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Jerry Sloan: Good, But Not Great

The bad news for Utah fans is that their local hero and coaching institution has retired. The good news however, is that we can now begin throwing Deron Williams under the bus for every Jazz mishap for the remainder of his career. So at the risk of alienating our “sizeable” Utah contingent, I decided to cave in and post an article about the coaching legacy of Jerry Sloan.

As most of you are aware by now,  Sloan stunningly announced his retirement this afternoon after 23 years as head coach of the Utah Jazz.  Aside from leaving as the 3rd winningest coach of all-time with 1221 regular season victories, our lasting memories will always be of 2 things:

1.)   He coached the same way he played: gave 100%, demanded accountability, and never quit.

2.)   He mysteriously exhibited that same open-mouthed facial expression that my uncle does right as he is about to fart. Was I the only one who noticed this?

More interesting though is that as the news of Sloan’s retirement broke out, several players and coaches used the word “great” to describe him,  as in one of the greatest coaches of all-time.

I disagree.

Look, Jerry Sloan was a good coach. In fact, Jerry Sloan was a VERY good coach. But Jerry Sloan was not “great”, and it is not necessarily because he failed to win a championship. Instead, I am hard-pressed to find a single instance throughout his 23-year career where Sloan’s teams excelled as a byproduct of his coaching.

They never really overachieved in the playoffs; there was never an instance where his teams finished higher in the standings than they should have. Instead, Sloan’s teams always finished the season exactly where they were expected to – by winning against the teams that they were supposed to win against, and losing to the teams that they were supposed to lose to – usually no surprises. In sum, Jerry Sloan is somewhat overrated.

In 1991, 1994, and 2007, Sloan’s  5th seeded Jazz teams won as underdogs by beating their 4th seeded counterparts (Phoenix, San Antonio, and Houston respectively), yet each team finished the season within only one or two games of one another. Good teams, but can these victories really be considered overachievements?

In 1990, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, while Sloan’s teams got beat by lower seeds during the playoffs, 4 out of the 5 losses came at the hands of teams that finished within only one seed of the Jazz in the standings, with the exception being the 1995 Rockets who won the championship as a 6th seed. Not quite the penultimate underachievement either.

One significant underachievement did however occur in 1989, when his #2 seed Jazz  got swept by the 7th seed  Golden State Warriors.

Sloan never won a championsip. Nor was there ever that true underdog moment like when Larry  Brown’s Piston’s upset the Lakers in 2004. Instead, Sloan’s teams did what they were expected to do, by typically bowing out of the playoffs in either the 1st or 2nd round, which is probably reflective of why he never won a Coach of the Year Award.

His greatest asset was his longevity and toughness, abe to withstand the rigors of coaching for 23 years, while making the playoffs  an astonishing 20 times. Moreover, he was almost always successful at getting his teams to buy into his philosophy of hard work, discipline, structure, and consistency. If nothing else, his teams were full of character and predictability, and the truth is, we will never see another 23-year head coaching run

again in the NBA.

So, “good”? Absolutely.

Sentimental? Sure

Lovable? Yes.

But “great”? Sorry Utah, I’m just not buying it.

I will tell you this much though.. even at age 69, I would still take Jerry Sloan into a dark alley brawl with me, and I’m 100% confident we would both come out without a scratch on the other side.

Adios Jerry!


32 Responses to “Jerry Sloan: Good, But Not Great”

  1. Not sure I agree Realist. Part of the reason Sloan seemingly never “overachieved” in the playoffs is because in many years,his teams overachieved in the regular season. It is criminal he never won a Coach of the Year award.

    Posted by Brown Mamba | February 10, 2011, 10:55 pm
  2. Not a Utah fan yet I still have to disagree strongly with you. The flex offense is one of the greatest offensive schemes ever. Jazz teams have been consistently great on the offense to the end of a team winning 40 games with Ak47 as the topscorer.

    You bring a lot of arguments, all of them subjective. I can see why you do this, yes Sloan might be a bit overrated as a coach. Especially now that he left. Still he should have won a coty (especially given the chumps who did win) and yes he absolutely was one of the greats.

    Among active coaches, who is better than him?

    Popovich, Jackson and then?
    Among alltimers Riley, Auerbach and then?

    It is hard to quantify the influence of a coach but your arguments don´t do the whole experience justice.

