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Monson: Sloan ultimately tired of internal rifts

Published February 11, 2011 10:05 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Jerry Sloan warned anyone who would listen that this day was coming, and through more than two decades of coaching, nobody ever heard the words. Just a couple of months ago, he sent up one last red flare, revealing in a quiet conversation: "I may wake up tomorrow and say, 'I've had enough of this. I'm done.' "

We all ignored it, again.

Until now.

Sloan sat on a podium in the 3 o'clock hour on Thursday in the Jazz's practice facility, squinted into a hundred glaring lights, and spoke into a hundred hot microphones, uttering these words: "My time is up. It's time for me to move on."

The tide in his eyes rose when he said them, too.

There were no such tears in the eyes of Deron Williams, who was not on hand, but whose name was in the minds and on the lips of everyone asking questions at the announcement. Sloan has had numerous profanity-laced confrontations with Williams over the past month, including a major dustup at the half of Wednesday night's loss to the Chicago Bulls.

After the game, Sloan gathered Greg Miller and Kevin O'Connor, among others, telling them that he was finished coaching the team. At the news conference, the Williams issue was significantly downplayed. Sloan said he was stepping away because he lacked the energy he needed to soldier on. Miller said that no one pushed the coach out.

But here's the hard truth: Sloan, acknowledging the latest flare-up with Williams — "We got into it," he said — grew weary of his battles with various players, foremost among them the Jazz's All-Star point guard. He said he had similar run-ins with Karl Malone, but those came decades earlier, when the coach was much younger and when he needed his job and its financial rewards much more than he does now.

Although Sloan said there was no hidden declaration in his decision, there had been times in other years when he had protested hard. After the 2004-05 season, he moaned about modern players not giving heed to his instructions, about the absence of commitment to the proper way of playing and approaching the game, as well as their lack of respect for him.

He nearly quit after that season, saying back then: "I often wonder how important basketball is to these guys. Our biggest hurdle is getting people to play hard and compete. We've had some problems with younger guys. They have a certain way they like to play …"

His voice trailed off.

"… You try to teach them. I know I'm hard-headed and stupid sometimes, but I thought we could win every night, if we worked at it. I'll never sit back and accept losing."

And when players quit listening to him?

"That's when it's time to leave," he said.

Read between the lines of what Sloan added in a one-on-one interview on Thursday, long after most reporters had left the building: "It was time for me to get out. I didn't want to be a hindrance to the team or to anyone."

That was the proud coach's way of saying his will had wavered in the face of rebellion. At 68, it was now a younger man's fight. That younger man turned out to be Tyrone Corbin.

Even the ever-respectful Corbin said he thought he could bring new life to a sagging, struggling team: "I'm a little bit younger and I'm a different voice."

We'll see if that voice rings through to brains and ears that had grown recalcitrant in recent weeks and, ultimately, deaf, resulting in a stretch of frustration that led to just seven victories in the past 19 tries.

Maybe fans, caught up in sentimentality, will be angered by Williams' stubbornness and defiance here, but they — and it — could also be more reasonable than just that. It could be that these two competitors, coach and player, were simply two strong-minded bad-asses who for the longest time conflicted, neither yielding, and now that one has, it's left to the other to haul a bigger load.

Williams had best ball hard and well for the rest of the season, and beyond.

What Sloan will do is less certain.

In the same conversation during which that last warning came, the man who led the Jazz for 23 seasons, the longest tenured head coach in all of pro sports, also told me if he did quit, "I don't know what the hell I'd do."

He'll now find out.

"I have a place here," he said. "I have a place in Illinois. I have a place in Florida that I've never even been to. I've got grandchildren. I don't know. I've got things to do, I guess. I feel like a Utah person. I've been here for 26 or 28 years. It feels like my home. Tomorrow's a new day. We'll see what it brings."

Gordon Monson hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com.