After coaching the Utah Jazz to the most wins in franchise history last season, head coach Jerry Sloan returns for the 1990-91 season with a significant challenge: trying to top himself.
The 48-year-old Sloan saw the Jazz to 55 regular season wins in 1989-90. That total was four wins better than the then-record 51 wins that Sloan and the Jazz produced the previous season, and was another four wins better than the then-record 47 wins realized by the 1988-89 team when Frank Layden was the head coach.If the progression is to keep going, the Jazz will win 59 games this season - a lofty plateau rarely seen by NBA franchises as they travel through their annual 82-game regular season grinds.
Still, with Sloan around, the Jazz have yet to lose ground. He first joined the club as an assistant coach to Layden for the 1984-85 season. That year the Jazz went 41-41. The next year they went 42-40, the next 44-38, the next 47-35, the next, with Sloan taking over coaching duties from Layden 18 games into the campaign, 51-31, and last season 55-27.
In nearly two full seasons now with Sloan as the head man, the Jazz are 95-52, for a winning percentage of .646.
Add in his Chicago Bulls head-coaching totals from the 1979-80, 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons (51 games), and Sloan is 189-173, .522, for his NBA career. That already ranks him 43rd on the NBA's alltime winningest coaches list. With another 50-plus wins this season he will move past Dick McGuire, Bernie Bickerstaff and his current Jazz assistant, Phil Johnson, into 39th place on the alltime list.
Sloan was hired as the Bulls coach after two seasons on the Bulls staff, assisting Dick Motta. Chicago went 30-52 his first season and then rebounded with a 45-37 playoff-qualifying season in his only full season as head coach. Sloan was set to coach at Evansville of the CBA prior to joining the Jazz as a fulltime assistance coach in 1984.
A hard-nosed defensive specialist during his 11-year, two-time All-Star playing career with the Baltimore Bullets (one year) and the Chicago Bulls, Sloan has transferred his penchant for defense onto the Jazz. They led the league in points-against in 1988-89, when the opposition averaged just 99.7 points a game against the Jazz. And last year, they finished No. 3 in the same category, allowing just 102 points a game. More significantly, in both seasons the Jazz scored an average of five points a game more than their opponents.
And even more significantly, as it applies to defense, the Jazz have allowed opponents field goal percentages of just 43.4 and 45.5 percent the past two seasons, ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA, respectively. The 43.4 mark in 1988-89 was the lowest percentage allowed in the league in 16 years.
As a player, Sloan was named to the NBA's All-Defensive team four times (in 1969, 1972, 1974 and 1975) and to the All-Defensive second team twice (in 1970 and 1971). The coach played credible offense as well, averaging 14.0 points per game for his career with highs of 18.3 in 1971 and 17.4 in 1967.
His NBA career - which concluded with the Bulls retiring No. 4, his uniform number - followed a college career at Evansville (Ind.), that saw Sloan's teams win two NCAA Div. II national championships. In his senior year of 1964-65, when Sloan was named second team All-America, the Aces posted a 29-0 record.
Sloan has not gone undefeated since. But he's working in that direction.
The coach splits his time between Salt Lake City in the onseason and McLeansboro, Ill., in the offseason. Sloan and his wife Bobbye have a home in the Salt Lake suburb of Holladay and also maintain a home and farm in McLeansboro, Sloan's hometown. They have three children, Kathy, Brian and Holly. Kathy is the public relations director for the Omaha Racers of the CBA, Brian is a former Indiana University basketball standout and Holly is currently attending college in Salt Lake.