COACH Jerry Sloan returned to that maker that gave him life and created John Deere tractors today. According to the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan passed away this morning in his home at the age of 78. There’s no word yet as to whether he will be allowed to wait at the Pearly White Gates to discuss an old issue with Dick Bavetta whenever he arrives. Rumor has it Larry Miller has been saving him a seat and has yet to change out of those throwback Utah Jazz short shorts.
Jerry Sloan was the COACH that taught Jazz fans that the COACH from the movie Hoosiers wasn’t just a fictional character, but a tough as nails farm boy born the state over in Illinois. Jerry Sloan believed that there was no “i” in team and if you had a problem with it he’d make sure you knew there was an “i” in the chair that was about to head your way.
Sloan did not see himself above his players and never saw his players above himself. They were all in it together. When the Utah Jazz became an offensive buzzsaw during their two Finals runs, their team ran like it was a hive mind. Every opposing defense knew the pick and roll was coming yet that Princeton offense hummed as if it was powered by a quantum computer.
Jerry was insanely quotable. From his odd fascination with ice-pick fights in the parking lot to his quote about CJ Miles and diapers to his disgust with Kyrylo Fesenko’s bleached hair.
He was a COACH who believed in second chances. The Utah Jazz gave him that second chance as a Head COACH after his flame out in Chicago. There’s a weird parallel universe out there where he became Michael Jordan’s first COACH. It was under Jerry that the belief that players just don’t play as well outside of Jerry’s system than in it became legend.
He also was adaptable but only to a point. He was willing to experiment for a season with Andrei Kirilenko as a point forward back in 2003. He turned a center into a three point shooting weapon with Mehmet Okur. He turned the reigns of the Jazz offense over to a two year guard, Deron Williams, a full four seasons earlier than he probably ever would have in the late 80s and 90s. He even admitted he should have given the reigns to DWill a year earlier.
His friendship and bond with Phil Johnson is peak #RelationshipGoals. Despite being one of the best assistants in the NBA, Phil Johnson never left to COACH a team of his own after Jerry Sloan was made COACH. Jerry Sloan is known as one of the best COACHes of all-time yet it was his assistant and not Jerry himself who had a COACH of the Year trophy on his mantle. When Jerry retired that infamous night against his first team, the Chicago Bulls, in 2011, Phil Johnson retired alongside him. They were a duo just as much as John Stockton and Karl Malone. That standard is probably why Jazz fans don’t think in terms of super teams but super friendships.
His feud with Deron Williams finally was able to have the hatchet buried back in September of 2018. The last of the loose ends from Jerry’s departure.
In Jazz fans households Jerry is a name that needs no last name. Everyone knows. When I sent the text to my family this morning it read, “Jerry died.” That’s all anyone needs to know.
Jerry was the one that taught an entire fanbase about loyalty and consistency. We saw him occupy a position in sports that’s known for its brevity for 23 years. He became coach midseason when Frank Layden thought it was time. Jerry left on his terms when he knew it was time.
Jerry wasn’t necessarily our idol but our grandpa who told us to sit up straight, mind our manners, and be thankful for what we’re given. But Jazz fans didn’t just lose their grandpa today. They lost their COACH. The one who told them to push through the tough times. The one who thought we could be a better version of ourselves. The one who saw greatness in us.
But we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves today. Jerry wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have wanted us to fight through it. Because we’ll get a little better in the meantime. We gotta be ready for that ice-pick fight coming up.