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A Class Act

Yesterday the NBA said goodbye to the longest tenured coach in professional sports.

On Monday he agreed to a one-year contract extension. Yesterday, he resigns. I was not even a year old, the last time someone not named Jerry Sloan was manning the Utah Jazz sidelines. In fact, in their entire existence the Jazz have only had six coaches dating back to when they joined the NBA back in 1974. For 23 of those seasons, it was ’09 Hall of Fame inductee, Sloan running the show and had it not been for Michael (how many times have we heard that one before?) he may have won back-to-back championships from 1996-1998. Sloan will most be remembered for Utah’s championship years (although they never actually won an NBA Finals) and the famous combo of Stockton/Malone who without question ran the pick and roll better than anyone in NBA history (yes, kids better than Nash/Stoudemire in Phoenix). He then seemed to find new success under another All-Star PG Deron Williams and big man Carlos Boozer (the modern version of his Stockton/Malone pick and pop combo,) and getting the most out of role players like Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. However, despite 23 years at the helm, two NBA Final appearances, 1,127 wins (not counting his short stint with the Bulls), being the 3rd winningest coach of all time, and the longest tenure in professional sports, Jerry Sloan has never won Coach of the Year honors. Taking a look back now, it seems like a crime.

Although one could not have predicted Jerry’s resignation to come in the middle of the season, much less a season in which the Jazz will be in the playoffs (currently sitting seventh in the West as of Thursday night), the end was nearing for Sloan. In 23 years, not much has changed in the way he ran Utah, but it seems as if everything else in the NBA has. No I don’t mean the league wide 245 coaching changes since he took over on Dec. 9, 1988 (13 of which were by the Clippers alone). I mean the game itself including the role of coaches taking a backseat to players and agents demands especially those by Creative Artists Agency. I’m talking about players choosing who they want to coach and where they want to play. The “Decision,” Chris Paul wanting out of New Orleans, and Carmelo wanting to go to New York, none of this was imaginable back in ’90’s when Jerry’s Jazz were the team to beat out West.

Sloan was an old school coach, he would often get in the face of Karl Malone and confront his superstar getting the most out of him whether they agreed or not. Can you imagine what would happen today if Erik Spoelstra got on LeBron publicly about playing defense or anything else for that matter? Holy cow, he’d be fired and Pat Riley would take over quicker than he could say “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” It became evident over the past couple years as players were leaving Utah (and Sloan) for the bigger markets and the rifts between Sloan and D-Will seemed to be getting worse, that his time was coming to an end. Yesterday, we heard as an emotional Sloan stood in front of the world saying, “I had a feeling this time was the time to move on. ” Explaining that “My time is up.”

It should be noted that he is not walking away alone. Assistant coach Phil Johnson will also resign and after sticking by Sloan’s side the past 18 years it should come as no surprise, saying “I came with him and I’ll leave with him.” Both men will be 69 this year. It sounds cliché to say, but Jerry Sloan simply was a class act and will truly be missed. He leaves behind him almost a quarter century of memories not just for Utah fans but for the entire NBA. His legacy is the success of what the Jazz have become and I find it hard to imagine that a coach who never won a championship can ever become a symbol to a franchise, like Jerry was for Utah. He resigns as the only coach in history to win over 1,000 games with one team and is one of three coaches with 15-plus consecutive seasons with a winning record. Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, both with 19, are the others.

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