Utah Jazz: Johnson has been by Sloan's side for nearly 20 years

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 9 2008 12:09 a.m. MST

For the past two decades, Phil Johnson has been viewed by the public as being Jerry Sloan's right-hand man.

You needn't be an A student to deduce which common description people around the organization use to describe the Utah Jazz's other suit-sporting sideline guy who'll celebrate his 20th anniversary in his current position with the franchise this week.

Now, pay attention class, there will be a pop quiz.

Coach Jerry Sloan about his top adviser: "Phil's one of the best assistant coaches a guy could have, period. He's a great teacher. He has great knowledge of the game."

Forward Carlos Boozer on the one-time NBA coach of the year: "He just knows the game inside and out, whether it's offensively, defensively ... so, he is a great teacher."

Center Mehmet Okur on his mentor: "Well, he's definitely an offensive-minded coach, and he's my guy. We really having fun on the court, off the court — and he's such a great teacher. He likes to teach every day."

Frank Layden, former coach, president and humorous media darling, regarding his old assistant: "Phil is a terrific teacher, and he's great on fundamentals."

Test time: Can you name the common theme? Is Johnson ...

A. A great teacher

B. A great teacher

C. A great teacher

D. A terrific teacher

E. Worthy of receiving lots of apples from students (and bosses) because they learn so much from this pick-and-roll professor and this educator of X's and O's, who happens to be all of the above.

If you picked any combination of A through E, you now know why Sloan considers himself to be "blessed" to have Johnson in his classroom teaching pupils in the paint since 1988.

It's also why trying to get Johnson on his staff was a top priority for Sloan after he replaced Layden as the Jazz's bench boss on Dec. 9, 1988.

Sloan played under Johnson during his NBA playing days in Chicago in the early 1970s and then hired him as his sidekick for his first head coaching gig with the Bulls in the late 1970s-early 1980s. He knew exactly the type of basketball guru the former Weber State assistant and head coach and Utah State standout athlete was.

Johnson, who'd also previously been one of Layden's assistants, was coaching with the Sacramento Kings during the Layden-to-Sloan transition, so Utah's new coach had to get permission to speak to him about rejoining the Jazz. Sloan first called then-Kings coach Jerry Reynolds, who hired Johnson after replacing him in Sacramento. (Yes, this does sound like an NBA coaching soap opera.)

The Jazz and Kings worked contract stuff out, Johnson agreed to return to the Beehive State, flew back to California from an Eastern road trip with Sacramento, grabbed some clean clothes and hooked up with Utah just in time to head back East for a six-game trip after being rehired by the Jazz on Dec. 11, 1988.

The rest — including a much-less-complicated ensuing 20 years — is happy hoops history.

"This was a very good opportunity to go with a team that had a great future," said Johnson, who's 67 and has been guaranteed the head coaching job when/if Sloan ever retires. "I knew all the people involved, and I knew the philosophy. The transformation wasn't that hard."

"We were running some of the same stuff he put in before he came back. Our players all knew him. It was an automatic thing for us," Sloan added. "Things have worked out pretty well. We've had our ups and downs. We try to do the best we can with what we have."

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