Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For years, Jerry Sloan has been asked how long he was going to continue coaching the Utah Jazz.
And for years, his answer was always the same, give or take a few words.
"Maybe," he'd tell inquisitors, "I'll wake up tomorrow and say, 'This is the time to get out of it.'"
That oft-talked-about tomorrow finally arrived Thursday morning.
Hours after delivering the sports-world-shattering news to Jazz management — who tried but were unsuccessful in persuading him to reconsider — Sloan made his resignation official in a press conference with speeches full of tears and gratitude.
"My time is up," Sloan said, "and it's time for me to move on."
That time as the Jazz's head coach — a tenure filled with highs of NBA Finals appearances, lows of early playoff exits, not to forget an unprecedented 1,127 wins with the same organization and a spot in the Hall of Fame — lasted from Dec. 9, 1988 until Feb. 10, 2011.
"This," a teary-eyed Sloan said with a cracking voice, "is a little bit tougher than I thought it would be."
Fittingly, Sloan's longtime right-hand man, Phil Johnson, resigned with the friend he'd coached alongside in Utah for the past 22-plus years.
Former Jazz player Tyrone Corbin, who spent the past seven seasons as Sloan's assistant, was named Utah's new head coach.
"For me," Corbin said, "this is a bittersweet moment."
The moment also came unexpectedly and with many rumors of why Sloan decided to call it quits midway through his 23rd season as the Jazz's bench boss.
The Hall of Famer admitted he'd verbally sparred with captain Deron Williams from time to time, but Sloan refuted reports that claimed locker room arguments with the All-Star forced him to leave the game he's loved coaching and playing since his childhood in McLeansboro, Ill.
"I've had confrontations with players since I've been in the league," Sloan said.
Instead of blaming disputes or locker room dissension on his departure, the 68-year-old said he didn't have the oomph he used to possess. One thing didn't push him out.
"My energy level has dropped off a little bit, and I think it's time that somebody else gets a chance," he said. "Ty's a wonderful guy and will do a great job coaching."
Later, he added: "I'm not as lively as I used to be."
Some referees, of course, might beg to differ.
Jazz management took exception to reports that the organization stuck with its franchise player over its legendary coach.
"I'd like to start by making it clear that nobody pushed Jerry or Phil out," Jazz CEO Greg Miller said. "No players pushed him out. Kevin didn't push him out. An aspiring head coach didn't push him out, and I certainly didn't push him out."
Utah brass met with Sloan for more than a half-hour after the team's 91-86 loss to Chicago on Wednesday — when the coach took an unusually long time to deliver his postgame thoughts — and then again Thursday morning.
General manager Kevin O'Connor said the front office did everything it could to get the longest-tenured coach in U.S. professional sports — and one who had outlasted 245 other coaching changes in the NBA since replacing Frank Layden in 1988 — to change his mind.
O'Connor said widespread speculation from unnamed sources was "uncalled for" and said "there was never an iota of truth" that either Williams or Sloan approached upper management about a him-or-me situation.
"First of all, it's not fair to Deron Williams to have that tag put on him. That's absolutely not fair," O'Connor said. "The second thing, it's not fair to our organization for people to say that, because that means we made a choice and we chose the player."
That player, who shares a passion for winning and being a feisty competitor with his old coach, denies being the one responsible for Sloan's unexpected retirement.
"I would never force Coach Sloan out of Utah," Williams said in an interview with the team-owned radio station, 1320 KFAN. "He has meant more to this town, more to this organization than I have by far. I would have asked out of Utah first."
Jazz brass showed its full-fledged support of Corbin, who became just the fourth head coach the team has had since moving to Utah in 1978. For now, Scott Layden will be the only other coach on the bench, but Corbin will be adding assistants to his staff in the upcoming weeks.
"Anything less than full support of the head coach in my opinion is a breeding ground for mayhem," Jazz CEO Greg Miller said.
Sloan took time to thank his old boss, Frank Layden, and Jazz ownership — from former owner Sam Battistone who hired him into the organization in the early 1980s to the late Larry H. Miller and his family who stood by his side through the death of his first wife, Bobbye, and showed faith in him even after a 56-loss season after John Stockton and Karl Malone retired — along with fans and media for being "fair" to him.
"Twenty-six years is a long time to be in one organization," said Sloan, who started in Utah as a scout in 1983. "I've been blessed. But today's a new day. If I get this over with, I know I'm going to feel much better."
It was somewhat ironic that Sloan's retirement — and he won't be pursuing any other coaching positions, he insisted — came a day after the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls.
The Illinois native's No. 4 jersey was retired by the Bulls after his 10 seasons (1966-76) in the Windy City. Chicago was also where he got — and later lost — his first NBA head coaching job (1979-82).
Sloan's most successful Jazz teams will forever be linked with Michael Jordan's Bulls squads because of their NBA Finals battles in 1997 and '98. And Sloan's final game as a head coach came with his Jazz team falling to a Chicago team that featured three of his former Utah players: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer.
Sloan said he's done coaching.
"I'm not looking for another job," he said. "My wife has a job for me at home."
Sloan recalled Stockton's 3-point shot against Houston that secured Utah's first-ever NBA Finals trip in 1997 as being among his favorite memories. He was perhaps more proud that the Jazz fought back to return to the Finals in '98.
"Everybody likes to win a world championship," Sloan said. "But I think our team laid everything they had out there when they were in that position. You can't ask any more.
"And you should be able to hold your head up, go home and go to bed. I think those guys did that."
He only need look in the mirror to see who they learned that from.
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