It seems that every time there's talk of coaching changes in the NBA one of the names thrown around is Jerry Sloan. Coach loomed large over the Jazz for over 20 seasons and he still looms large over the NBA, even when he flat-out denies any desire to go back to the sidelines. But what if he did come back to another team? As a sports fan I've been through a remarkably similar situation recently, and after the jump I'll elaborate, talk about the emotions it stirred in me, and then open the floor for your thoughts on how you would feel seeing Jerry on another team's sideline.
He played the sport at the highest level, with a reputation as a hard working 'blue collar' player. After finishing his playing career relatively young he went into coaching. With a style derived from his coaches and mentors from his playing days, and some young recruits who turned into superstars of the game he was responsible for producing extended periods of excellence. He achieved a career winning percentage of over 55% and did this while spending over 20 seasons with a single team - something almost unheard of in modern professional sports. During the later years of his career he suffered from that dreaded modern coaching catchphrase 'losing the players' and his coaching career ended in less than ideal terms, both for the club, the fans and the man himself.
Sounds like the career of Jerry Sloan, right? While the description applies to Jerry, I was actually talking about a man named Kevin Sheedy. Sheeds, as he's affectionately known by fans of Australian Rules Football, was the coach of the Essendon Football Club for a remarkable 27 (yes, twenty seven!) seasons between 1981 and 2007. During that time Sheeds coached the team to 4 Grand Final wins, coached some of the greatest players of all time and helped move the sport towards the professional competition it is today by introducing modern training and team management methods.
Jerry and Sheeds are really like two peas from the same pod. Their peers rank them as all-time great coaches and young coaches study their methods and strategies. Both had a knack of taking the methods of others, adding their own flair and making it a signature style; Sloan took Dick Motta's Flex offence and made it the core of the team's identity, Sheeds did the same with the Front-and-Square strategy in the forward line. They preached Team above everything else, even to the point of being physical; you all know the images of Jerry being restrained from going after the Refs, and AFL fans all know the image of Sheeds making a throat-slitting gesture to an opposition player who he believed took out one of his boys. Heck, both even had a range of signature catchphrases that confounded players, press and the fans and at times seemed to speak in something more akin to Zen Koans than the soundbites we expect from coaches these days; can you imaging Erik Spoelstra telling players to quit Jackpotting Around, or referring to umpires as Martians to avoid being fined? Exactly.
Above all, both are very strong-willed coaches who believe in a 'my way or the highway' attitude, and in some ways this led to both their downfalls. Coach Sloan famously walked away mid-season, while Sheeds was less fortunate; his contract was not renewed mid season and the club made the news public. However, this gave everyone a chance to say goodbye before he walked away.
When 2 coaches are as stubborn as these 2 you know that they will do one of 2 things: retire and never come back, or regroup and coach again. Sheeds took some time away and then made a return to the coaches box with an expansion team, West Sydney. Surprisingly this bought out some strange emotions in me; sadness that he coached elsewhere, happiness that he was a part of the game again, and relief that he was coaching an expansion team full of young kids and castoffs that are struggling to win a coin toss, let alone a regular season game.
And this all got me thinking; how would I handle seeing Coach Sloan on somebody else's sideline? Leaning on another arena's trashcan? Telling some other team's Fes-equivelent that he was Jackpotting Around? To be honest with you I wouldn't like it. There's a part of me that wants Jerry to have the Jazz as the last team on his resume forever and not possibly tarnish his legacy by coaching a bunch of stiffs.
So, Coach, if you're reading: please, for me, stay retired. Unless you come home.
So, Dunkers, how do you feel about the possibility of Coach Sloan making a comeback to the sidelines? There's a handy poll here, or feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment below!