NBA / Sep 10, 2009 / 10:01 am

Pass the Mic: 2009 Hall of Fame honors — Jerry Sloan

Jerry Sloan

Jerry Sloan

With the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony scheduled for this Friday, we wanted to give the true diehard fans of the Dime Magazine community an opportunity to write about the 2009 class. First up, Dime reader and Utah Jazz fan Amar (who maintains his own Utah Jazz blog) shares his thoughts on Jerry Sloan:

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What do you say about a man who has been involved with the NBA (as a player or coach) during the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama Administrations that has not already been said before?

We know that Jerry Sloan is old school — it’s been established over the years a few times: he still insists that players have to have their shirts tucked in to get into the game; players aren’t allowed to wear headbands, can’t use phones on the team bus, and Sloan strictly enforces a system that emphasizes fundamental defense over gimmicks, and layups over three-point bombs. Yes, he is old school. So old school that he’s been part of the NBA longer than Avery Johnson (COY 2006), David Robinson (same Hall of Fame class as Sloan) and Scottie Pippen (faced Sloan in two NBA Finals as a player) have even been alive.

Sloan has also coached the Jazz for a very long time. As a franchise, the New Orleans/Utah Jazz have had a total of six coaches in their entire history, which stretches back to the ’74-75 season. The first five years of the franchise saw three of those six stalk the sidelines. Now, I’ve been a Jazz fan since the young upstart tandem of Stockton and Malone took the Showtime Lakers to a Game 7 in the ’88 conference semis — and I’ve only known two head coaches in my entire experience as a Jazz fan. Yes, Sloan has been a beneficiary of, and also contributed to, the fabled stability of the Jazz franchise. As a point of reference, the Memphis Grizzlies have had 5 different coaches in the last 3 seasons alone.

Even went dealt a poor hand, Sloan can coax a roster to a respectable number of wins. In the brief Raul Lopez/Michael Ruffin/Ben Handlogten era, the Jazz still finished 42-40 in a tough Western Conference, barely missing the playoffs. (Hmmm, wonder how Phil Jax would have done with a roster that didn’t have the undisputable best players in their generation on the team? No MJ, Pip, Shaq or Kobe.) Jerry has won 1,137 regular season games (and nearly 100 more in the playoffs) over his career as a coach of the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, good enough for 4th-best all-time. With the Jazz alone, he eclipsed the 1,000-win mark with a single franchise last season. He’s only had three sub-.500 seasons on his resume, the most recent one coming the year before the Jazz drafted Deron Williams (a year where top players Boozer and Kirilenko missed nearly all of the season to injuries). To find the other two, you’re going to have to dig pretty far back in time — back when the United States and Iraq were military allies. (Seriously, look it up: the U.S. and Iraq were so buddy-buddy that Saddam Hussein became an honorary citizen of Detroit back in 1980! How’s that for perspective of just how long Sloan has been involved in the NBA!) Jerry has 12 seasons where he coached a team to at least 50 wins.

Jerry Sloan

Jerry Sloan

These career qualities alone do not make him Hall worthy. As far as personal accolades go, not many coaches get the call to the Hall of Fame if they’ve never coached a title team, or even won a single Coach of the Year Award. (For a point of reference, Don Nelson has three — he sure looked like a COY when he quit on the Knicks back in the 90′s, right?) So what makes Sloan special? What makes him Hall worthy in spite of his empty trophy case? Why should this simple, poor, Southern Illinois farm boy (youngest of 10 children) who had to hitch-hike to school both ways be so honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame? (BTW, seriously, how messed up is that? That’s a surefire way to end up as a case file on a homicide detective’s desk, if everything I learned from serial killer movies is even 50% accurate; hitch-hiking to school every day on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere — as a teen?)

In my opinion, it’s simple: it’s all about his work ethic. I never thought I’d see a coach who was more worked up and physically into a game more than a player who was actually playing in an NBA Finals game. Fortunately/unfortunately, I did see this when Sloan was fighting as hard as he could on the sidelines — doing his Tony D’Amato thing — all but actually taking charges on the court, while team doctors tried to find a pulse on Greg Ostertag during TV timeouts. Sloan said it best about his days as a player for the Bulls; those teams were filled with hard workers who tried to make up for their lack of talent with grit. “The other team had to beat us,” Sloan says about his playing days.

