By Jordan Kabialis
The Utah Jazz took a major blow last Thursday when head coach, Jerry Sloan resigned. It was something no one wanted to see happen and something not many saw coming.
That Monday it had been announced that Sloan and the Jazz had signed a one-year contract extension. However, following a loss at home to the Chicago Bulls (Utah’s 11th home loss of the season) Sloan was ready to put an end to an incredible 26-year coaching career.
The end to Sloan’s reign as head coach of the Jazz was made official in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “This is harder than I thought it would be,” said Sloan at the beginning of his press conference.
Not only was it difficult for him to say but it was equally difficult for fans to hear.
Jerry Sloan’s excellent work ethic, focus, and extensive knowledge of the game have kept the Utah Jazz relevant for the last 23 years; even after losing NBA greats John Stockton and Karl Malone. Sloan has somehow found a way to get and develop the players he needs to make his team a contender. In his 23 years as head coach of the Jazz, his team has been to the playoffs 20 times, reaching the Western Conference Finals six times and winning the conference twice.
It is not clear why Sloan decided to walk away in the middle of the season, though it was a likely combination of things unknown to the public and things that were not so private.
Sloan was seen arguing with star point guard Deron Williams yet again during the loss to the Bulls. Though this was nothing new to people, as it was a well-known fact that the two never saw eye to eye, the idea that Williams single handedly forced Jerry Sloan out of Utah.
While the constant friction between the two may have had something to do with Sloan’s early exit, there is no possible way that it is the sole reason. Karl Malone said it best, saying that NO player could force Sloan to quit. With that being the case, age figures to be another factor. It is quite possible Sloan no longer has the energy to argue with young players.
Jerry Sloan started his career as a player being drafted 4th overall by the Baltimore Bullets in the 1965 NBA draft. He was later drafted by the Chicago Bulls from the Bullets in the NBA expansion draft in 1966. Sloan went on to play the next ten seasons in Chicago until a knee injury ended his career.
As a Chicago Bull, Sloan averaged 14 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, becoming the only player in NBA history to average over 7 rebounds and 2 assists for his career. Sloan was also a two-time all-star in his time with the Bulls and named to six NBA All-Defensive teams. His jersey (#4) was later retired by the Bulls on February 17, 1978.
Jerry Sloan then began his coaching career in 1979 as head coach of the Chicago Bulls for three seasons, leading the team to the second round of the playoffs in his second year as coach. In his first season with Utah in 1988, the team went 65-40 and made the playoffs. Sloan and the Jazz would continue to make the playoffs for the next 15 years.
Sloan’s best season came in the 1996-97 season when the Jazz went 64-18 and making their first NBA Finals appearance. The Jazz would go on to lose in the Finals to Sloan’s old team, losing to the Bulls 4 games to 2 each of the next two seasons.
Sloan finishes his coaching career with an overall 1,221-803 (.603) record, finishing 3rd in all-time wins behind Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson. Sadly, like Nelson, Sloan never won a NBA championship as a head coach. Sloan also became the first coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games with one team, finishing with 1,127 wins for the Jazz. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in 2009.
Coach Sloan will be greatly missed.
Although his untimely exit is saddening to many, there will undoubtedly be a banner hanging from the rafters in Utah with his name on it.