Jerry Sloan's departure from Utah proves old school is gone for good
The NBA world received shocking news Feb. 10 when it was announced that Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan and assistant coach Phil Johnson were stepping down effective immediately. Sloan, who coached the Jazz for 23 years, will be replaced by Jazz assistant Tyrone Corbin.
Sloan was a fixture on the sidelines for Utah. Having coached the Jazz since 1988, he was the longest-tenured coach in the NBA — by a wide margin. He is also a Hall of Famer, having been inducted back in 2009, and will forever be linked to fellow Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone for the many successes the three helped each other achieve in Salt Lake City, especially the back-to-back Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998 against the Chicago Bulls.
Sloan will go down in history as one of the best coaches ever to hold a clipboard. While he never won Coach of the Year, he ranks third all time in wins (1,221), behind only Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332), and he is the only coach in NBA history to ever win 1,000 games with one team.
But for all the success he had as a coach, there was always one fact that Sloan could not escape — the cold, hard reality that times are changing.
Sloan was as old school as they come. He was tough, fiery, and never one to back down from a fight. He was stubborn and set in his ways, and if things were not going to be done his way, then he’d rather they not be done at all.
And that is the last thing this generation of players wants to hear.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, coaches could yell, scream, and berate players all they wanted. They could call every play, hold 3- and 4-hour practices, and generally hold players accountable when things were not done correctly. All of that went with the territory. But this generation of players has been coddled. They grow up constantly having their egos stroked and hearing everyone tell them how great they are, so the last thing they want is some ornery old coot telling them the opposite. They don’t understand that the coach is simply trying to hold the player accountable for his actions on the court, which is the first step to becoming a great player.
Nowadays, a coach has to be more of a babysitter and therapist than basketball guru — roles that the 68-year-old Sloan simply had no patience for.
As it stands, early reports have a dispute between Sloan and Jazz point guard Deron Williams at the crux of Sloan’s departure. Apparently, the two got into an argument that nearly came to blows during halftime of a Utah loss to the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 9. Details on the incident are sketchy, but reports also state that the two had prior run-ins earlier this season and that Sloan no longer felt he had the unconditional support of team ownership.
Whatever the details, the fact is that Sloan was the last relic of a bygone era, and it is a testament to his ability to coach that he persevered as long as he did.
This is now a players’ league. Players are forcing trades, teaming up on “super teams,” and calling more plays themselves than ever before. In Sloan’s time, players worked on becoming great players; now they work on their marketability.
The late Cotton Fitzsimmons used to say that coaches are hired to be fired, and it is true that it is easier to replace one person than 12. At least in Sloan’s case, he was able to avoid the axe. It may not have been the way he deserved to go, but in the end he left on his own terms — and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
By: Eric Lorenz
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