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.
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.
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.