    Saying his teams never overachieved, well did any of Phil Jacksons team ever overachieve? The players are the first and last variable in team success but as far as coaching influence go Sloan was great:

    Motivate players? Check

    Improve and develop players? Check

    Create good plays? Big Check (see flex offense above)

    Install good defensive system? Weak Check (Defense is his biggest flaw, I admit that)

    I could go on and on, point is, yes Sloan was indeed on of the greats but of cause not the greatest. (Thats Pop in my book).

    Posted by Zeiram | February 11, 2011, 4:05 am
    • +1

      Posted by Brown Mamba | February 11, 2011, 10:47 am
    • Zeiram, thanks for the read. You raise some good points.

      Just to clarify, I never said that Sloan was not deserving of the COY award. You are absolutely correct in stating that there were a number of “chumps” that won the award over Sloan’s 23-year coaching career. Unfortunately however, if you look throughout the course of NBA history, the award is almost never given to the best or most talented coach. Phil Jackson only won the award once. Pat Riley only once. Larry Brown, only once. Instead, it is given to the coach who overachieves or maximizes their talent. I am not saying that I agree with this criteria. I am simply saying that it is what it is, and that is the reason why Sloan never won.

      I agree with some of your other points however. He was a great motivator, developed players well, and ran a very efficient offense if only a mediocre defense. However, he was not one of the greats.

      You won’t get much of an argument from me regarding Pop. He is definitely top 5 in my book.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 11, 2011, 10:54 am
      • I like your measured response, we can disagree but if we argue respectfully that is all good. Had to get that out first in this age of insane Internet arguments.

        As to what you are saying, I get you I do. But I have to ask, what does greatness mean to you? You mostly agree with me but still say he was not one of the greats.

        So who is better than him in your book and how many people can be greats?

        Because if you say only the 10 best coaches of all time are greats and Sloan isn´t one. That is an argument I can follow. I might disagree with saying only the 10 best are greats and I might disagree with saying Sloan isn´t one of the 10 best. But right now I don´t even know who is a great according to you (besides Pop).

        Posted by Zeiram | February 11, 2011, 5:24 pm
        • Thanks Zeiram. Greatness in a coach means being able to get out of their teams a little more than they already have – and the evidence comes through overachieving. Otherwise, how can we measure their impact? Anyone can coach if you have the talent, but beating the teams that inferior yet losing to those superior does not provide ample evidence. Were is the proof?

          I have not yet put together a comprehensive list of the greatest coaches of all-time yet, but Pop, Aurbach, Riley, Larry Brown, Doc Rivers, are just a few who come to mind. Not because they necessarily won championships, but because at some point in their coaching careers, they squeezed even more out of their team and impacted winning. Pop in 2003, Riley with those Knicks teams, Larry Brown in 2004, Doc with Orlando in 2000, Aurbachin 69, etc..

          Posted by The NBA Realist | February 12, 2011, 10:05 am
      • How can you consider Popovich great but not Sloan, especially when you’ve said rings aren’t necessarily a factor? Pop would be the first one to admit that he and the Spurs organization have basically just copied Sloan and the Jazz. Why would a great coach try to emulate someone who is only “good”?

        Posted by Jack Pottingaround | February 11, 2011, 6:33 pm
  3. You think Jerry Sloan was good but not great? Seriously? What a ludicrous position to take.

    “I am hard-pressed to find a single instance throughout his 23-year career where Sloan’s teams excelled as a byproduct of his coaching.”

    Better check your research. Before the ’03-’04 season, the first after the departure of Hall-of-Fame cornerstones Stockton & Malone, every “expert” in the country was predicting that the rebuilding Jazz would not only be the worst team in the league, but perhaps the worst team ever. Instead, Sloan led them to a winning record (42-40) and fell short of the playoffs by only one game in an extremely tough Western Conference. The fact that Jerry didn’t win COY that year rendered the award irrelevant.

    “…typically bowing out of the playoffs in either the 1st or 2nd round…”

    That’s very misleading. There are only 4 rounds in the NBA playoffs, so when you go there 19 times (15 of which were consecutive), you’re going to have a bunch of 1st & 2nd round exits. Jerry also took the Jazz to the Conference Finals 6 times, and the NBA Finals twice.

    “…it is probably reflective of why he never won a Coach of the Year Award.”

    The fact that you seem to consider the COY award to be more prestigious than induction into the Hall of Fame is telling.

