Best Coaching Hopeful 2013 | Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix

We loved Alvin Gentry, but he never was a head coach who could deliver a consistently winning team, much less a champion. He was put out of his misery by the team with the most miserable record in the NBA's Western Conference last season, the Phoenix Suns. After searching high and low, Suns honchos brought in Jeff Hornacek from the Utah Jazz, where he'd toiled as a player and a "special coach" under the legendary Jerry Sloan and later as a full-time Jazz assistant. Hornacek was an outstanding player! Originally drafted by the Suns, he terrified opposing players with his intensity. He became the Suns' third option in an offense dominated by Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers. Coached by Cotton Fitzsimmons, the combo took the previously hapless franchise to three playoff appearances in a row. Hornacek became the Suns' most prolific scorer in the 1991-92 season with 20 points per game. Despite all that, his claim to fame in Phoenix then was as the guy who got traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley. He was a Sixer for a season before he landed in Utah, playing under Sloan and with two greats, John Stockton and Karl "Mailman" Malone. The trio led the Jazz to the NBA Finals twice, losing both times to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in '97 and '98. Hornacek had the unenviable task of guarding the greatest basketball player ever in those losses. Winner of the NBA three-point competition twice, Hornacek once hit 11 threes in a row to tie the then-NBA record.

One of the most fundamentally sound players ever, he hit 67 free throws in a row in the '99 season. But can he excel as a head coach? Star players rarely make great coaches, but Hornacek — despite his athletic accolades — never was a star. He had to fit in with dazzling players wherever he went, even moving from shooting guard to point guard in Philly. He had to take advantage of what was offered him. He was the greatest player most fans never heard of. He'll fit in and excel as a head coach, too — or die trying!

Not that long ago, one of the biggest arguments in sports was over who the worst owner was. It was a close race between Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers and the Bidwills (daddy Bill and son Michael). Our money always was on the owners of the Arizona Cardinals because they were notoriously cheap when it came to acquiring top players, though the same thing could be said about Sterling. Nowadays, all that's changed. The Clippers are one of the elite teams in the NBA, with Sterling forking over multi-millions to acquire the likes of point guard Chris Paul and former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. And the Bidwills haven't been far behind, though their recruiting prowess hasn't panned out in past years with the acquisitions of coach Ken Whisenhunt, who (despite our endorsement) turned out to be a dismal failure, quarterback Kevin Kolb, and perennially injured Beanie Wells.

Now, though, we must award the Bidwills the coveted Best Owners in Valley Sports award. In the off-season, Michael Bidwill, who runs the team now that his pop's all but retired, has gone out and gotten what we believe will be the best coach in team history, Bruce Arians. He's also gotten a veteran quarterback in the Kurt Warner mold in Carson Palmer. Plus, he whacked Whisenhunt and traded Kolb and Wells. And he's had the good sense to cherish the great Larry Fitzgerald, whose eight-year, $120 million contract is one of the largest in the NFL. Gone are the days when the Bidwills were best known for low-balling. Nowadays, they're in it to win it.

Cruising Canyon Lake since 1983, the Dolly is a replica of a historic stern-wheeler steamboat. At about 100 feet long, it's no Mississippi River gambling-and-vaudeville palace, but it has big smokestacks and lots of cheerful red-and-white paint. The Dolly's decks are a wonderful place from which to view desert scenery and wildlife, including raptors and waterfowl, but it's also a lovely, peaceful venue for watching the sun go down, enjoying an astronomy presentation, or just escaping the city for a little while. (Though we once attended a cramped and sweaty private wedding reception on the Dolly, and sometimes the drawback of a party on a motherfucking boat is the impossibility of escape.) Fares vary based on time of day, length of cruise, and what type of meal or refreshment is being served. There's also a cash bar, which is great — just don't be an idiot and get someone drowned.

