Sloan steps down as Jazz coach
Like the impressive mountains that dominate Salt Lake City's skyline, Jerry Sloan was a fixture in the Utah landscape.
Now, for the first time since 1988 - three years before Michael Jordan won the first of his six NBA titles - the Jazz will have a new head coach on their bench.
''He's been there like this rock and all of a sudden the rock is gone,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said of the 68-year-old Sloan. ''It's like your franchise moved or something. I don't know. It's just strange.''
While Sloan expected to wake up refreshed knowing he was done game-planning and tussling with fiery superstars such as Deron Williams, the rest of the basketball world was awakening to a new era.
''Man it's gonna be crazy and weird seeing anyone besides Jerry Sloan walking the sidelines for the Utah Jazz!'' Miami Heat star LeBron James tweeted. ''Jerry Sloan is the Utah Jazz. Wow.''
James wasn't exaggerating.
Since Sloan took over in Utah for Frank Layden, there have been 245 coaching changes leaguewide - 13 alone by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Five current NBA teams (Charlotte, Memphis, Toronto, Orlando and Minnesota) did not even exist when Sloan was hired by the Jazz.
''As a colleague, we'll miss him,'' said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who along with Sloan and Pat Riley were the only coaches in NBA history to have 15-plus consecutive seasons with a winning record.
Sloan stepped down Thursday with 1,127 wins as Jazz coach and 1,221 overall (including his short stint in Chicago). The career total is the third-most in NBA history.
His decision came after an emotional loss to the Bulls on Wednesday night, a night that saw his former team and former players help hand the Jazz a 91-86 loss. It was their 10th loss in the last 14 games and third straight at home following a 15-5 start.
At halftime, Sloan and Williams clashed, reportedly over how a play was run. It wasn't the first time.
''We had a disagreement,'' Williams told 1320-KFAN radio Thursday. ''I've seen him have worse ones with other players. Jerry's very fiery. I am, too. Sometimes we clash on things.''
The All-Star point guard insisted there is no truth to the rumors that he forced the Hall of Fame coach out, and general manager Kevin O'Connor also said it was false that Williams gave management a ''me or him'' ultimatum.
''I would never force coach Sloan out of Utah,'' Williams said, deriding the media for twisting stories. ''He's meant more to this town, more to this organization than I have by far. I would have asked out of Utah first.''
Sloan, who was choked up and wiped away tears during his farewell announcement Thursday, said there was no final straw. He simply said he didn't have the energy to coach any more, and that the losses were getting tougher and tougher to handle.
''I could have done it last week, done it a week before that or waited another week,'' said Sloan, who has always thought it appropriate to conduct his pregame interviews next to a trash bin. ''When it's time for me to go, it's time for me to go.''
The one thing that did surprise Sloan was that longtime assistant Phil Johnson joined him in retiring.
''I came with him and I'll leave with him,'' the 69-year-old Johnson said Thursday.
Jazz CEO Greg Miller and other top team officials tried to talk Sloan out of retiring and insisted that no one forced either coach out. O'Connor said he even begged both to stay. Team officials made a second pitch Thursday morning after telling Sloan to sleep on it.
He did, like a baby.
''Best I've slept in six weeks,'' Sloan later quipped.
There'd be no changing his mind.
''He is a little stubborn, I don't know if you noticed that about him,'' O'Connor said. ''But we're happy for him because when you can go out on your own call, that's pretty unique.''
Jackson certainly saw the stubbornness.
''You have to be as a coach, but he had a system and the system was effective,'' Jackson said. ''It's not easy to have a team in Utah. It's not the biggest draw in the country as far as for free agents to go there. ... As a colleague, we'll miss him.''
What will Sloan miss?
Being around players such as Karl Malone, whom he said competed hard every day.
Yet even with Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz never did win an NBA title.
That's one regret for Johnson, who had offers to be a head coach elsewhere but never accepted.
''Everybody would like to win a world championship,'' said Sloan, who for all his success also never won Coach of the Year. ''But to come and compete (and make the NBA Finals) after you lose the first one (in 1997) ... that was one of the most rewarding things - even though we didn't win it.''
Sloan began working for the Jazz as a scout in 1983, became assistant to coach Frank Layden on Nov. 19, 1984, and was named the sixth coach in franchise history on Dec. 9, 1988, when Layden resigned.
He is the only coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games with one team, reaching the milestone Nov. 7, 2008, against Oklahoma City. Sloan's other wins came with the Chicago Bulls from 1979 to 1982.
''Few people have epitomized all the positives of team sports more than Jerry Sloan,'' NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. ''A basketball lifer, Jerry was as relentless in his will to win on the sidelines for the Utah Jazz as he was as an All-Star guard for the Chicago Bulls. In over two decades as a coach, he taught his players that nothing was more important than the team.''
Now the team moves forward with 48-year-old Tyrone Corbin, a former Jazz player who has been an assistant to Sloan the past seven years.
''I have no desire for you to fill Jerry Sloan's shoes,'' Jazz owner Gail Miller said. ''I'd like you to stand on his shoulders and move forward in the same direction knowing we are there to help lift you and help you do your job.''
Team officials made it clear that Corbin is not an interim coach.
After so many years on the bench, Sloan had only a few bits of advice for his successor.
''Be yourself,'' Sloan said
And follow the advice Sloan was given: Don't get on the officials too much and don't overcoach.
Sloan quipped that he got it half-right.
At his age, he wasn't looking for another job.
''My wife has a job for me when I get home,'' Sloan said.
He also wasn't going to root against the Jazz.
''I'm not walking away hoping they lose, I guarantee that,'' Sloan said. ''I hope Ty does well, the team does well and the Miller family does well.''
He said the same for Williams.
Most had similar hopes for Sloan, who built his reputation as a tough, gritty player in 755 games over 11 NBA seasons with the Bulls but was regarded as a fair and honest man.
''He was one of my favorite people in the world,'' former All-Star Charles Barkley said.
Barkley wondered if there was a disconnect between old school and new school, particularly with Williams.
''Maybe there is a shelf life for a coach,'' Barkley added.
O'Connor couldn't say.
''We hope the transition is as seamless at is right now,'' O'Connor said. ''If we do about the same, in 2034 we'll have another one of these press conferences.''
Corbin already began meeting with players and will coach his first game Friday night against the Phoenix Suns.
He promised a few changes in practice, and in film study, but hoped to continue with some of the lessons he learned under Sloan.
Corbin also said he'd look to Williams for advice.
''It was great to sit down with him and let him know firsthand I would be replacing coach and giving him an opportunity to voice as one of the leaders on this team some of his concerns and then where he think this team is and how I can help him and help this team be better,'' Corbin said.
After going from 15-5 to 31-23, Corbin's biggest chore may be restoring the faith.