    Smart move posting this article under an alias, though. Having your real name attached to this drivel would be humiliating.

    Posted by Jack Pottingaround | February 11, 2011, 5:18 am
    • Thanks for the read Jack. Actually, if you knew me in person, you would know that I have a lot more to feel humiliated about than just this article. But that is another topic for another day.

      I knew that when I wrote this article that this would be an emotional topic. So let me start off by first saying that I could care less about what the so called “pundits” think. Just because they predicted that the 2004 Jazz would be terrible does not mean that it was necessarily true. The Jazz finished with a 42-40 record and had a rising gem in Andrei Kirilenko who had established himself as an All-Star that year, and one of the best all-around players in the league by averaging 17pts, 8reb, 5 assists, 2.8blks and 1.9 stls. We have all been witness to the decline in AK’s game since, but at the time, he was playing at a very high level. Therefore finishing 9th in the West for 2004 with a 42-40 record was right about where they should have finished and here is why:

      o The 10th seed Trail Blazers would have finished higher, but were missing both their best player (Rasheed Wallace) and starting shooting guard (Derek Anderson – 14pts/5reb/4assists for almost half the season.
      o The 11th seed Golden State were terrible, with the best player being Jason Richardson. Their second best player was a 33-year old Nick Van Exel who was well past his prime. Their 3rd best player was Erik Dampier – enough said.
      o The 12 seed Supersonics finished with 37 wins but were missing their best player (Ray Allen) for 26 games. Had Allen been healthy for the entire season, I am confident that it would have accounted for at least 6 more wins and finished higher than the Jazz
      o The 13th seeded Suns were extremely talented. However, the best player at the time (sadly Stephon Marbury) missed 48 games, a rookie Amare Stoudamire missed 27 games, and their starting shooting guard missed (Anfernee Hardaway) missed 48 games. Had they all been health, they would have finished higher.

      In sum, the 2004 Jazz benefited largely from the attrition of other teams. Granted, every player after AK was mediocre at best, but their star player played in 78/82 games, something that the other teams did not have the benefit of.

      With regards to Sloan’s playoff exits, I think that you are reinforcing my point. They finished exactly where you would expect them to finish given the weapons and talent that Sloan was given, whether it was a 1st round, 2nd round, or Conference Finals exit. When they lost , they always lost to teams that were simply either better or more talented than they were. When they won, the won against teams who were inferior or less talented than they were.

      Lastly, with regards to the COY award, I never once said that it was a more prestigious honor than the HOF. I am simply saying that the COY award is typically given to those coaches who either maximize or often overachieve with the talent given to them. Sloan did a great job in 2004, but Hubie Brown, who won the award, was even better. Brown made the playoffs, finished with the 6th seed, and won 50 games with a 23 year old Pau Gasol as his best player, and James Posey and his second best.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 11, 2011, 10:40 am
      • I must give you credit for taking my insults in stride, and making an honest effort to back up your arguments. Unfortunately, you have failed again. The Jazz had injury problems in ’03-’04 too. Matt Harpring was the team’s captain and leading scorer until he was lost for the season after only 31 games due to a knee injury. That team overachieved, and it was because of Sloan. I think prior to that year everyone was a little skeptical of Jerry’s contribution to the Jazz’s success because of the presence of Stockton & Malone, but I don’t know how anyone could continue to doubt after what he accomplished with just AK, Raja Bell and a bunch of scrubs.

        Most importantly, his peers (the only people whose opinion really matters) recognize his greatness, which is why he is in the Hall of Fame.

        Posted by Jack Pottingaround | February 11, 2011, 6:35 pm
        • I recognize that Utah suffered its share of injuries that year. However Matt Harpring is not Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace, nor Stephon Marbury. The bottom line is that Utah had the benefit of playing their best player for most of the season. Had any of those other teams had their healthy Alpha-dog player available, they would have undoubtedly finished higher than the Jazz. As such, we are splitting hairs if we are trying to compare a Utah team without Matt Harpring vs a Seatlle team without Ray Allen. They are both bad.

          But a more important is this: In 23 years, are you trying to tell me that his greatest demonstration of coaching and overachievement was finishing 9th ahead of 3 teams that were missing their star players, and yet still missing the playoffs? Look, as a Chicago Bulls fan, I love Jerry Sloan. I even love him has a coach because of his old school approach to the game. But I still believe that his career was based more on longevity than brilliance.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | February 12, 2011, 9:56 am
  4. Spot on Jack. Winning 42 games after losing John and Karl was amazing, and Jerry Sloan should get all the credit.

