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Utah Jazz: Even in his 60s, Sloan not stopping

Published January 19, 2009 10:03 pm

Still going » Players not surprised coach signed through 2010.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Deron Williams wasn't surprised to learn Monday that Jerry Sloan had agreed to a one-year extension to return for the 2009-10 season as Jazz coach.

"I told you, I'm going to retire before he retires," the 24-year-old Williams said of the 66-year-old Sloan.

"That's probably not true," Sloan responded. "When you've been around as long as I have, you know you only have a short stay."

How much longer Sloan will continue coaching is the Jazz's biggest mystery, but the extension he agreed to this weekend paves the way for Sloan to return for a 22nd season, provided he does not reconsider during a two-week window after the season.

Williams joked that Sloan had become basketball's version of Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who signed a three-year extension before his 82nd birthday last month. Sloan, meanwhile, was asked if he thought his newest extension could be his last.

"I've always felt that way," Sloan said. "My career was ended because of injury and coaching could be the same way or sickness or something like that. I almost quit coaching four or five years ago, but that didn't happen, so I'm still here for now."

Sloan considered leaving after his first wife, Bobbye, died of cancer in June 2004, but opted to continue coaching the Jazz. The team returned to the playoffs and advanced to the Western Conference finals in 2007.

The longest-tenured coach in major professional sports, Sloan's new extension will keep him coaching past his 68th birthday on March 28, 2010. He is one of five NBA coaches older than 60, with San Antonio's Gregg Popovich set to become No. 6 on Jan. 28.

Sloan is league's third-oldest coach, behind Golden State's Don Nelson and Charlotte's Larry Brown, both of whom are 68.

He said Monday that such longevity as a coach wouldn't have been possible a generation ago in the NBA.

"It's a great deal different today than what it used to be," Sloan said, "because if you had to travel commercially and didn't have charter flights and stuff, that would probably take its toll on you a little bit quicker."

Much as he did earlier this season in celebrating his 1,000th victory as Jazz coach as well as his 20th anniversary of taking over for Frank Layden, Sloan credited his assistant coaches and repeated that he has been blessed to coach good players.

He added that the grind of the NBA schedule, with its back-to-back games and late-night flights, wasn't as much of an issue as the knee he needs to have replaced.

"But that would be happening if I was farming," Sloan said. "It doesn't make any difference. And farming's a lot rougher work-wise than what this is."

There also is the uncertain: The Jazz could have as many as nine of the 15 players on their roster become free agents after this season. If Sloan continues coaching beyond 2009-10, only Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and C.J. Miles are signed long-term.

Williams said Sloan's passion for the game was evident and Kirilenko said he never considered the coach wouldn't be back. "His teams [are] always dangerous," Kirilenko said of Sloan, who has suffered only one losing season in Utah.

Instead of the traditional three-year extensions he signed in the past, Sloan and the Jazz agreed to one-year extensions beginning last season. As long as he continues coaching the Jazz, Sloan is likely to sign a new one about this time each year.

"At my age, I don't think it would be fair to anybody to have a long-term contract," Sloan said.

In announcing the extension Sunday, Sloan also received a vote of confidence from Greg Miller, who took over as chief executive of his father's companies, including the Jazz, last summer. Jazz owner Larry Miller was not quoted in the news release.

"We have been blessed as an organization that Jerry Sloan has been with us as long as he has. Jerry is the standard for hard work and consistency," Greg Miller said in a statement. "Jerry has brought a level of credibility to the Utah Jazz that nobody else could."

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Senior citizens

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is set to return for the 2009-10 season, keeping his place as one of five current NBA coaches older than 60. San Antonio's Gregg Popovich is set to become No. 6 as he celebrates his 60th birthday next week.

Coach Team Age

Don Nelson Golden St. 68

Larry Brown Charlotte 68

Jerry Sloan Jazz 66

Phil Jackson L.A. Lakers 63

Rick Adelman Houston 62

Tonight's game

Timberwolves at Jazz Tonight, 7 p.m., KJZZ