Jeff Hornacek has been fired as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, according to a report from Yahoo Sports. The report indicates that Hornacek was informed of the decision Sunday night by Suns general manager Ryan McDonough following the team’s 91-78 loss at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks.
In two-plus seasons as the Phoenix head coach, Hornacek compiled a record of 101-112, but it was this season’s dramatic drop in the Western Conference that caused the undoing. The Suns now sit at 14-35 after losing their 19th game in their last 21 outings, which ties them with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the second-worst record in the West, ahead of only the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.
Jeff Hornacek and the Suns had playoff aspirations entering the season thanks to a young nucleus and the offseason addition of center Tyson Chandler. But management decided to cut bait and start over, and will do so with either Corey Gaines or Earl Watson as the interim head coach. According to an ESPN report, the Suns organization feared that the team had stopped responding to Hornacek’s coaching methods, in essence giving up on the third-year head coach. It certainly didn’t help that the Suns lost their leading scorer in Eric Bledsoe to a knee injury. Bledsoe also led the team in assists and steals before succumbing to the injury in late December.
Jeff Hornacek was a popular player in Phoenix during his 15-year NBA career. He spent the first six years of it in the desert, helping the Suns reach the playoffs four straight times and the Western Conference Finals twice. He also played for the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz, the latter of which retired his number, 14, after a seven-year run that saw the Jazz reach the NBA Finals in back-to-back years.
Jeff Hornacek’s top two veteran assistants, Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting, were fired in January, with Hornacek himself on the hot seat as well. Longabardi recently joined the Cleveland Cavaliers staff as their top assistant under new head coach Tyronn Lue. Suns management decided to give 52-year-old Hornacek a second chance, but injuries and unrest ultimately did him in. Sunday night’s game against the Mavericks – Hornacek’s final game on the bench – saw the Suns compete without their top three scorers in Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and T.J. Warren. The loss to Dallas was the team’s 14th consecutive road defeat, and they currently sit 30.5 games out of the Pacific Division lead.
Before arriving in Phoenix in 2013, Jeff Hornacek spent three seasons as a full-time assistant coach of the Jazz. He was considered a head coaching candidate for the 76ers and Charlotte Bobcats before choosing the Suns in May of 2013. Despite missing the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference in Hornacek’s first season, the Suns improved their win total by 23 victories, propelling the rookie head coach to finish second in the NBA Coach of the Year race, finishing as the runner-up to Greg Popovich.
Jeff Hornacek is the latest NBA head coach to fall victim to an in-season firing, joining former Cavaliers coach David Blatt on the unemployment line. Tom Thibodeau was dismissed by the Chicago Bulls following last season and now works as an analyst for ESPN.
He was a guest on the network’s morning radio show and had this to say about Hornacek’s firing.
“It’s unfortunate. Jeff is a terrific coach and he’s a terrific person. You hate to see that, and I think in our profession, sometimes things like that do happen, and when you dig a little deeper you see that he’s had a lot of injuries this year… Class person, very, very knowledgeable. It’s unfortunate but it’s part of this business.”
[Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images]