Jazz: With 1,000 victories approaching, Sloan still going strong

Published October 29, 2006 2:04 am
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Coach Frank Layden was red-faced furious, even though the Jazz had just scored a 100-98 preseason victory over Golden State at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

During the exhibition game, young referee Ken Mauer had called a technical foul on the Jazz bench.

Layden knew he wasn't the culprit, not this time. So he asked Mauer who had been called for the technical.

Pointing to assistant coach Jerry Sloan, Mauer told Layden, "The guy in the yellow tie."

After the game, Layden could not hide his unhappiness.

"The guy in the yellow tie, the guy in the yellow tie," Layden bellowed, who felt any NBA referee - even one new to the league - should have recognized a former player of Sloan's stature.

Ironically, Layden stepped down as head coach of the Jazz just two months after the Great Tie-rade of 1988.

He was replaced by Sloan, who NBA referees probably know by now.

On Wednesday night, when the Jazz play host to the Houston Rockets, Sloan begins his 19th season as Layden's replacement. He is the longest tenured head coach in professional sports, and team owner Larry Miller wouldn't want it any other way.

"Jerry's makeup and character and personality very much align with what this organization is about," Miller said. "Consistency, integrity, loyalty. Jerry has all those. . . . I'd like to think it's been a case of the coach reflecting the organization and vice versa."


Sloan replaced Layden on Dec. 9, 1988. He never envisioned still being here nearly two decades later.

"For my first four or five years here, I lived in a hotel," Sloan said, smiling. "I guess you could say I didn't expect to be around too long. It was just like I felt when I was a player. I thought I'd do the best I could but, the next day, they might want me out of here."

Early in the Sloan Era, firing his coach probably crossed Miller's mind once or twice, especially after early-round playoff disappointments in 1989 and 1990.

But today?

No chance.

"It's a tough business," Miller said. "There's so much pressure every night. But not a lot of guys deal with it better than Jerry."

Sloan shrugs.

"It is a tough job," he said. "You put demands on yourself every minute of the day, to do well and win. You think about it driving down the road or when you're in the store. It's just a constant thing that happens, and it takes away from any kind of life you might have during the season."

Because of the in-season stress levels, Sloan decided years ago to take some advice from his former coach, Dick Motta.

"He told me I better find a hobby - something other than basketball that I liked doing," Sloan said.

In recent years, Sloan's stress-reducing offseason activities include collecting antiques and working his farm in southern Illinois.

Just what Motta ordered.

"If I hadn't found some other things to do," Sloan admitted, "I wouldn't have lasted this long."

Said longtime assistant coach Phil Johnson: "There is a lot of pressure in this job - his job, especially. But the main thing that has helped Jerry is, he's been able to recharge his batteries in the summer. You have to be able to get away from it and he's been able to do that."

Another reason Sloan endures?

"The interesting thing about Jerry - when he first became a [head] coach - he was very concerned about making mistakes," Johnson said. "He worried about being exactly right every time. The thing he's learned, I think, is we will make mistakes. But then we move on. You're not always going to be exactly right 100 percent of the time."


Sloan nearly quit coaching three years ago, after his late wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Bobbye Sloan publicly acknowledged her illness in January 2004.

When the season ended in April, Miller wasn't sure his coach was coming back.

"Jerry was very noncommittal," Miller said. ". . . He just said, 'I'll let you guys know.' That was the only time I felt that Jerry - deep down - was questioning whether he needed more than just a break from basketball. I felt he was questioning whether he needed basketball, period."

Sloan admits he almost quit.

"There have been a lot of times I thought it was more than I could handle," Sloan said. "[But] No. 1 was when she got sick."

Bobbye Sloan, who insisted her husband keep coaching, died June 18, 2004.

Three months later, Jerry Sloan returned to Utah for another season with the Jazz.

"I believe all great coaches are teachers," said vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor. "And I think Jerry loves to teach the game of basketball."

Said Miller: "He's a better teacher than a lot of people think. . . . In particular, he has learned to be a better teacher to younger players. It's not one-size-fits-all anymore, which is very much to his credit. He's learned to encourage and teach rather than holler, scream and pound on the table."

O'Connor gets an annual reminder of Sloan's love of teaching during the Rocky Mountain Revue.

"Anybody who wants to see Jerry in his natural habitat should watch practice when we have the rookie league," he said. "You watch him teach, you watch him work with young guys, you watch those young guys get better and better - it's really fun."

Starting his sixth season the Jazz, Andrei Kirilenko has not played for any other NBA coach.

Asked if Sloan has changed over the years, Kirilenko smiled and said, "Maybe a little, but not much. He is still a coach with a huge ambition for our team. . . . The most important thing is, he teaches us."

How long will Sloan, who remarried in September, continue to coach?

Nobody knows.

"I might wake up some morning and say, 'That's it,' Sloan said. ". . . Health, I guess, is the No. 1 thing."

Said O'Connor: "Actually, I have no idea. I think he's enjoying coaching and, as long as that continues, he'll keep doing it."


Miller believes Sloan, only the third coach in Utah Jazz history, is far more likely to retire after a good season instead of a bad one.

"All along, I've suspected Jerry will pick the time," Miller explained. "I also suspect it will be after the team has had a year or two of resounding success. . . . When he leaves - probably - he'll leave on a high note. That's just how he's built."

Sometime this season, Sloan will win his 1,000th game as an NBA head coach. Only four others - Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, Don Nelson and Pat Riley - have already reached that lofty plateau.

"Jerry is one of those guys in the league I really respect," said Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached in the NBA for 10 full seasons and parts of two others.

"He's a Hall of Fame coach, there's no doubt about that. . . . I'm glad he still enjoys doing it. It's not an easy job."

Tomjanovich knows.

Twice during his coaching career, he stepped away because of stress-related health issues.

In 1994, however, the Tomjanovich-coached Houston Rockets beat John Stockton, Karl Malone and the Jazz in the Western Conference finals on their way to the NBA championship.

In 1995, the Rockets upset the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs en route to their second straight title.

"Us winning those championships and going through Utah to do it - with Jerry and Stockton and Malone - that really puts a value on those trophies," Tomjanovich said.


Jazz season opener

Houston at Utah


NBA's winningest coaches


Coach Wins Pct.

Lenny Wilkens 1,332 .536

Larry Brown 1,239 .577

Don Nelson 1.190 .575

Pat Riley 1,151 .661

Jerry Sloan 984 .599

Bill Fitch 944 .460

Red Auerbach 938 .662

Dick Motta 935 .479

Phil Jackson 877 .713

Jack Ramsay 864 .525



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