SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Sloan often said when it wasn't fun, he would step down as the longest tenured coach in professional sports.
He certainly didn't appear to be having fun in Wednesday's loss to Chicago.
Did he ever?
Sloan could make a parade look painful.
His reported retirement would end an era, not just for the Jazz, but for basketball. The Hall of Fame coach was one of the last hard-nosed, authoritarian figures in the NBA. Teams today are often dictated by petulant superstars, or even lesser players. With Sloan it was never a question who was running the team.
Problem is, this team has lost 10 of the last 14 games, including a six-game losing streak, which means either he wasn't coaching well or the team wasn't listening. Here's assuming it was the latter. Sloan's style has produced the third-most wins in NBA history and the most wins ever with one team.
While his style certainly wouldn't go over with a lot of today's pampered players, he has drawn widespread acclaim from other coaches such as San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, Boston's Doc Rivers, Philadelphia's Doug Collins and Portland's Nate McMillan.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday's win over the Jazz that Sloan has a "great system" in place and credited some of his own success on former Jazz players Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer.
Some said Sloan was stuck in his ways and never adapted. That's untrue. He admitted, after the fact, he should have started Deron Williams from Day One of his rookie season. Other young players like Brewer, Wesley Matthews and Gordon Hayward have seen significant playing time as rookies.
Sloan coached the Jazz right on through the loss of John Stockton and Karl Malone, even making the Western Conference Finals once.
Through it all, he never took his job for granted. He was hurt deeply when fired midway into his third season as coach of the Chicago Bulls in 1982. He worked as an assistant coach for the Jazz until Frank Layden retired mid-season in 1988, turning the reins over to Sloan.23 comments on this story
But the rural Illinois farm kid who hunted quail for food never forgot his impoverished upbringing. He always felt he was one decision away from unemployment.
According to one former Jazz assistant, Sloan would eat large breakfasts, every day, after he became coach of the Jazz. When the assistant teased Sloan that he'd get fat, Sloan replied that he was hungry so often as a kid, he swore if he ever got enough money, he'd never miss another breakfast.
Here's to long tenures and big breakfasts.