    Posted by Shane | February 11, 2011, 10:01 am
  5. my sentiments exactly, I totally agree and you are the god on everything sloan from here on out…except the alley thing…unless it’s a really nice neighborhood.

    Posted by jay ba | February 11, 2011, 11:20 am
  6. but My other sentiment is that you failed to mention that he IS indeed a quitter. he quit on his fans, team, GM and owner…he was mediocre at best and all this cry me a river emotionalism over his departure is just BS…he never won a title in 23 years which means he failed at his goal for 23 years and you call that greatness? come on fill jackson won over him 11 of 23 thats remarkable and phil was beat atleast 11 of the 12 reaming sloan coaching years by someone right? sloan was a good coach thats it, at best!

    Posted by jay ba | February 11, 2011, 11:26 am
    • Please tell me this post is meant as satire and you aren’t serious. Great people have goals commensurate with their greatness. So while procuring an assistant manager position at Burger King was sufficient for you to be considered a success, Sloan’s standards were a little bit higher, and his “failure” still leaves him far, far superior to you in every conceivable way.

      Posted by Jack Pottingaround | February 11, 2011, 6:48 pm
    • Thanks for the read jay. I agree that Sloan is overrated. However, I have to disagree with you somewhat regarding Sloan quitting and not winning a title. I think that anyone who comitts to something for 23 years has a right to walk away. Moreover, not winning a championship is not entirely Sloan’s fault since there was never single season where he had the best talent, or the best team. I think that they finished right where they should have. He lost to the teams he should have lost to.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 12, 2011, 10:15 am
  7. Agree with a lot of your points but I question how you define good vs great. There have been only 8 coaches that have won championships in the last 25 years and probably 150+ coaches during that time (247 coaching changes since Sloan started, a lot of repeat hires so an estimated 150 coaches during that time.) Outside of the 8 who won championships, he is probably the next best or least in the next 5 best. That would mean he is the 9th to the 13th best coach in the last 25 years putting him in at least the top 5-10% of coaches. Top 5-10% of school means an A, top 5-10% of NBA players means being an all star. That sounds more like great than good.
    Also, take a look at the rosters for the ’97 and ’98 finals teams. Bryon Russell and Greg Ostertag were the 4th and 5th starters. Antoine Carr, Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson, Greg Foster, Chris Morris and Adam Keefe on the bench. Does that sound like a finals team to you? Those teams vastly overachieved to be 60 win, back to back nba finals teams. Most finals teams have 3 all stars and solid back ups. Hornecek wasn’t an all-star while on the Jazz and the rest of the players were journeymen that played much worse after leaving the Jazz.
    Sloan’s biggest problem was that he didn’t have a defensive system that was effective as his flex offense. He just expected his team to hustle and play hard and playing hard only gets you so far. If he had a good defensive minded assistant he might have won a championship. His other big error was the way he has handled Andrei Kirilenko. He took one of the most unique players in the game and destroyed his confidence and ruined the prime of his career.

    Posted by myung | February 11, 2011, 1:47 pm
    • Great points myung.

      The entire crux of my article depends upon the definition of good vs. great, so let me elaborate further:

      To me, there have been very few “great” Tier One coaches in NBA history – Red Aurbach, Larry Brown, Doc Rivers, Pat Riley, Bill Fitch to name just a few. The reason?: They were able to leave their imprint on the teams by overachieving or taking their teams to level would not have happened otherwise. In essence, they were a difference maker in the ultimate equation for success. To me, this is what separates a good coach from a great coach. Anyone can win if they have the talent around them. However, it those coaches that are able to take the talent that they have and bring out even more that separates them from the pack.

      In all honesty, this is the reason why I have never officially considered Phil Jackson a “great” coach despite the fact that he has won 11 championships. Now that does not mean he is not “great” coach material. It is just that he has not proven it yet and remains a question mark to me. He has had the great fortune of coaching 3 out of the top 10 players of all time (Jordan, Pippen, Shaq) and one of the top 25 (Pippen). Every team that he won with was simply more talented than their competition. Is this really demonstration of great coaching?

