknowledged was neglected over the last few years.

"Where I think we've lost our way a little bit, candidly, is I want to make sure we're respectful of the past," Babby told the press back in April. "I want to make sure that we acknowledge the tremendous success this organization has had, be respectful of the people who have played here and to the people who have coached here.”

The hiring of Hornacek directly acknowledges and addresses all of those concerns while paving the way for a bright future. Not only is he a beloved former player from the Suns’ heyday, but he also played for three of the best coaches in the franchise’s history in John Macleod and Cotton Fitzsimmons as head coaches, and Paul Westphal as an assistant coach. His name evokes a time when many fans fell in love with the franchise and for those that don’t remember his playing days, his name brings to mind a trade that brought the most recognizable face in franchise history to the Valley.

This hire goes well beyond good vibes and warm and fuzzy feelings, though. Anyone who thinks it was a move made for public relations reasons isn’t looking close enough. Hornacek isn’t a guy whose credibility is solely based on his name recognition.

Hornacek grew up in a basketball household. His father was a high school basketball coach in his home state of Illinois, where he even coached future hall of famer Isiah Thomas in the 1970s. As a walk-on at Iowa State Hornacek learned more about the game under legendary coach Johnny Orr. During his 14-year playing career in the NBA he played for and learned from not only the Suns coaching greats listed above but also Jazz legend Jerry Sloan. While on the court, his teammates viewed his like an additional coach. In Phoenix John MacLeod allowed him to call his own plays and during timeouts in Utah he was even known to draw plays on his hand according to John Stockton.

Some may bring into question Hornacek’s nice guy status and how well he’ll be able to lead as a coach because of it. When I spoke with him Monday afternoon, he made it clear that he is more than capable of being a disciplinarian, but he feels the fact that he doesn’t always have to use that side of him will make the times when it is necessary more effective. Think of it as the coaching version of the boy who cried wolf.

“I’d consider myself an relatively even keeled guy,” Hornacek told Suns.com in an exclusive interview. “ I’m not going to be a guy who is screaming and yelling at the guys all the time. However, when I do it, then they’ll know I’m serious and mad about something. I think it works to your advantage. If you’re harping on the guys all the time, you run the risk of them tuning you out. If you can be encouraging and inspire them to play hard, make them work and make it fun, they’ll usually have a good relationship with the coach.”

Overall the hiring of Hornacek is both what the Suns wanted to honor the past and what they needed to prepare for the future. Despite letting him go all, he proved he was truly a Sun, because 21 years after he left the family, he’s back to lead it.