Jerry Sloan checking out of Salt Lake City
Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan announced his resignation today after 23 seasons as head coach of the Utah Jazz. Phil Johnson, in his 18th season as Sloan's assistant coach, joined him in leaving, and assistant coach Tyrone Corbin was introduced as the new head coach.
The news of Sloan's resignation comes as a shock, as just recently he inked a one-year extension to return next year for what would have been his 24th season with the Jazz. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Sloan and the team's GM, Kevin O'Connor, were involved in a heated discussion following Wednesday's 91-86 loss to the Bulls. The usually prompt Sloan didn't make it out to meet the media until more than a half-hour after the game had ended, and even then he refused to provide any information about the closed-door session. After this morning's practice was canceled and a press conference announced, details about last night's volatile meeting began to emerge.
Two sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Sloan was angry about point guard Deron Williams calling his own play during the first half of the game, and that the two were involved in an "emotional dispute" at halftime. One of the sources said Wednesday's tiff was not an isolated incident, that Sloan and Williams had been butting heads for quite some time. Utah is desperate to hold on to Williams, who will become a free agent in the summer of 2012, and it appears the organization became more concerned with pleasing its best player than with pleasing its Hall of Fame coach. Stein reports that Sloan wanted to run the team his way, the way he had been for years, and when it became clear he wasn't able to do that anymore, he knew it was time for him to call it quits.
The Jazz have lost 10 of the team's past 14 games, but it's still in the mix at 31-23, sitting second in its division and sixth in the Western Conference. Reports out of Salt Lake City indicate that tensions had been building between Williams and his head coach for some time, but the contract extension Sloan signed Monday seemed a clear sign that compromise had been made. Not so. Somehow, over the past few days, the situation changed, and, as an emotional Sloan announced his resignation today, it became clear that he felt he had no other option.
"Twenty-six years is a long time to be in one organization," Sloan said, battling tears. "My time is up, and it's time for me to move on. I'd like to thank the Miller family for sticking by me throughout my career here as a coach."
Jazz CEO Greg Miller said that he and the rest of the team brass "threw everything we had at [Sloan] to try to get him to stay." As for the rumored rift between Sloan and Williams, Miller tried to downplay its role in Sloan's resignation, saying that no player or member of the organization "pushed" him out. When prompted by the media, Sloan himself was vague in addressing the matter, saying "I've had confrontations with players since I've been in the league ... Those things are minor as far as trying to go forward."
The timing of the announcement, though shocking, is strangely fitting considering Sloan's past. His resignation comes the day after a loss to Chicago, a team that boasts three of his former players: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Sloan was the first player drafted by the Bulls in the expansion draft, inspiring the nickname "The Original Bull," and his No. 4 jersey was the first to be retired by the Chicago Bulls organization. Chicago was the only other team Sloan coached for; it provided him with his first NBA head coaching gig back in 1979. So it's a shame, really, that Sloan's most talented Utah teams, the ones featuring the Hall of Fame duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone, were twice denied a title in the NBA Finals by Sloan's former team and its superstar Michael Jordan.
Sloan is not just the longest-tenured coach in NBA history, he's one of the longest-tenured coaches in the histories of any of the four major American sports. Only Connie Mack (Philadelphia Athletics), Curly Lambeau (Green Bay Packers) and Tom Landry (Dallas Cowboys) led their squads for more years. Despite being one of the most respected coaches in the league, Sloan never managed to lead a team to an NBA title, nor was he ever named the NBA Coach of the Year. He's the only NBA coach with 1,000 wins for one team and one of just six coaches with 1,000 NBA wins, period. In 2009, he was enshrined into the NBA Hall of Fame as a coach, alongside his star pupil, Stockton.
Over the next few days Sloan's legacy and contributions to the game will no doubt be discussed at length, as will Williams' role in the legendary coach's departure. For now, I'll leave you with three incredible facts about the time he spent at the helm of the Utah Jazz:
• 40 current NBA players weren't born when Sloan became the head coach of the Jazz on Dec. 9, 1988.
• Five current NBA teams (Charlotte, Minnesota, Toronto, Memphis and Orlando) did not exist when Sloan took over in Salt Lake City.
• During his tenure with the Jazz, there have been 245 coaching changes in the NBA.