      With regards to Sloan, I would consider him to fall within the upper echelon of the Tier Two coaches. His strength was longevity and character. However, I cannot recall a single playoff series where anyone walked away saying “Man, Jerry Sloan just out-coached his rival”

      With regards to the 97 and 98 Finals teams, the may have gotten to the Finals, but who did they really beat? In 97, they won an over-the-hill Rockets team that really have very poor chemistry. In 1998, they swept a young Lakers team that while talented, was still very immature. In fact, Kobe Bryant was not yet even a starter at that point. My point is that someone has to win the West, and if you look at each of those teams, the Jazz were by far the best. They did what they should have done.

      Also, I think that you underrate Hornacek. He averaged 14pts, 4reb, and 3 assists during those 2 years and was one of the top 3 point shooters in the game. He may not have been an All-Star, but he was one of the best role players in the game, a very good #3 option, and a key component to spreading the floor for Stockton and Malone. The rest of the players may have been journeyman, but the same could be said of many of the Bulls players after the 98 championship. While they had more talent overall, their role player’s performances (Kerr, Buchler, Longley, Wennington etc..) after they left the team, declined. Simply put, both the Jazz and Bulls had good role players on a team with great chemistry.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 11, 2011, 3:32 pm
    • Excellent post, Myung. The Jazz went to The Finals twice with Ostertag at center, for chrissakes! Also, you could put together an entire team of players who flourished under Sloan, but whose production declined significantly after leaving.

      Not sure I entirely agree with you about AK, though. Don’t get me wrong, Andrei is extremely talented and I’ve always liked him, but he is a bit of a pussy sometimes. I do agree that Jerry should have handled him differently before Larry Miller got involved and made him chill out a bit.

      Posted by Jack Pottingaround | February 11, 2011, 6:56 pm
      • Realist,
        In general I think I agree with the overall premise of the article, that Sloan was not as good as the best but better than the vast majority of coaches. Your right in saying that most of his teams either appropriately achieved or underacheived but I have to agree with other comments concerning the 04 squad that had AK and 4 fringe starters. One man teams are not usually .500 teams unless that player is a top 5 player. The teams below them (portland, seattle, gsw) weren’t great teams but you can also look at the teams just barely above them. They were only one game worse than a Denver team with Carmelo Anthony, Andre Miller, Nene, Voshon Lenard, and Marcus Camby. They were only 3 games worse than Houston’s Yao Ming, Stevie Franchise, Cat Mobley and Jim Jackson. You could say these other teams underachieved but remembering the Jazz that season, I feel like they overachieved to come within a couple of games of much more talented teams.
        As for the 97 and 98 finals teams, you don’t get to 60 wins in the NBA just from having weak competition. In 98 there were 3 teams in the west with 60 wins and 2 others with 56 wins. To me, that means there were 5 teams with legitimate shots at the finals as opposed to this year for example in the west, only the Lakers, Spurs and Mavs have any real shot at the finals. I think you are underestimating how talented that Lakers team was. Shaq was the best player other than Jordan. Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel were in their primes. Kobe was the 4th best player on the team. Rick Fox, Robert Horry, and Elden Cambell were all excellent role players. Also, John Stockton was 35, played only 65 games and was well past his prime. Hornecek was 34 and his best years were behind him. Malone was 34. A team with a backcourt average age of 34.5, in a sport where athleticism wins, is a testament that they played as a team and that can be attributed to the coach. They were a 55 win western conference finals team at best but became a 62 win NBA finals team under Sloan. That’s overachieving. Wasn’t taking 2 of the greatest teams of all time, the 97 and 98 bulls, to six and should have been seven games, overachieving?
        As for Jackson, anyone who ALWAYS wins has to be great. There are too many examples of ultra talented teams that don’t win championships to discard what Jackson has done.
        Finally, Ak is the only player I can remember that had a nearly 50% drop in his scoring in his prime without a major injury. The only other player that fell that fast was Vin Baker and he was an alcoholic. Unless AK has some drug problem that I didn’t know about, the only thing that makes sense to me is to blame his demise on how Sloan destroyed his confidence.

