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Randy Hollis: Utah Jazz fans owe Jerry Sloan a debt of gratitude

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 4:41 a.m. MDT

Jazz fans show their Jerry Sloan support in  NBA action in Salt Lake City, Utah, Friday, Feb. 11, 2011.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz fans show their Jerry Sloan support in NBA action in Salt Lake City, Utah, Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Jazz fans definitely have differing opinions on the coaching career and expertise of Jerry Sloan.

Some, like myself, have the utmost respect for this tough-minded man who guided the team's fortunes with such tremendous success for more than two decades.

Others would argue that Coach Sloan stuck around too long and that he should've retired several seasons ago.

Some short-sighted, misguided individuals might even blame him for the fact the Jazz never won an NBA championship. But I'm guessing that most of the members of that camp probably never played organized basketball — or wore a jockstrap — in their lives.

Or they'd know better.

Personally, I think Jazz fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to the coach — and the man — who served this franchise so well for so many years.

Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan hugs Gail Miller as Jazz CEO Greg Miller watches after Sloan announced his resignation Thursday afternoon. Sloan coached the Jazz since 1988. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan hugs Gail Miller as Jazz CEO Greg Miller watches after Sloan announced his resignation Thursday afternoon. Sloan coached the Jazz since 1988. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Sloan's loyalty, dedication and commitment were always exemplary. He was such a model of consistency — in the way his teams tenaciously played and graciously won, in the way he always dealt with his players and the team's front office, in the respectful way he dealt with opposing players and coaches, and in the classy way he conducted himself — well, with the exception of an occasional sideline tirade or two (or 20).

Heck, I'm sure those officials that he constantly yelled profanities at and occasionally went after would tell you yes, he was pretty darned consistent in doing that, too.

Yes, with Jerry Sloan, you always knew what you were going to get. He was a down-to-earth, plain-spoken farm boy from Illinois who loved to compete. Often times, especially when things weren't going particularly well for his team, he'd begin his sentences with the familiar refrain: "Well, if you're a competitor ..."

Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan looks at Greg Miller as he announces his resignation after being the head coach for the Jazz since 1988  Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan looks at Greg Miller as he announces his resignation after being the head coach for the Jazz since 1988 Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

After all, that's certainly what he was, at all times — a tough old warrior who loved to compete and hated to lose.

Fortunately for him — and for us, too — the Jazz front office felt that same loyalty to Sloan, refusing to push him out the door in 2005 after the team suffered its only losing season in his 22-plus years of calling the shots.

No less than 14 other NBA franchises have changed coaches 10 or more times since Sloan took over the Jazz reins in December 1988.

Think about it: 21 winning seasons, including 16 straight from 1988-89 to 2003-04, with 19 playoff appearances during that span. And, of course, two appearances in the NBA Finals. It's quite a resume'.

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Sloan coached the game the same way he played it — fiercely competitive, with a never-say-die attitude. As a player and a coach, he always seemed to have that junkyard dog mentality, a guy who would battle you with his last ounce of energy, his last breath.

And he'd never, ever quit.

Until last Thursday, when he abruptly resigned as the Jazz head coach — apparently having finally grown weary (or fed up) with all those battles on and off the court.

He leaves behind a lasting legacy of a guy who took a small-market team and turned it into a consistent winner, year after year after year, and a championship contender for several seasons along the way.

No, he didn't ever win the big one. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls — in an odd twist of irony, the same franchise Sloan played so hard for that his jersey hangs from the rafters in their arena — got in the way of Utah's best chance for a championship.

And you can be sure that nobody in this world feels worse about not winning an NBA title than he does.

But rather than fretting about what he didn't do, instead let's relish all those great, glorious things that Jerry Sloan and the Jazz accomplished under his watch.

Thanks, coach.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com

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