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Once A Jazzman, Always A Jazzman: Jerry Sloan

Jerry Sloan is back with the Utah Jazz. But doing what? Mylo draws up the hypothesis.

Jerry Sloan sitting by Tyrone Corbin.
Jerry Sloan sitting by Tyrone Corbin.


Salt Lake City, Utah.

Frank Layden had just been promoted to President of Basketball Operations. He had prepared Jerry Sloan as his successor. Jerry Sloan. At the time, Jerry Sloan wasn't one to aspire confidence in fan base. Frank Layden, he of the NBA's Coach of the Year Award and Executive of the Year award, was finished with coaching. He was ready to move on. He had led the Utah Jazz to 5 straight above .500 seasons and 5 straight playoff runs. He was quitting midseason. He was turning over the reigns of a young Utah Jazz team to an inexperienced assistant Jerry Sloan.

Sure, Jerry Sloan had had some head coaching experience in Chicago. But it sure wasn't the shining pillar of excellence a Jazz fan has come to revere with Jerry's hollowed name.

Sloan was hired by the Bulls in 1979.

Sloan had been a scout then an assistant with them.

Sloan coached them for 3 seasons with an overall record of 94-121.

Sloan coached the Bulls to a playoff appearance in his 2nd year.

Sloan was fired after a disappointing start in his 3rd year as coach.

Sloan in his tenure in Chicago was known for having somewhat of a temper. Having thrown a chair in the locker room after a game in Dallas. He even admitted that his temper was one of his big failures. Jerry Sloan said:

My temper has been one of my failures. It's hard for me to accept the fact that guys can't play hard. I can understand fatigue, sickness, problems with your family and those sort of things. That's acceptable. But guys who come out and they're not interested in trying to get the job done, that's unacceptable.

That's what made the move to Jerry Sloan such a hard pill to swallow in that season of 1988. Frank Layden was retiring mid-season. The Jazz were on their way up. They had an exciting team with young players. Now they hire some hack from Chicago who couldn't even keep his temper in check. THE MAN THREW A CHAIR.

Jerry Sloan hadn't been coach for more than sixty minutes before he made his first request. He wanted Phil Johnson, previously of the Sacramento Kings.

At the time in Utah, if a fan was asked who would they rather have coach the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan or Phil Johnson, Phil Johnson would be the candidate. I mean look at his resume. He was a Coach of the Year in 1974-1975. He had been to the playoffs twice. He had NINE years of Head Coach experience in the NBA. He had coached in the most unstable of situations with the Kings moving from Kansas City to Omaha to Sacramento. He was less than one year removed from being let go midway through the Kings disappointing 1986-1987 campaign. Did he have a losing record? Of course, Phil did. But as we can tell in today's NBA, that doesn't stop coaches like P.J. Carlesimo, D'Antoni, and others from getting a head coaching gig.

So here is Jerry Sloan, a new coach in his 2nd coaching job. He of only 205 games experience asking for the Jazz to go out and hire Phil Johnson. Phil Johnson. Johnson had coached almost 3 times the amount of games Jerry had. He had hardware. Experience. If anything, Jerry should have been Phil Johnson's assistant.

But there's a backstory. Phil Johnson was the assistant coach when Jerry Sloan played for the Bulls. Then for one year of Jerry's Chicago tenure Phil Johnson was an assistant coach before he returned to the Kings. These two had a history. A friendship. A friendship of almost 40 years.

In fact, when Jerry retired Phil told Sloan that, "I came with you, I'll leave with you."

So how is this relevant?

In Chicago, there was the beginnings of another reunion, not of Phil Johnson and Jerry Sloan, but one of Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz. What was remarkable was at the NBA Draft Combine the Jazz had all hands on deck. They had almost every coach, scout, executive there. Except two: Jeff Hornecek and the tax maligned Sydney Lowe. Jeff Hornecek is target of at least two head coach vacancies: Charlotte and Philadelphia. With the prospect of at least one assistant coach gone, possibly two, next season the NBA Draft Combine offered an intriguing option.

It was at that first day of the combine when Amar and I spotted Jerry Sloan VERY engaged in the scouting of future Jazz prospects. If there are many organizations trying to hire him as their head coach why would the Jazz open up their future draft plans and free agency contingent to Sloan if they knew he would be gone in only a matter of months? Wouldn't that sacrifice their edge to other teams? It would. Which is why I do not see Sloan going any where.

Coincidentally David Aldridge of reported that same day in which we reported Sloan being surrounded by what looked to be an army of Jazz executives and officials at the NBA Draft Combine:

He's interested (in coaching again). He's in Chicago now watching the Pre-Draft. And his name keeps popping up with every job, and he hasn't applied for anything. He had a real nice meeting with them. They came to see him on his farm. They had a great meeting just in terms of liking each other.

The bottom line is, Jerry doesn't really feel it's the right fit for him right now.

'I wish I could have stayed and watched the game with him.' It's just not the right fit for Jerry, from Jerry's point of view. That's not a negative thing; that's just the reality.

via David Aldridge of

There will be teams trying to open their doors for him and beg him to come: Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Milwuakee. But I do not see Sloan going anywhere. Notice what Sloan's agent said.

"He's interested (in coaching again)."

"He hasn't applied for anything."

"It's just not the right fit for Jerry."

So let's put these pieces all together. Shall we?

  • Jerry has been an integral part in the Jazz last season as evidenced by his mentor role. He was at every Utah Jazz home game last season.
  • Jerry has turned down EVERY coaching gig placed in his path. He has not actively sought any head coaching position.
  • Jerry has a very big part in the Utah Jazz's pre-draft scouting and preparations as evidenced by his attention to the combine and players.
  • It goes against the Utah Jazz's front office confidentiality to allow Jerry Sloan to go coach somewhere else with the amount of knowledge he has of the Utah Jazz's offseason and draft plans. Kevin O'Connor has a history of withdrawing from trade discussions just because a proposed trade leaks to the media.
  • Jeff Hornecek, known to have been talking to other teams about their head coaching vacancies, was omitted from pre-draft scouting and planning at the combine.
  • The Utah Jazz will have at least one assistant coaching vacancy next season. Possibly, two.
  • At the NBA Draft Combine, Jerry Sloan and Ty Corbin sat next to each other and were both VERY engaged in watching prospects during drills. More than Dennis Lindsey, more than Kevin O'Connor, more than Walt Perrin.
  • Jerry Sloan, while at the NBA Draft Combine, never left Corbin's side to talk to other GMs, head coaches, or other executives. He was at the NBA Draft Combine to scout and assess as a coach would.
It would not surprise me in the least if Jerry Sloan was announced to be an assistant to Tyrone Corbin. Jerry asked for a veteran head coach to be his assistant. Jerry knew he needed all the help he could get. Even Phil Johnson has remarked in the past:

I tried to get Jerry out of here for several years ... I always thought I might want to do it if Jerry left, to be honest. A couple of times he talked to me about leaving and I thought it might be time. But not now.
Jerry Sloan was indebted to Phil Johnson for his friendship, their work relationship, and their partnership. Maybe this is the time in which Jerry pays it forward. Maybe, maybe not. But, in the least, we know Jerry Sloan is a large part of the current Jazz plans in this year's offseason. Maybe we will get to see him on the sidelines again. But it should instill confidence in Tyrone Corbin that Jerry supports him, albeit professionally. Maybe he'll be Ty's Phil Johnson and years from now we'll remark at their friendship and success in this new exciting era of Jazz basketball.

Whatever the outcome it does feel wonderful to know that Jerry is back with the Utah Jazz.