        Posted by myung | February 12, 2011, 3:33 pm
        • Good feedback. In retrospect, perhaps I am being a bit too harsh on the competition in 97 and 98 as there were some solid teams in the conference. However, I happen to be in the camp that believes that the Jazz were actually THAT good and did not overachieve. In addition to winning 64 games, what most people do not realize is they ended the regular season with an 8.8 point differential, which is the highest amongst any of the Bridesmaids (NBA Finals runner-ups) over the past 30 years. This is absurd. In essence they didn’t just win teams, they absolutely destroyed them. To provide a bit of perspective, only 7 CHAMPIONSHIP teams finished with a higher PD than they did. Their chemistry was phenomenal and they continued to roll through the playoffs until they met with the Bulls.

          I am sure that some of the success can be attributed to Sloan, and the jump from 55 to 64 games was great. But I am not still convinced that it was necessarily an overachievement. Stockton and Malone were unique in that they actually got better as they got older, and I felt that even in 97, their games jumped a level even though their numbers may have gone down slightly ( as did every one else since the style and pace of the game began to slow by 1995). However, they developed a mental toughness and better feel for the game later in their career vs. earlier. Malone shot a near-best 55% FG in 1997 and was named 1st team All-Defense in 97 and 98 for the first time in his career, something that he had never before accomplished. Stockton for the first time developed an ice-cold clutchness that he had never had, and essentially became their big shot maker in key moments of the game. This btw, is a very different characteristic that what we saw with Stockton during those early 90’s series with the Blazers and Suns. Should this improvement in success be attributed to Sloan? Possibly. But I felt that he had the team and the talent to achieve this. Additionally, Hornacek may not have been the Hornacek of 1990, but he was still a very, very, good #3. Each of those thee were in their mid-30’s, but they played at a level that most 28-year olds play at. They were a very unique team.

          My take on Phil is not that he necessary isn’t great, but instead a question mark. I am still of the belief that there are several coaches, including Jerry Sloan btw, who could have won championships if they inherited a team with Jordan/Pippen or Kobe/Shaq, Kobe/Gasol. A coach is only as good as his talent and while it is a testament to Phil that he was able to pull it together, he caught both teams right as they were peaking.

          I understand your perspective with regards to the Jazz in 2004. While Sloan did a very good job in extracting 42 wins, I still stand by the belief that he would have finished with fewer wins, and a lower seed had the other teams below them been healthy.

          Thanks for the comments Myung. Very impressive.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | February 13, 2011, 12:30 pm
  8. I also strongly diasagree with this article. Two of the main points that you try to make is when you said “I am hard-pressed to find a single instance throughout his 23-year career where Sloan’s teams excelled as a byproduct of his coaching”…you also said “there was never an instance where his teams finished higher in the standings than they should have”. You are obviously entitled to your opinion but you are just factually wrong. I don’t know what you were watching but Sloan probably did more with less than any coach ever. Outside of Stockton and Malone his rosters were compiled of mostly second tier players. He was the epitome of overachieving. They also finished higher in the standings than pre season predictions on a regular basis.On many occasions, analysts predicted and rated them much lower at the start of the season only to be surprised by end of the season. To a degree, coaches are only as good as their players and Sloan NEVER in his entire career had a deep team. Another questionable comment that you made was “Hornacek was a very very good #3 and played at a level most 28 year olds play”. That is a huge stretch because by the time Hornacek signed with the Jazz he only had one good knee. Although he could still shoot, on most nights he could barely run up and down the court and could not guard anyone.If he had the same rosters as Phil Jackson and Pop, he would probably have multiple rings… it’s just that simple.

    Posted by CJF | February 13, 2011, 10:29 pm
  9. Realist,
    I just wanted to follow up my comments by thanking you for at least having a fair debate. Obviously most of the discussion is subjective. In a sense, I just thought you were overrating the rosters of the Jazz including your opinion of Hornacek. So many people have also failed to realize the disadvantage that Utah has in attracting free agents.Utah is unlike any other market in the NBA. For various reasons,getting really good free agents to come there is like pulling teeth. In my opinion, Utah was always one top player and a solid bench away from a championship team. As great as they were, Stockton and Malone just couldn’t get it done without a little more help. I guess my point is that other top championship coaches always had more to work with so it’s really hard to compare them to Sloan. Again, considering this fact, Sloan was the epitome of overachieving and I think you really missed the mark in regards to this important factor. How well do you think Phil Jackson would have done with Greg Ostertag at center and Greg Foster,Adam Keefe, etc…. coming off the bench? I think it’s safe to say,not nearly as well as his Bulls and Lakers teams.

    Posted by CJF | February 14, 2011, 1:27 am
    • Thanks for the read and comments CJF.

