For one fun night, at least, Coach Sloan's back on the bench
Jody Genessy, Deseret News
HERRIMAN — Those who predicted that retired Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would come back to the bench were correct.
Bonus points for anybody who guessed the Hall of Famer's return would be at Herriman High.
It wasn't with an NBA team, even though he said a couple contacted him about recent job openings. And he didn't even curse or yell at any referees.
But Sloan resumed a familiar spot on a basketball court Friday when he sat on the sidelines for a meet-the-Mustangs basketball night.
A preview of things to come on the Utah high school basketball scene?
"No," Sloan said, chuckling. "Not that."
For the record, Herriman's honorary coach came out of retirement for this night only. Sloan's stepson, Rhett, a Mustang sophomore, convinced the longtime Jazz coach to help his school in this fund-raising event on his sports-marketing teacher's suggestion.
Since his surprise midseason retirement in February, Sloan has spent most of his time on his Illinois farm. He auctioned away all 68 of his collected tractors in three days this summer and, well, has been trying to find non-basketball things to do to fill his empty days.
"I never gave an awful lot of thought to retirement. I guess I thought I was going to work forever," Sloan said. "It's completely different from what I expected. I'm adjusting to it. Anybody who's done the stuff I've done for 30 years, it takes a while. I just ride it out and hopefully it gets better."
Being around hoops again was good for Sloan, the Jazz's head coach from 1988 to 2011.
"He's already been missing basketball," Sloan's wife, Tammy, said. "He's been watching the NBA channel, the Hardwood Classics, since there's no basketball to watch. I think he's missing it, honestly."
Rhett's assist — extra-credit worthy if he didn't already get A's — was a hit for Herriman hoops and the town, which thoroughly enjoyed having the NBA's third-winningest coach in NBA history in their gym.
Sporting a Mustangs cap, Sloan didn't call plays or huddle with players during the event, but he shared wisdom before the scrimmages started. (And, yes, they kept their shirts tucked in.)
Always a fan-friendly person, Sloan also obliged as people approached him all night. Heck, there might not be a person in Herriman who doesn't have a picture or autograph of him now.
"Man, it was pretty cool," Mustangs captain Kyle Sanford said. "Just his presence was something different. I loved it. I wish we could do it every game."
Sloan wouldn't even need to submit a resume to secure a spot on Herriman coach Brad Tingey's staff.
"I told him we gave him a coaching shirt so that makes him part of the staff," Tingey said.
Tingey sat next to Sloan, relishing a chance to chat with the Jazz legend who will host basketball camps in Lehi in December (jerrysloanclassic.com).
"It's kind of a dream come true to be able to talk to him and ask him questions," Tingey said. "He's such a good man. It's just a lot of fun, something I'll never forget."
They didn't talk strategy, but Tingey received this valuable reminder from Sloan: "Whether it's high school, Junior Jazz or pro basketball, basketball is basketball. And it's just a fundamentally sound game. (If) you play hard, you play together, good things are going to happen."
Sanford admitted he had jitters playing in front of the ex-Jazz coach, quickly adding, "And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to ya."
But the 6-foot-3 forward called it "one of the coolest things that (has) ever happened to me, just being around him."
Sloan's advice to the student-athlete?
"Just play. Just play to have fun," Sanford said. "(It's) basketball, you're supposed to have a good time, not stressing about it, not getting too worked up about it. Just go out and play, have a good time."
Sloan, who'll be inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame this Wednesday with longtime assistant Phil Johnson, misses that part of the game.
"I miss basketball a lot more as time goes by," he said. "There's not a lot to do when you're retired."
Who knows if he'll remain retired, but at least his family enjoys him being around more, right?
"Sometimes," Tammy said, laughing. "Only sometimes."
Tingey isn't the only one who'd throw out the welcome mat for Sloan.
"I like Tingey, but there's a difference between a high school coach and an NBA coach," Sanford said. With a big smile, he added, "I'd take Sloan any day."
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