Winning the 1997-98 NBA Coach of the Year award is the last thing on Jerry Sloan's mind. He's too busy trying to win games to worry about such nonsense.
"Awards, for the most part, are popularity contests," said Sloan, who led the Utah Jazz to a 62-20 record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. "I'm certainly not going to change what I try to do to win an award. You don't win without good players, anyway. It's as simple as that."One of those good players, however, said it's no accident his coach has the longest current tenure with any team in the NBA.
"Jerry is certainly not going to toot his own horn, and it's not our style to do it either for him," John Stockton said. "He's a wonderful coach. And he's done a great job through some adversity - obviously, my injury, (Greg Ostertag's) injury and (Antoine Carr's) injury. For us to be able to win through all that is a great credit to him. Being able to win for so many years continiously with him is remarkable.
"The pattern in the league is that after a certain amount of years it's time to make a change with the coach, but that hasn't been the case with Jerry," he added. "He's been steady and guys completely respect him."
The 115 writers and broadcasters who annually select the NBA's Coach of the Year, however, have never seen fit to honor Sloan with the Red Auerbach Trophy.
Since replacing Frank Layden 17 games into the 1988-89 season, Sloan is 639-379 as head coach of the Jazz.
"I've always said that Jerry has been one of the most underrated coaches," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "All he does is go out and win." Utah won a franchise-record 64 games last season and reached the NBA Finals for the first time, but Sloan finished a distant third in Coach of the Year balloting. Miami's Pat Riley won the award for the third time by collecting 69 votes. Dave Cowens of Charlotte was second with 22, while Sloan had 13.
Though he seems to have more support among voters this year, Sloan will likely finish behind first-year Pacers coach Larry Bird for the accolade.
That prospect infuriates Cowens.
"I think it will be a travesty if (Sloan) doesn't get it. I have no respect for anybody if they don't vote for him. It's not even close," Cowens said. "He did it last year and he's done it again this year without (John) Stockton. Everyone ignored him last year. This year it would be great if they gave it to him."
Sloan has also been endorsed for the award by Bird, who "loves the way Utah plays," and Danny Ainge of Phoenix. The Suns coach is among several coaches expected to receive votes this year. Candidates include Cowens; Mike Fratello, Cleveland; John Calipari, New Jersey; Jeff Van Gundy, New York; Phil Jackson, Chicago; Rick Pitino, Boston; George Karl, Seattle; and Riley.
Citing Sloan's attitude toward such things, Jazz officials opted not to run a Coach of the Year campaign as other franchises have. The team actively promoted Karl Malone for MVP recognition last season.
"I feel he warrants those type of accolades, but I don't know if he'll get it," Stockton added. "It's not big on his list of what's important."
Sloan's approach to the game is a breath of fresh air in a league plagued by incidents such as Latrell Sprewell's assault on P.J. Carlesimo.
"One of the reasons (Sloan's) one of the best is that he's not interested in being the Coach of the Year. He's more interested in the Utah Jazz," NBC analyst Bill Walton said. "He's not about hype. He doesn't walk out on the court and look around to see where the television cameras are. He's about helping others.
"(Sloan) represents everything that coaching is all about. Coaching is like being a parent. You have to give up your life to make other people's lives better. Jerry does that," Walton said. "He is so humble, so giving and all about the team. He teaches those guys all the valuable lessons you need in life. You couldn't ask for a better coach. The more time I spend around Jerry Sloan, the more John Wooden I see in him. He sets the tone and the example for the Jazz organization."
The 1997-98 NBA Coach of the Year will be named sometime during the playoffs. Last year, the winner was announced May 8.