You did not win against Jerry Sloan, or those Bulls teams, unless you beat them. It was a clearly zero-sum arrangement. While it may sound simplistic or even corny, it’s genuinely Jerry Sloan. And his hard-on for hard work did not change once he moved from a player to a coach. (Which probably explains why, in his system, hard working guys with few talents play over gifted players who don’t try.) Similarly, most battles against his Jazz teams have been rough and tumble, halfcourt wars of attrition — where at the end of the game (or series) a victor is announced, but it would be unfair to say any one team “won.” Recent history aside, few Western Conference playoff teams that were engaged in a prolonged series against the Jazz have come out of it unscathed enough to continue on and forge long playoff sojourns. Why? Because of Sloan’s dedication to working hard and fighting for every inch. (Which probably explains why some Jazz games end up looking like football more than basketball — and sadly, why the franchise values Matt Harpring so much.)

Sloan is now decades from his Dirty Harry days (getting the jobs that no one else would want) and moving, restlessly, into his Gran Torino years. He’s been in the NBA so long that a rookie he’ll be coaching this season, Eric Maynor, is actually the son of a player that Sloan once cut when he first started coaching in the NBA. Perhaps that alone is testament enough to Sloan’s long, successful career. A career that may not have been filled with awards — but ultimately one that rewards his dedication to the game, teaching fundamentals, and work ethic with a lifetime achievement: the Hall of Fame. A place that Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, Avery Johnson, Doc Rivers and Don Chaney will never be honored in as a coach, despite their COY awards. (This is where Sloan pulls out a shotgun and points it to Smitch and growls “Get the $@%# off my lawn!”)

– Amar / All That Jazz

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  • Heckler…formerly ‘Yallallreadyknow’

    for a guy who has been coaching for sooo long, why the hell does he still get upset at the refs?

    shouldn’t he be more like phil jackson and watch the game? lol. phil rarely gets upset and is not a screamer like sloan.

    thats the only problem i have with sloan; after all these years he is still a screamer and gets red. i know he cares and has passion; but c’mon man. 30+yrs in….why the hell you carrying on like that on the sidelines? phil and don dont do that. phil and don have coy awards. phil and don are also in the hall

  • control

    Good job on the pass the mic. Make sure you keep the link handy so you can paste it in every comment post you make on this site, aka “Doing the YOUNGFED”.

  • alf (from melmak)

    You can take a lot of the philosophy of Sloan into the way you live your life.

    If things are not working on the offensive end, do not bow your head. Just run back and play defense.

  • AVeezie

    Hey on the real.. mad Respect due to Jerry Sloan. I dont think anyone would complain if they coached their favorite team.

  • Shrink This

    Nice work Amar.

    In addition to his work ethic though, I think Sloan has a lot of coaching talent.

    As for his fiery demeanor, he’s made it work for him and his teams.

    I’m not sure that stalking the sidelines in silence is necessarily a prerequisite for success as a coach but Phil certainly found a way to make that work.

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    Good read Amar…

  • http://www.geraldnarciso.com Gerald Narciso

    Good stuff Amar! As a Jazz fan I enjoyed the read. Love the Gran Turino reference, definitely a similarity to Clint!

  • dagwaller

    Great job, Amar. As for Sloan, I’m with AVeezie – I’d want him coaching any team of mine.

  • Oscarisalakerfan

    Good Article Amar

  • http://raptors.realgm.com Gagan Gandhi

    Amar FTW. Keep it up you superstar you.

  • A-Lid

    One of the greatest coaches of all time

  • sh!tfaced

    nice one, amar… for sloan to be in coaching for that long is a thing to admire in itself…

  • ab_40

    uhm doc won a chip and if he can win one or two more with the celts he might get in hehe

  • Dave

    nice work Amar, Sloan in my opinion is the best coach in the NBA. There is far more to it than chips.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @Heckler…formerly ‘Yallallreadyknow’

    he still gets upset and yells because this is his job. he has to protect his players out there, and if he sees something he doesn’t like doing something about is better than sitting in a baby’s high chair reading poetry (pjax) or getting bombed during post game press confs (nelson).

