Today Jerry Sloan is 70 years old. For a guy who seemed to be perpetually getting heated at refs, I think it would be unfair to demand that he still coach at his advanced age. (He does have some peers who still do coach, like Doug Collins, though) I love Jerry Sloan. He was tough, and he demanded toughness. He was not perfect, but you can still be accurate about someone's limitations while still seeing his greatest strengths. A lot of younger Jazz fans grew up with Jerry Sloan being the ONLY coach of the Utah Jazz until Tyrone Corbin got the field promotion last season. I think it is only fitting that Sloan got the head coaching gig with the Jazz from a similar field promotion when Frank Layden felt like he could not relate anymore, in his press conference Frank was talking about how it was a "young man's game" . . . once again looking at the carbon dating on Jerry, it only confirms that it was the right time for him to move on; even if we would never have wanted to let go of him.
It's also fun for me to look at how good Jerry Sloan was as a player. Not every star player becomes a good coach (For every Larry Bird, there's an Isiah Thomas), but a lot of career coaches come from that "he was an okay starter, and stayed in the league for a long time" talent pool. Guys like Maurice Cheeks, Nate McMillian, and the like fit that category Well. Even more surprising is the lot of crappy players who became good coaches. Phil Jackson was a crappy player. Phil has career averages of 6.7 ppg (45.3 fg%), and 4.3 rpg. His best year in career was his third (he played 12), and in the season where the New York Knicks team he played on won the title -- he was playing less than Raja Bell minutes. He was all NBA Rookie 1st team though.
Jerry was the 4th pick in the entire NBA draft (not a 5th rounder like Phil), and he had career averages of 14.0 ppg (42.7 fg%), 7.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, and 2.2 spg. Despite having played one less year in the league, he played about +33.3% more playoff minutes than "Champion" Phil Jackson. Sloan wasn't on the rookie team, but he was an All-Star twice, and All-NBA Defense 6 times (4 times 1st team, 2 times on 2nd team).
I guess there was a lot of similarity to how Sloan and Jackson both coached in the NBA though, they both coached how they played. Sloan was fiery and intense as a coach, who wanted the team to give 100% on the court and play defense. Jackson sat on his stool, occasionally whistled, and got out of the way of more talented team mates (which is how he won a title as a player in the first place).
Why am I bringing up how he was as a player? Because I needed to point out that Sloan was the real deal as a player, and he was also the real deal as a coach. And that is very rare.
Time will only increasingly look back at Sloan's coaching numbers in a positive light -- only 1221 regular season wins, at a 60.3 winning % rate. He also adds 98 more playoff victories to the table, while at a lower rate. But the only number that matters today is 70. He was 23 when he was an NBA rookie. That's still 47 years of NBA service (had he been our head coach still this season), and 47 is still older than the age of the fathers of some of our players. Sloan's last mentor in the league (Frank) left the game as the game had kept evolving into something he no longer felt he had command over. I think Sloan did the same thing. (Sometimes the game moves from being something good and pure like passing and defending, and turns into players using the media to put pressure on their contract demands, and so forth.)
I was critical of Sloan for making the same mistakes over and over as a Coach, but that was because I wanted him to be perfect. If I did not think he was capable of it, I would not have been upset. I would not have wanted any other coach to have been OUR coach. I guess in a similar vein, I am critical of Tyrone Corbin in much the same way. Ty has so much potential right now, he's going to be a great coach. He just doesn't look it right now. Neither did Jerry in his first two seasons as an NBA head coach. Yet I have no doubt that when Ty is 70, he will have at least 800 coaching victories under his belt, if not more.
If there is anything we Jazz fans can learn from the lesson of Jerry Sloan, it is that our franchise knows how to groom and eventually pick the right guys to succeed the previous coach. We are in good hands. Maybe not the solid, measured hands of a farmer. But we are in good hands.
Thank you for everything Jerry Sloan, and happy birthday. Don't make your birthday party guests run laps for being late!