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Monson: On the sideline coaching is where Jerry Sloan belongs

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Tribune file photo Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, seen here with Deron Williams in a 2007 playoff game, is interested in returning to the NBA, he tells The Tribune.

By Gordon Monson

Tribune columnist

First published May 18 2013 01:44PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:32PM

Having interviewed the man hundreds of times and gone to his hometown in southern Illinois to trek down the dirt roads he walked as a kid, to talk with the people he’s known there for 60-plus years, to visit the rotting foundation of his boyhood home, to rummage through, among other old haunts, Don’s Liquor Hut on Route 242 into McLeansboro, I’ve come to this conclusion: Nobody can read Jerry Sloan’s mind.

And yet, that’s what I’m going to do here.

He’d just as soon whittle a block of wood on the back porch and come to his own conclusion about whatever issue is on his brain and settle that issue the way he’s always settled issues: by letting them sit until the sitting is done.

Sometimes the sitting takes a while. Sometimes it’s lightning quick, like the night he decided to quit coaching after having been the Jazz’s captain for some 23 years.

Sloan now is considering a coaching comeback. At the age of 71, he’s talking to clubs about the prospects of taking over their team and seeing if he can’t do a little bit more winning — for them and for him — before he rides his John Deere one last time into a painted sunset, hopefully for him with a brighter expression on his face than that dark night in February a couple seasons back when he left his post with the Jazz.

He could do exactly that — if that’s what he wanted. He’s healthy enough, smart enough, wise enough, with it enough, energetic enough, restless enough to go on coaching.

But he’ll do it only under specific conditions.

He only now would take a coaching job for a team where he doesn’t have to tear down the thing and/or construct it from the ground up. Why would or should he do that? He’s a Hall of Famer. A Hall of Famer with a whole lot of rings around the trunk, just not one on his finger. If anybody’s seen Jerry piddling around town, they know he looks great. He looks a decade younger than he did the night he quit. He looks relaxed, happy and fulfilled. What he doesn’t look is … done.

He’s got more to give.

A coach is what he is. It’s what he knows, what he does, what brings him satisfaction. Whoever said, "You’ve got to retire to something, not from something," nailed it with Sloan. He didn’t retire to much, not by his measure. Sure, spending time with the people he cares about is worthwhile. But the man can’t go around continually answering the question: Didn’t you used to be Jerry Sloan?

He still is Jerry Sloan.

Which means he has to … well, you know.

If a team with talented players comes along that has underachieved, that hasn’t quite fulfilled its potential for whatever reason, one that could legitimately compete night in, night out with a fix here or there, Sloan would take that kind of job. If the team has ownership Sloan trusts to do the proper things, to treat him fairly, he would go to work for an outfit like that.

But just like he did — or didn’t do — with the interested Bucks, he’s not going to take or put himself in a position like that particular one. He won’t do it. He won’t take a job with a team unprepared to win. He won’t take a job with a team manned by players who won’t dial in. That was the thing that freaked him out 10 years ago — attempting to coach players who wouldn’t listen to him.

He always said that was a fool’s errand.

He didn’t want to do that then. He doesn’t want to do that now.

But if Sloan found a team with solid ownership, a team with some talent, a team with conscientious players, a team with deep pockets, he would jump aboard that train, probably in short order.

The sitting once again would be quick.

What are the chances of that kind of offer coming his way?

Fat.

If it does, good for him.

Here’s a more likely scenario: Sloan will become more and more active with the Jazz again. He’s already been attending a lot of games at EnergySolutions Arena. He’s been in Chicago this week at the NBA Combine, checking out things for the Jazz, advising them. And that’s what he’ll do more and more. He’ll take a paid advisory role in Utah, helping his old club find its way out of the transitional phase it’s thrashing through without taking upon himself all the stress and aggravation of being in the lead chair.

It makes sense for both him and the Jazz. Sloan needs a good place to focus his energy and expertise, and the Jazz need all the help they can get to make it through a challenging bounce-back.

So unless he gets the plum offer he wants and believes he deserves elsewhere, watch for Jerry Sloan to take a higher profile with the home team, his former team, his own team, the team upon whose Mt. Rushmore his face was carved a long, long time ago.

And still is.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 AM and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

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