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Kragthorpe: Sloan resignation is end of a pro sports era
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Suddenly, the Jazz have become just like every other pro sports franchise.

They were different for a long, long time. Jerry Sloan's aura as the Jazz's coach was such that nobody ever speculated about his status, as happens everywhere else at every level of sports. NBA teams have made 245 coaching changes since Sloan was promoted when Frank Layden stepped down in December 1988, while the Jazz remained exempt from such turnover.

Not anymore. The Jazz will have a new coach and, safe to say, he will not remain in place for 23 years as Sloan did. A unique era in the NBA and all of pro sports will end, as of this afternoon's news conference.

The question of the day: Why? More accurately: Why now?

The intriguing thing about Sloan's tenure is that he had skipped over every logical retirement indicator, and just kept going.

He could have quit when he was close to the top, having lost twice in the NBA Finals in 1997 and '98. He could have quit when he was at the bottom, having endured a 26-56 season in 2004-05.

He could have quit when he wife died.

He could have quit when he remarried.

He could have quit when he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

None of those landmark moments was the trigger. Instead, something traumatic obviously happened Wednesday night after a loss to Chicago that sent Sloan over the edge. A simmering feud with All-Star point guard Deron Williams apparently escalated, and Sloan had enough.

The Jazz became like everybody else, where the players are bigger than the coach.

The coincidence of Chicago being his final opponent is eerie. The Bulls are the team that retired Sloan's No. 4 as a player and fired him as a coach. They came to town this week with three former Jazz players — Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer — and each played a role in the last loss of Sloan's career.

What's more, Sloan is walking away shortly after the only other two sports figures who even remotely approached his longevity in such a position — Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher — either retired or were forced out.

If Sloan ever was going to retire, everybody figured it would come in the form of a phone call from his farm in Southern Illinois, when he decided just to stay home rather than come back to Utah for another training camp. Instead, he's leaving in the middle of the season, when the Jazz are struggling to remain relevant in the NBA.

Layden stayed on the job as long as he did only to give Sloan more time in preparation for taking over, and was convinced that Sloan could take the team to another level. That's exactly what happened. Nearly a quarter-century later, it is difficult to imagine a similar ascent is in store for the Jazz.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

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