    he’s consistent, and he doesn’t make excuses. why should he change how he coaches just because he’s been doing it for a long time? he’s not waiting out the clock for retirement and mailing it in . . . dude is coaching ONLY because that’s what he wants to do still. and if he’s going to do anything — he’s going to do it with passion/desire.

    he’s not in it for a $10 m per contract and possible book deals like phil jax . . . he’s in it for coaching. for teaching the game to young players, and teaching them how to care for the game. don’t work so hard to get to the L, and then half-ass it when you make it.

    work hard to get in the L, and work even harder to stay in it — give something to it. things a lot of these kids don’t know. I have a number of issues with how sloan coaches / behaves . . . but one of them surely isn’t his passion for the game.

    that’s something you can’t teach.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @control @Shrink This @Gerald Narciso @dagwaller @Oscarisalakerfan @Gagan Gandhi @sh!tfaced @Dave

    Thanks for all the kind words. I appreciated the oppurtunity to write something — so thanks Austin/Dimemag. Furthermore, it probably gives me a reason to start actually blogging again . . . I should get off my ass.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @AVeezie

    I think Sloan is a good coach. I don’t think that he is the perfect coach. Not many fans would mind him coaching their fav. team — but I think a lot of NBA players (once they get over the respect thing) would have a hard time playing for him.

    Utah’s scouting department has to spend a lot of time not just looking at talent, but also personality. They place a very high importance on the interviews in pre-draft work outs. It’s even more important than the work out. (Over the years they’ve actually drafted guys that did well in the interview, and did not even have time to work out)

    Sloan’s style also can rub some management the wrong way. Because of the stability he has enjoyed he was allowed to run his own ship. Put him on a team where the owners have a revolving door with coaches; or on a team with a lot of non-Jerry Sloan type players and don’t expect similar results.

    Can you imagine him coaching Iverson, Z-Bo, Mayo and crew? Wow . . . guys who love shooting, and don’t play much defense? (let alone the whole practice thing for AI) That would not work out well, at all.

    That said — when I look at the coaches currently available, I find it very hard to imagine the Jazz doing better if they traded coaches with some other team.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @Shrink This

    I agree. I also think that a big part of coaching success happens to be with your coaching staff as well. Sloan’s top assistant all these years has been Phil Johnson (who has a COY award from when he coached the kings). Guys like Gordon Chiesa, Kenny Natt, Scott Layden, Ty Corbin and crew have been quite solid, over the years. Also the use of specialty coaches has helped as well (like using hornacek to rebuild deshawn stevenson’s shot from when he was a rookie to now helped, or the black budget project of using thurl bailey and mark eaton to help bigs).

    One of the least mentioned things in NBA circles is the Dick Motta coaching family. (and his forward oriented offense) Everyone talks about the triangle (Tex Winters), and how great it is. If it was so great, why don’t other teams use the triple post? (Probably only works if two of the posts are two of the best players at any given time — MJ/Pip, Shaq/Kobe, Kobe/Gasol/Odom)

    Motta’s style has done quite a bit, from made Melo such a force on offense in Denver, to making guys like Sloan, Natt and Iavaroni head coaches in their own right.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @Gerald Narciso

    Thanks, I think the clint thing is apt. As a player he was that rough, spaghetti western / dirty harry type. I did not develop this idea well enough in the blog post. He had to do the jobs no one else wanted (like in the movie Dirty Harry — having to deal with the guy jumping off the building, etc) — Sloan had to take the best non-bigman to defend. He fought through screens, drew charges, and so on. He was a hard worker who did not have finesse. Slowly over the years as he transistioned to a coach he had to deal with newer ideas and increasingly younger players. Making that connection became more difficult.

    After his wife died and he was post-NBA finals he was in his ‘in the line of fire’ years . . . concluding with marrying a woman much younger than himself and continuing on in a job that most people thought had passed him by.

    Now he’s def in the ‘Gran Torino’ years. Mentoring some really young players and making them into men. (Even if it means being mean to them, and making them work hard — like not giving Deron the starting PG spot as a rookie, and so forth)

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @ab_40

    true, doc did win a chip — but how many other times has he been fired (midseason) from coaching? at least once . . .

  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    Amar we don’t always see eye to eye but nice read.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com/ Amar

    @Poppi Gee

    that’s just because I act like a homer here . . . what I really think is much more balanced and neutral. thanks again, man.