By Paul M. Banks
Earlier this month Utah Jazz Head Coach Jerry Sloan was announced to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He is the only coach in NBA history with 1,000 wins for one team and fourth on the list of all-time most-winning NBA coaches. He has also coached one team longer than anyone in NBA history. The 2009-10 season will be his 22nd season (and 21st full season) at the helm of the Jazz.
After Tom Kelly stepped down as manager of the Minnesota Twins in 2001, Sloan became the longest tenured head coach in American major league sports with their current franchise. The only manager in any top professional league that has headed their current team for longer is Alex Ferguson of the English football team Manchester United.
He played for the Chicago Bulls during the franchise’s formative years. He was the first player selected by the Bulls in the expansion draft, earning him the nickname “The Original Bull.” Sloan played in two All-Star Games during his NBA career, and was also named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team four times. He is currently fourth on the Bulls’ all-time scoring list.
With an average of 2.15 steals per game (tabulated over his last three seasons), Jerry Sloan is ranked tenth in the NBA’s all-time leaders category for steals per game. His playing career was cut short by successive knee injuries, and he turned his attention to coaching. Because of his influential career with the Bulls, the franchise retired Sloan’s No. 4 jersey, the first jersey retired by the Bulls.
Paul M. Banks: What are the biggest differences between small market and big market?
Jerry Sloan: Basketball’s basketball, I never thought I did that bad in Chicago. We worked hard and had some guys who are probably not the kind of guys that you’re going to win with on a consistent basis. I thought that if they had the patience, we could have worked it out, I never thought that I couldn’t.
On his ability to operate in a bigger market…
JS: “Sure, if they had the right philosophy. If the players know you’re expendable they don’t have to play. If the agents and everybody tells them, he’s not going to be here, wait a couple weeks, the coach will be gone don’t risk getting hurt wait and play for the next guy then they’re not going to play for you.”
On whether he ever had an agent or needed one…
JS: When I took the job in Chicago, Mr. Wirtz and I had kind of a run-in, he didn’t want to talk to me anymore, so I had a go between. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to be put in a corner.”
On his not needing an agent in Utah…
JS: “They’ve been fair. I’m just happy to have a job, the organization has been fair with me all along.”
PMB: A lot of people had run-ins with Wirtz over the years…
JS: It’s just one of those things, he’s the boss and I realize that. So I didn’t want to get into a shouting match with him.
Regarding whether he pays attention to the internet and blogs and all the information available out there these days…
JS: “Well, I’ve never paid attention to all that stuff. There wasn’t that much stuff going on when I came into the league, I was aware of guy’s getting fired. You can listen to everybody in the world, but you’re the one who’s responsible.”
PMB: What’s been the key to your success/long run?
JS: Pretty simple, our owner hasn’t fired me, when I tell our players at the beginning of the year I’m going to be here, I’m going to be here. I’ve been able to do that for a long time. not too many have had that opportunity. I guess if I did something crazy they would probably get rid of me pretty quick, but so far I haven’t done too much.
Nothing too crazy?
JS: “Well, I did get suspended for 8 or 9 games once”
Commenting on the 6 NBA coaches fired before Christmas this season and job security in the association…
JS: “I’m always concerned about what owners are thinking, are they letting the players run the team or are they letting the agents run the team? I’ve seen this for a number of years and it’s really frustrating because a lot of great coaches, better coaches than I’ll ever be, have been fired, some of them two or three different times. Somewhere along the line it looks like patience is something worth while if you’re willing to put up with it. I know there’s tremendous pressure on owners, coaches and players, but we’ve been lucky that our ownership has stuck by us. You lose 56 games and still have a job, you’re pretty lucky.”
On whether he had any worries his run could come to an end…
JS: “Well, I never thought I’d even play a year, so it’s no big deal, I’m happy to have done so, but I had people tell me I would never play in this league.”
Of course one of Sloan’s best quotes ever was published awhile ago…
“I don’t care if he’s 19 or 30. If he’s going to be on the floor in the NBA, he’s got to be able to step up and get after it. We can’t put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next night. It’s just the way it is.” — on second year guard C.J. Miles, the youngest player on the 2006-07 Utah Jazz
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