Monson: Jazz should make the truth clear about Jerry Sloan
It's been 10 days since Thunderous Thursday, the day that shook the Jazz's world when Jerry Sloan announced he was old and tuckered out, finding the time right to quit and walk away from the club after 23 seasons as its head coach.
"My time is up," he said. "It's time for me to move on."
He added: "My energy level has dropped off a little bit."
That was his explanation for letting go of the reins smack dab in the middle of the race, in a season during which the Jazz were fighting for playoff position, 54 games having been played and 28 yet to be completed. They had stumbled through some struggles, but those struggles made Sloan's sudden departure that much more puzzling.
I'll never forget Sloan standing in a hallway deep in the Toyota Center after the Jazz had absorbed a whipping by the Rockets in the playoffs. His words: "This is when you find out who you are, when your back is to the wall, and you either fight or you give up."
Sloan was going to fight.
The other option was, to quote George Patton, "hateful" to him.
Fact is, it wasn't an option.
Sloan had uttered the same words a hundred times before in a hundred different places, nearly every time the Jazz found themselves in a tough spot.
And whenever they did, and he did, it reminded me of my favorite quote about the coach, spoken by Frank Layden seasons before. Three sentences, in particular, stand out:
"Nobody fights with Jerry because you know the price would be too high. You might come out the winner, at his age, you might even lick him, but you'd lose an eye, an arm, your testicles in the process. Everything would be gone."
That's why writing the name "Jerry Sloan" and the word "quits" in the same sentence, especially in midseason, when the competitive fight was fully on, is almost abhorrent. It seems inconceivable. Even more, it seems unbelievable.
It makes everybody wonder â¦ why?
On that thunderous day, Jazz ownership and management said nobody no player, no group of players, no person of power in the organization from underneath or above pushed Sloan out. The party line was, essentially, that the old farmer was simply riding his John Deere off across the north 40 into the sunset.
Even though Sloan played along with the notion that he just woke up one day or one night, at halftime of the Bulls loss the night before the announcement and decided to retire, almost nobody buys that.
In subsequent informal polls in which Jazz fans have been asked what triggered Sloan's quick exit, a majority points to the confrontations between the coach and Deron Williams. Sloan was willing to acknowledge the disputes, saying that he and Williams "got into it." But he and everyone connected with the Jazz power base downplayed those confrontations, preferring to sell the Jerry-got-tired goods. None of the handful of people who were in the ragged half-hour meeting with Sloan, thrown together in the coaches' office after the Bulls loss, has ruptured the aforementioned company line.
A few of those around that tight circle have said what they've been told. Players have whispered their opinions. Karl Malone showed up and shouted his impressions to the world.
Basically, there are variations of four scenarios, none of which includes an ultimatum:
1) Sloan, at 68, really did just up and quit because he was tired.
2) Sloan had grown tired, all right, but not of any physical or mental fatigue, rather on account of Williams' petulance and pressure. The two strong-minded men had battled big-time in practice, and in the locker room, in full view of the rest of the team, and when other players joined in with Williams, Sloan decided he'd had enough.
3) Williams too often had busted out of plays Sloan had called, and he did so again against the Bulls an assertion Williams denies. A fed-up Sloan wanted the point guard disciplined. When Sloan said as much after the loss to Chicago, management refused to back the coach, causing a dust-up between Kevin O'Connor and Sloan. In that heated exchange, something snapped. O'Connor threatened Sloan or Sloan felt undercut. Either way, he saw that management favored Williams, who was more important to the franchise from a competitive and financial standpoint into the future, and Sloan's pride was hurt. Some have claimed that Sloan was too strong to allow such commotion to shove him out the door. But this dispute was more about pride than strength, and Sloan was brittle in that regard. He made the determination to get out.
4) Sloan committed coaching errors that had irritated players and management, and he realized his capacity had, indeed, dropped off.
Take your pick. The truth is in there somewhere, either as a stand-alone in one of the four, or some combination of all four.
We may never know the straight story here.
Sloan deserves to go out an honored man, for everything he's achieved over the better part of three decades. But the fans deserve to know what's real, what really happened to the coach they've supported for all these years.
Instead, at least from an official standpoint, they are left to believe the unbelievable.
That Jerry Sloan grew weary and quit on them in the middle of a fight.
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 email@example.com.
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