10 February 2011
23 years and the longest tenured coach in all of professional sports.
And it might just be over.
Panic and speculation is widespread at the moment in Jazz land. After a hard-fought loss to the Chicago Bulls upon scorned former Jazz-man Carlos Boozer's return to Salt Lake City, head coach of the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan, didn't emerge for the usual postgame media session. By all accounts, this has never happened before. Ever.
Sloan appearing "shaken up?"
It's Jerry freakin' Sloan!
Jerry Sloan doesn't get "shaken up." Jerry Sloan stills fault lines with a whisper. Jerry Sloan stares at broken tractors 'til they fix themselves.
I've listened to Jerry Sloan literally thousands of times, while following his entire career as the head coach of the Jazz. And he's never sounded this subdued, this quiet, when he speaks. This is a man that has shrugged off a rampaging owner dozens of times past.
The reports are that Sloan and his coaching staff met with Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, and that the team will have "more on that later." The meeting was not with the players. Sloan also said "we're not lookin' to trade anybody," but as Jazz fans know, the brass can pop one on you when you're not looking. Last season, Ronnie Brewer was literally on the plane and didn't get off when informed that he was being traded for believing it a prank.
So what could shake up Sloan? Not much. Unless it was that he was informed that it might be best for the franchise if he took up farming full-time. As one tweeter put it:
We're talking about a mutual resignation here more than a flat-out firing; it wouldn't be in Sloan's nature to quit on a job half done. It would take some serious prodding from higher up to convince Jerry that he'd run his last race. The speculation ramped up a notch with the report that a scheduled pratice for the following day had been canceled.
When, as the captain of a ship that's out to sea without it's owner, as Kevin O'Connor has been this for much of this season, and your franchise player is regularly roasting your head coach in the media after games with comments like "I don't know. You'd have to ask him," and "It's never been in his characteristics to change anything," while he's watching super teams forming around him, and that day of reckoning comes, you have to make the tough choices.
When it comes down to Jerry or Deron, whose corner are you in? What's the right decision, the one that's best for the franchise and gives you the best shot at holding down your job?
One thing is for sure, barely any free agents have actually chosen Utah as a destination, Carlos Boozer being the biggest FA signing in franchise history, so if you stand to lose your all-star for his being discontent, the chances you ever replace him outside of the lottery are thinner than the ice the team is skating on at the moment. For a small-market team like Utah that would be a death knell. The franchise depends on making the playoffs to survive; an extended .500-or-under streak would certainly do 'em in.
What about that extension "signed just the other day," you ask? It wasn't "just the other day." It was first reported August of 2010, I've no idea why it suddenly resurfaced the other day, even though it did take a few weeks from that August date to actually put pen to paper. It's still been several weeks since the deal was sealed.
Assuming that Sloan is out, who's in?
Probably not Sloan-lifer and assistant Phil Johnson. He's said repeatedly that he prefers the back seat nowadays, and has hinted over the years that when Jerry is done, so is he. Back in 2006, when asked about the open invitation from now deceased owner Larry H. Miller to step seamlessly into Sloan's loafers when he was done, Johnson said, "Well, he can say that all he wants. I don't like to talk about it, I really don't. It's not something that I really spend a lot of time thinking about." Johnson has maintained this stance staunchly over the years. It's likely he'd retire altogether when Sloan does.
The most likely candidate to take over would be former Jazz man, and now assistant Tyrone Corbin, whose name has been bantered about quite a bit over the last couple of years as a head coaching possibility for a handful of NBA teams, including interviews with both the New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns. His name pops up about every second or third head coaching vacancy at this point.
Of course, this is all speculation until later on Thursday at the earliest, but seriously, something went down in the bowels of the Energy Solutions Arena after the Jazz have gone 16-18 in their last 34 games, something that shook up normally unflappable Jerry Sloan. And there's few things that could do that to a man of Sloan's stature.
The irony of Sloan having never won the "cursed" Coach of the Year Award, yet potentially losing his job shortly after a Hall of Fame induction is too thick for me swallow.
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