It was at Chavez Ravine that former Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy hit two batters in apparent retaliation for Dodgers pitcher Zack Grienke hitting catcher Miguel Montero. Anyhow, the Dodgers took great umbrage at Kennedy's antics. So much so that they stormed the field and started whomping up on our beloved Snakes. There was much cold-cocking by the Dodgers. In fact, L.A. phenom Yasiel Puig, whom Kennedy beaned on the nose, went berserk. The guy just kept coming, and yelling. The Diamondbacks got the majority of the punishment from Major League Baseball in the melee. Kennedy was suspended for 10 games. And he should've been; the whole thing happened after he threw at Grienke's head, making the L.A. starter the second Dodger he'd hit that evening. Which brings us to Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward. He's the not-famous guy (has stubble to match Kirk Gibson's) furiously chomping away in the D-backs dugout all the time. Man, dude chews up a monsoon every night, and spits enough to fill Chase Field's swimming pool! Well, he got his ass handed to him by the Dodgers in that dugouts-clearing explosion of fists and fury. Almost literally. He's the guy you see in videos at the back of the throng of Arizona players who eventually gets upended over a railing after L.A. pitcher J.P. Howell put a headlock on him that'd make "Stone Cold" Steve Austin proud. Not to worry . . . the only thing injured was Turner's pride.

Considering that the Phoenix area is known as America's golf mecca, we've failed over the years to honor one of our own: ASU's Phil "Lefty" Mickelson, one of the great golfers of all time. His latest accomplishment was coming from five shots back to win the British Open this year. While at ASU, Mickelson stunned the golf world by winning, at 20, a PGA event as an amateur, the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson. The win allowed him to move directly into the pro circuit, bypassing the Tour's qualifying process, after he graduated ASU in 1992. Four years later, he won the Byron Nelson Golf Classic and the World Series of Golf. In 2000, he knocked Tiger Woods off his pedestal by defeating him at the Buick Invitational, ending Woods' string of six straight victories at the Southern California event. Renowned for his left-handed swing (a rarity among professional golfers and particularly unusual since he's right-handed in every other way), Mickelson won his first Masters (the grandaddy of all golf tournaments) in 2002. He won his second and third green jackets in Augusta, Georgia, in 2006 and 2010. He was PGA champion in 2005 and has come in second in the U.S. Open a record six times. He has five times more PGA wins than any other left-handed golfer; he's one of three lefties to ever win a major championship. Mickelson grew up in San Diego and Scottsdale and attended ASU on a golf scholarship. The same year he won his first pro event, Lefty led ASU to the NCAA National Championship in his sport.

Diamondbacks shortstop Mreiekson Julius (DiDi) Gregorious is a native of the Netherlands. Now though it may may sound strange to most Americans that a major-league baseball player is Dutch, we'll have you know that our national pastime is pretty popular in the land of windmills, wooden shoes, and dikes. Here's a little history lesson: Baseball started in the country in 1911 after a teacher named J.C.G. Grasé became fascinated with it during a trip to the United States. The country now even has a professional league and a successful national team. Now, baseball pales compared to soccer in the Netherlands, but the Dutch were one of those European nations that colonized in the Americas, and its former colonies simply go wild for baseball. This is where DiDi Gregorious comes in. His family emigrated from the Netherlands to the tiny southern Caribbean island country of Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. We've all heard of the Dominican Republic and its multitude of famous players (slugger Luis Pujols comes to mind), but DiDi's got to be the most famous (granted this isn't saying much) player (or anything else) from his little speck of a homeland. We doubled over laughing when D-backs GM Kevin Towers said Gregorious was the second coming of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. But nobody was laughing early in the 2013 season when Gregorious, in addition to making acrobatic plays on defense and saving games, posted a .322 batting average with 16 extra-base hits. He's cooled off since at the plate, which makes us think that Towers exaggerated. But not by much.

It wasn't surprising when Valley sports celebrity and Dancing wth the Stars veteran Kurt Warner wound up hosting a reality show on the USA network. A virtual twinkle-toes on the popular ABC dance-off, the retired Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl quarterback became the face of The Moment, a program he's highly qualified to do. The show's about second chances, and Warner's the ultimate comeback kid. At one time out of professional football and bagging groceries, he got back into the National Football League in a big way — eventually leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title (he was named the game's MVP). His career waned again when he was backup to Eli Manning with the New York Giants and later to Cardinals washout QB Matt Leinart. After Leinart's collarbone was broken in a game, Warner took over as signal-caller. The rest is history. That is, he wound up taking the previously hapless Cards to the biggest sporting event in the world in 2008. He didn't win that time, but he came so close that we could all taste it.

