The day Jerry Sloan announced he was quitting as coach of the Utah Jazz, he sounded fed up and broken down, more than ready to walk away from a club that had employed him for 26 years and from a game that had soaked up so much of his adult life. Over most of that span, he had a firm grip on everything, on basketball and on the team itself.
“My time is up,” he said on that day. “It’s time for me to move on. My energy level has dropped off a little bit.”
The day Jerry Sloan announced he was coming back as a senior basketball adviser to the Utah Jazz, he sounded like a man who wished he’d never turned away to take that lonely walk. As it really was, he didn’t have a firm grip on basketball and on the team. It was the other way around.
“I feel like being involved in basketball [again] has kind of saved my life,” he said Wednesday. “You feel like you want to jump off a tall building after being away from it for a couple of years.”
He added: “You get up in the morning, there’s not a lot to do.”
Now, there is.
Sloan’s return is no big surprise. His time was never up, not back then, not now. More than a month ago, I wrote these exact words:
“Sloan will become more active with the Jazz again. He’s already been attending a lot of games at EnergySolutions Arena. He’s been in Chicago this week at the NBA combine, checking out things for the Jazz, advising them. And that’s what he’ll do more and more. He’ll take a paid advisory role in Utah, helping his old club find its way out of the transitional phase it’s thrashing through without taking upon himself all the stress and aggravation of being in the lead chair.”
I’m no prophet. A source tipped me off on that. But a blind man could have seen it coming.
What I wrote then is still true: This move makes sense for Sloan and the Jazz. Jerry needs that reason to get up in the morning, a good place to focus his energy and expertise, and the Jazz need all the help they can get to make it through a challenging bounce-back.
Sloan is, after all, a rare resource.
He’s won a thousand games.
He’s a Hall of Famer.
He’s Jerry Freakin’ Sloan.
“To have his extra insight to help us is extremely valuable,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.
“It’s an opportunity for me to get back in basketball,” said Sloan. “I’m willing to do anything they ask me to do, that’s the way I look at it.”
The specifics were a little vague Wednesday regarding how Sloan’s role will be shaped and implemented, but it’s a smart, savvy move, all around.
Bringing back the veteran coach, much the same as bringing back Karl Malone to tutor the young bigs, as a link to the team’s past as it moves forward into its future is symbolic, but also pragmatic. Sloan can bring his vast knowledge to the table, without having any kind of final say in the team’s most important issues. It’s a nod, then, to the Jazz’s legacy without obligation to be absolutely beholden to it in every circumstance. The club can take the good — and junk the bad, if there is any.
As for the details on how that will work, nobody really seems to know — yet.
Sloan will advise on matters of scouting and personnel, including potential draft picks and players already in the league the Jazz could sign or for whom they could trade, as well as coaching and player development.
“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “But when I was a young coach, I needed a lot of guidance … Ty [Corbin] has asked me to help him.”
That’s a remarkable reach forward for Corbin, showing the humility and self-confidence necessary to accept that help. The same is true for Dennis Lindsey, and all aspects of basketball operations, putting Sloan back on the payroll to help one and all do their jobs better.
It’s tricky business, Sloan communicating his strong opinions and straightforward words without crushing the tender feelings of those within the organization with official title and authority. If there is disagreement, how will it be settled?
Chances are good Sloan will do his work carefully, deep within the inner sanctum. “I want to help more in a quiet way,” he said. Which is to say, he won’t be outwardly eclipsing Corbin, his former assistant, on the practice floor or Lindsey in the front office. “I’m not going to jump up in front of someone,” he said.
Still, Sloan wouldn’t have taken the Jazz’s offer as an adviser if he thought it was ceremonial or that nobody would be paying attention. He’s too strong-willed for that, too proud, too sensitive, too far down the pike. That shouldn’t be a problem, though. There are no Deron Williamses in John Stockton’s clothing around the team now. When he talks, people listen. And maybe he’ll listen back.
He’s the Jazz’s version of E. F. Hutton.
He’s Jerry Freakin’ Sloan.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.