The Spurs coaches’ retreat is an annual event held by coach Gregg Popovich to begin the season, where coaches spend a few days watching film and exchanging ideas.
Quin Snyder may have been an assistant to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and a successful college head coach at Missouri. But at Snyder’s first coaches’ retreat seven years ago, he was the new kid in class trying to get away with mumbling an answer.
“I was just listening, but then I got forced to say a few things, and Pop goes, ‘what the hell are you talking about, Quin?’” Snyder recalled. “But getting comfortable in those environments, where you felt like you earned the respect of the leader and the staff, to be accepted into that group was really important.”
Snyder was a part of the Spurs organization from 2007 to 2010, when he was head coach of the Austin Toros (now the Austin Spurs), the Spurs’ NBA D-League affiliate. Snyder took over the team when the Spurs purchased the Austin franchise, and helped shape the Toros into the Spurs’ model.
On Sunday, Snyder was on the other end of the court as the head coach of the Utah Jazz. Snyder, now 48, said he hopes the Jazz will follow similar values as the Spurs.
“What makes the organization unique is all the subtle commitments – to integrity, to the commitment of everybody to a common goal,” Snyder said. “People live by the idea that the group is more important, and that’s unique not just in sports, but in anything.”
When Snyder accepted the job as the Toros’ coach, he was on the ground floor of a new venture by the Spurs. They were just the second NBA team to purchase a D-League franchise, and immediately turned Austin into a Silver and Black team 75 miles north of San Antonio.
Playing in the Austin Convention Center at the time, the Toros would draw crowds of about 2,000.
When the team was practicing at a city recreation center, Snyder cut one practice short so the homeless could use the center’s bathrooms to shower.
“The ground floor is where you really learn,” Snyder said. “We made some mistakes, and the opportunity to learn and reflect on the mistakes is what shapes you, too.”
No longer on a national college stage, Snyder was still winning. In three seasons, Snyder guided the Toros to a 94-56 (.627) record and the 2008 NBDL Championship game. He was the 2009 D-League Coach of the Year.
Alonzo Gee was among the players who graduated from the Toros to the NBA under Snyder, and the pipeline from Austin to San Antonio was set.
“We want to say ‘This is what makes a Spur, whether it’s an Austin Spur or a San Antonio Spur, ‘” Spurs assistant general manager Sean Marks said. “We want the Austin Spurs playing the same sort of system and having the same character guys, and Quin helped to lay that groundwork.”
While Snyder was grooming players for the NBA, he also gained the tools to make the leap himself.
Snyder remembered calling then Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer early in his Austin tenure, asking Bud for advice on attacking a zone defense.
“I had access to all the knowledge,” Snyder said. “That support was really important.”
He joined the Spurs staff for playoff runs after the Toros’ season was over, becoming more and more comfortable with an NBA coaching environment.
One of the biggest moments for Snyder? Riding on the Spurs’ team bus.
“That really was a big thing,” Snyder said. “Becoming a part of the staff was earned. It was more of an organic thing. It wasn’t a title handed to me. If it happened in a different way, it wouldn’t have meant as much.”
Snyder has kept close ties to the Spurs since leaving the Toros. In 2013-14, he was an assistant for the Atlanta Hawks under Budenholzer.
And last summer, when Jazz general manger Dennis Lindsey - a former Spurs assistant general manager - was looking for a head coach, Snyder got his opportunity. One of Snyder’s assistants, Brad Jones, spent two seasons as the Toros’ head coach as well.
The Jazz are a young team navigating a difficult Western Conference in Snyder’s first season. But Snyder said he’s already spotted improvements that come with values similar to the ones he set in Austin.
“What the Spurs have done is on a different level,” Snyder said. “Very few teams historically have achieved that. We’re trying to see that standard and experience it from their side.”