Jim Rogash, Getty Images
SALT LAKE CITY – His 70-unit tractor collection in Illinois has dwindled to two. Jerry Sloan sold all the others this summer, shortly after a thief made off with a 35-year old Allis-Chalmers.
The tractor wasn't expensive, valued at only around $5,000. But it got him thinking about the stuff he had accumulated; thinking about clutter.
"I'm trying to simplify," Sloan said Tuesday.
Isn't that why he quit coaching, too? Things change quickly, even for those who stay in one place for 27 years. If anyone knows that, it's Sloan. His 22-year career as head coach of the Jazz ended in a single complicated night last February.
But there have been far bigger transitions for the Hall of Fame coach than retirement. He lost his first wife, Bobbye, to cancer in 2004. He says in hindsight he probably should have retired then "to make it maybe easier on everybody else involved." But he hung on, married to his job. The death of team owner Larry H. Miller in 2009 was followed shortly by that of Sloan's brother. Just last Sunday an older sister passed away.
Sloan, who returned to Utah on Monday after seven weeks at his home in McLeansboro, Ill., said there's really no light to shed on what happened the night of his final game as a coach. Sources say a halftime argument ensued between Sloan and Deron Williams, the Jazz's talented, petulant point guard.
It was widely reported Williams was insubordinate, unwilling to run Sloan's offense. Some sources say Sloan wanted to suspend Williams but didn't get backup from management. CEO Greg Miller said the coach has always had full support.
Either way, the next morning Sloan announced his retirement.
"I can't really tell you anything you don't already know," said Sloan on Tuesday. "I think everybody knows I quit. I left and life goes on. I wish this organization well, they put up with me for 27 years. That's a long run."
Since then, Sloan has stayed notably out of the spotlight. He was mentioned in connection with Minnesota and Golden State, but nothing developed. While it seems unlikely Sloan would want to take on a new team in this era, he hasn't ruled it out.
"I think you always have to keep yourself in a position to do something.
I never said that I'd never coach again. I might want to coach my grandkids or something; I wouldn't want to back down on that proposal."
But coaching today and two decades ago are different proposals. While former superstars John Stockton and Karl Malone ultimately deferred to Sloan, that wasn't the case with Williams. Yet asked if players are more difficult, Sloan said, "I don't think so. You have your ups and downs with everybody that plays the game; with 12 or 14 players you don't bat 100 percent every time, but it works out."
For a man so obviously driven to win, it seems incongruous that at age 69 Sloan would suffer retirement easily. This is the man who sometimes held practices on Christmas Day. Yet he seemed content this week. Asked what he has been doing since February, he joked, "Nothing. It's the best job a guy can have."
He continued: "I don't have any plans. I've never done this before, never been retired. I don't know the parameters, except that you eat and sleep."
He walks for several miles each morning near the home in Riverton, where he plans to be for at least several years. His stepson will be a sophomore at Herriman High.
Meanwhile, Sloan watches the game from afar. He said he enjoyed the NBA playoffs this spring on TV, but the thing he most misses is working with coaches like Phil Johnson, Gordon Chiesa, Tyrone Corbin, Scott Layden and Frank Layden. His other enjoyment was his collection of farm equipment. He and his first wife had planned to retire and run an antique business.
"But that didn't work out," he said, "so it's time to move on and get out of the junk business."
Maybe that's how it was in coaching, too. The losses were piling up, the team's best player was in mutiny and grinding road trips stretched ahead. So Sloan walked his knock-kneed gait into the sunset.
It was time get rid of junk of all kinds.
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