Concluding a 12-year career, he retired in 2010. But not from the limelight; the manly jock with a toothpaste-commercial smile almost made it to DWTS' semifinal round. The night he was voted off, the show's audience chanted: "MVP, MVP!" Gone again but not forgotten, he was back on the small screen earlier this year hosting the "positive" interview show on USA. In one episode, a guy gets to realize his dream, however briefly, of becoming a NASCAR driver. As his Cardinals teammates couldn't stop attesting, Warner's got a big heart, and that came across on The Moment, which is one reason he was nominated for a Critics Choice Award for his work. Truthfully, Warner's much more interesting than the stories he relates. The latest is that 20th Century Fox has bought the rights to make a movie about Kurt's life. The buzz now is who will play the devoutly Christian ex-QB. Our recommendation: Let the movie-star-handsome Warner play himself. It'd be box office!

Patrick Corbin was listed as the losing pitcher in baseball's All-Star Game this summer? So what! This means he played in the elite event in New York City. He lost because he gave up the first run in a 3-0 American League victory. The Arizona Diamondbacks have had other All-Star pitchers, including Randy Johnson, Kurt Schilling, and (last year) Wade "Duck Dynasty" Miley. As for Miley, he had a terrific season last year, but nothing as outstanding this year. Fellow southpaw Corbin, on the other hand, is destined for the greatness achieved by Johnson and Schilling. Big-league hitters figured out Miley this year and started hitting him with abandon. Miley, though, has nearly unhittable pitches in his arsenal that Miley never had. He has a slider that drops off the table, bamboozling even the best hitters in the game. On top of that, he's increased the speed of his fastball to more than 92 miles per hour. Though the hapless Ian Kennedy (since traded to the San Diego Padres) was the D-backs ace in the first half of this season, Miley (with a 12-2 record and a 2.24 earned-run average at just past midseason) clearly isn't only Arizona's best, but one of the three or four best pitchers out there. Look for the guy who was questionable as the team's fifth starter in the spring to be in Cooperstown someday.

In the Facebook group Growing Up in Mesa in the '70s, they're making that whole experience sound much cooler than it was. However, everyone agrees that the 1912 steam locomotive we crawled around in at Pioneer Park (across from the Mormon Temple) was the shit. Nowadays, we're so safety-conscious we'd probably never let kids do that. People who grow up in junkyards, hobo jungles, and poorly maintained farms are so lucky.

But even if we never get back onto old Southern Pacific Engine #2355, seeing it restored and moved to a place of honor on the front side of the park will feel great. It's an official Centennial Legacy Project of the state of Arizona, and donations are accepted at the website. The cold steel, the tall steps, pulling levers and spinning wheels because if we did it in just the right order, we were sure something would happen — those are memories we don't want to lose.

Once the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation got settled, with IceArizona taking over the team from the National Hockey League — which had grabbed the Coyotes because of their financial hardships — general manager Don Maloney found himself in a buyer's market. Suddenly, every free agent out there was getting shopped to Maloney, who'd had to practically beg good players to come to the desert. And, during the frenzy, the Coyotes were able to land a player they'd long coveted to fill a spot on their roster that they desperately needed to fill. In signing Montreal native Mike Ribeiro to a long-term contract, Maloney filled a five-season void at the center position. What star player would come to the desert when he had no idea where he'd be living a year or two later? Once the ownership deal was consummated, Ribeiro signed a four-year, $22 million contract with Phoenix. Last season, Ribeiro scored 13 goals and a point per game with the Washington Capitals; before that, he'd had a high of 27 goals and 93 points with Dallas. A big reason for his success in the Lone Star State was his association with Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, when Tippett was with the Stars. Tippett, along with Maloney, engineered the deal for Ribeiro, who considers his reunion with his old coach a match made in hockey heaven. It's hoped that Ribeiro, a quality playmaker who led the NHL with 20 power-play assists last season, can help the Coyotes with that formerly dismal part of their game. With Ribeiro taking the ice in Glendale, the Yotes may again move to the top of the Valley's pro sports franchise pile when it comes to success in their sport.

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