      First off, I want to reiterate that I never penalized Sloan for failing to win a championship. To win championships typically requires a coach to have more talent than his competition, and Sloan was never given this luxury. However, there were certainly opportunities throughout the playoffs where his teams could have overachieved at least once in 23 years to validate his coaching brilliance. It never happened.

      Sloan was armed with 2 Hall of Famers in Stockton and Malone, which is more than what most coaches get in a lifetime. While the supporting cast consisted of Tier 2 players, they were still decent role players who were able to elevate their games by playing with 2 stars. We see this all the time. Case in point: Luc Longley, Jud Beuchler, Toni Kukoc, all became afterthoughts after they left the Bulls in 1999.

      In response to your question “How well do you think Phil Jackson would have done with Greg Ostertag at center and Greg Foster,Adam Keefe, etc…. coming off the bench?” – probably about the same as Sloan. As I have expressed throughout my responses, I think that Phil Jackson remains a big question mark to me. Put another way, I completely agree with you: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Jerry Sloan could have won 11 championships if he had Jordan, Pippen, Kobe, and Shaq. He was a very good coach. However, as with Phil, that does not mean that I consider him a “great coach” since as you mentioned earlier, a coach is only as good as his roster. Is it really a major accomplishment for a coach to win a championship with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, on your team? I stand by my claim that a number of good coaches could have accomplished the same thing.

      With regards to Hornacek, I may be wrong about this, but I remember the knee problems only beginning to effect him during the 1988 playoffs and ultimately forcing his retirement in 2000. However, he was fully healthy in 97 and a solid role player.

      Lastly, I agree with your comments regarding Utah and free agency. Utah gets the raw end of the stick, and I do not disagree that they were only one player away from winning a championship. But again, I never penalized Sloan for failing to win a championship. I simply stated that he never truly and definitively validated his “coaching brilliance”.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 14, 2011, 12:51 pm
  10. Had Sloan coached the Bulls and Lakers he would have more rings than Phil.
    Phil= Luckiest coach ever.
    Sloan= One of the unluckiest.

    Posted by Stormon | February 21, 2011, 1:44 pm
  11. “They never really overachieved in the playoffs, and there was never an instance where his teams finished higher in the standings than they should have. Instead, Sloan’s teams always finished the season exactly where they were supposed to – by winning against the teams that they were supposed to win against, and losing to the teams that they were supposed to lose to – no surprises.”

    So what to you is greatness? Always delivering. Doesn’t that sound great? Phil didn’t even do that! How many coaches have failed to get their teams to the playoffs when they should have? How many have underachieved at least a few times? If you were on Sloan’s team you knew you were going to win. Period. That’s great.

    Posted by Stormon | February 21, 2011, 1:49 pm
    • No arguement from me regarding Phil vs Sloan. If Sloan inherited those Bulls and Laker teams, he would have won 11 championships as well. But as I conveyed throughout the my message board responses, winning with a team you are supposed to win with makes you a very good coach. Winning when you are not supposed to win, and raising your team’s game to another level is what makes one “Great”.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 21, 2011, 2:58 pm
  12. Realist,

    I have to disagree about the greatness and this is why. I can’t argue your point of never overachieving in the playoffs compared to the regular season. What i can’t understand is how you completely dismiss how good his teams were in the regular season. It seems to meet your label of greatness a coach would need to dramatically improve his team during the playoffs as compared to the regular season, in other words to only be good during the regular season then finally figure it out greatness for the playoffs. I submit Sloan was great because he always, or a high percentage of the time, had his team ready and playing at very high level for their talent in the playoffs AND in the regular season.

    Posted by Jack q. | April 26, 2011, 11:06 am
    • Jack q – Thanks for the read. I understand where you are coming from, but am still not sold.

      Here is my point – Jerry Sloan is a very very good coach. Just not a great coach.

      His teams were good in the regular season because he had the talent to work with, and they typically finished exactly where they should in the standings. If you give a coach talent, they are going to win games, and that is exactly what he did. However, those teams never did anything extraordinary. Moreover, there is nothing to convince me that another “good” coach in the NBA could’t have done the same job. Sloan won a high percentage of the time because he was supposed to win a high percentage of the time given the talent he had. His results in the end, were neither an overachievement or an underachievement. He did was he was expected to do, which makes him a very good coach – but not great.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 26, 2011, 12:25 pm


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