An agitated Karl Malone says the Jerry Sloan he knows would never quit anything and suggested his longtime Utah Jazz coach just grew tired of garbage that came with the job and certain players.
”They changed the floor back to old school. They changed the uniform back to old school. Somebody tell the damn players to start playing like old school,” Malone said before the Jazz hosted the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
”It may work. They spent a lot of money on the rest, now how about you tell the players. I’m just calling it like I see it.”
Malone, who has exchanged phone messages with Sloan since his resignation, also took issue with some national analysts and players who were particularly critical of Sloan.
The most outspoken player in recent months had been star guard Deron Williams, who clashed with Sloan about the coach’s practice schedule and study demands.
”You’re a professional,” said Malone, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and one of the greatest power forwards in league history. ”You don’t need for me to break a film down for you. If you want to stop the guy you’re playing, they pay you millions of dollars. You get you a TV and break the player down yourself.”
Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson both said they decided to step down after Wednesday’s emotional loss to Chicago. Their resignations were announced at a press conference Thursday that wasn’t attended by a single player.
That alone irritated Malone, who was drafted in 1985, the year after Sloan first joined the Jazz as an assistant.
”I don’t even need to answer whether I would have been there or not,” said Malone, who followed Sloan and All-Star guard John Stockton into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
”If I got something to say or do to a man, I’m going to look that man in the eye and tell him what is going to happen. That’s just me now.”
He also took issue with analysts declaring the game had passed by Sloan.
”It’s like saying the game passed Phil Jackson by,” Malone said. ”Old school worked. The players (have) got to buy into the system.”
Asked if he thinks the 68-year-old Sloan was forced out rather than voluntarily resigned because he had run out of energy, Malone reiterated his statement. ”I said what I said earlier. The guy I know and love, he don’t quit or nothing,” Malone said.
Jazz president and CEO Randy Rigby downplayed Malone’s comments.
”Karl is Karl. That’s Karl,” Rigby said after Utah’s 95-83 loss to Phoenix. ”And he’s right, Jerry isn’t a quitter. But it was Jerry’s decision and we’re going to support that. But I can tell you he was not forced out by any of us.”
Asked if today’s players have too much pull, Malone thought back to his own contentious battles with Sloan over the years.
”I remember (late team owner) Larry Miller in this locker room, right here when me and coach Sloan was butting heads after a game in front of everybody,” Malone recalled.
He said Miller would drop his head and not say a word, but check on both player and coach a bit later. Sloan and Malone always said they were fine and asked about the other.
”Larry never got in that because he knew we’d work it out,” Malone said. ”That’s the way it should be.”
Williams has denied forcing Sloan’s hands with a ”me or him” ultimatum.
”Maybe arguing was the last straw, so there I am, guilty of that,” Williams said of a halftime clash with Sloan during Wednesday’s loss. ”But I think anybody who believes I could force coach Sloan to resign is crazy. He’s stronger than that and personally if I said that to him, he’d probably go tell me to go do something.”
Williams received a loud round of applause when he was introduced before Friday night’s game, but there also was a smattering of boos in the crowd.
Malone said it was purely coincidental that he had plans to attend Friday night’s game, which marked the debut for new Jazz coach Ty Corbin.
He lives in Louisiana and indicated his children were on a school break and wanted to see a game.
”We had planned this trip and, low and behold, I didn’t know all this would happen,” Malone said of the two resignations.
”I don’t know the details, but the way things appeared to have happened wasn’t good.”
Malone says he was besieged by calls on Thursday, but chose not to return any.
”Thursday was not a good day for me to react,” he said. ”People don’t understand. The whole NBA lost a man who put his heart and soul and everything else in it.”
Malone wished Corbin well, but said he could never replace what was lost. He also reiterated a standing offer to help out in any way he can, especially with the organization at a crossroads.
”At some point in time I will be honored if I would be mentioned as a coach,” he said, noting the time may not be right now since his son is still in high school.
”Something I’ve always stated to the Jazz organization … I’ve always been a phone call away.