About Utah: What is real story of Jerry Sloan's retiring?

Published: Friday, Feb. 18 2011 1:20 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a week now since the abrupt departure of Jerry Sloan as head coach of the Utah Jazz and the mystery lingers:

Why did a man with a reputation as one who would never leave the foxhole leave the foxhole?

Neither the Jazz as an organization, the media, nor Sloan himself have shed any substantive light on why a man who had spent the past 46 years in pro basketball, 27 of them with the Jazz organization and the last 23 as head coach, would up and quit two-thirds of the way into a season that would have been over within 10 or 12 weeks anyway — at which point he could have called it a career in style, with a ticker-tape parade down the newly christened Jerry Sloan Way, right next to John Stockton Drive and Karl Malone Drive.

This lack of an explanation with any satisfactory detail for a move by Sloan that seemed so un-Sloan-like opens the door, of course, to rampant speculation, compulsive conjecture and imaginative innuendo.

Before Wednesday's Jazz-Warriors game, I randomly asked Jazz fans filing into EnergySolutions Arena what they thought.

The consensus: Jazz fan is not buying the notion that Jerry Sloan left because he woke up one morning and "knew it was time."

Not a single person interviewed felt there isn't more to the story — or shied away from talking about it.

"There's always a straw that breaks the camel's back," said Don McKendree, attending the game from St. George with his wife, Em. "I think what happened was Sloan got tired of somebody second-guessing him. Sloan didn't want to hurt the Millers (Jazz owners) so he didn't say anything about who it was."

"As a society we're always going to think there's a tabloid motive that caused the divorce, so to speak," said John Phibbs of Salt Lake. "The Jazz are all putting on a good game face, but if I were a betting man I'd bet there's something specific that happened. After that many years, that's not the way Jerry would have liked to go out. If it happened in any other business, if somebody leaves after that many years, everybody would ask 'Why is he gone?' This is no different. And what you always suspect is that it's either an employee or upper management that caused it, one of the two, if not both."

"I think obviously there's more to it. I mean, he's Jerry Sloan," said Brinden Sillito, "Was it Deron Williams? I don't think so. I don't think Jerry Sloan would let one player end his career like that. I think it's (Jazz general manager) Kevin O'Connor, but that's just my opinion. The moves he was making, all the youth coming in, and Jerry is getting older and he doesn't have time to mess around."

Thane Ottley, a cowboy hat-wearing rancher from Idaho, was in Salt Lake "lookin' for calves" and taking a detour at the Jazz game.

"I definitely think there's more to it than what we've been told," he said. "I don't know if we'll ever hear what it was, but I think eventually we probably will. My gut feeling is there were moves during the offseason he (Sloan) didn't agree with and something eventually came to a head. I think it will get out at some point, what happened — but it probably won't be at a press conference."

Finally, Frederico Salazar summed up the confusion surrounding the Hall of Fame coach's exit.

"I came to the game (last week) and I looked and said, 'Where's Jerry Sloan? What happened?' I read the news the next day, but I still don't know what happened. I really, really don't know."

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. E-mail: benson@desnews.com.

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