It's a question that might not have just one answer.

Like what makes a champion? Or who's the greatest basketball player ever?And where the answer comes from makes all the difference in what it is.

That ambiguity, however, doesn't stop basketball fans from asking it - and asking it more critically when teams play poorly.

What makes a good coach?

It's now been said by just about everybody - from the fans to the press to their coaching peers - that Utah has two of the best basketball coaches around. Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and University of Utah men's basketball coach Rick Majerus have basked in the warmth of coaching praise this year while their teams both contended for championships.

"We have two of the best coaches in America," said Jazz President Frank Layden. "Is that a coincidence? Maybe it's the air here or the water. Both (coaches) would be in the three best (in their respective leagues).

"You don't have the kind of success both have had unless you're really good."

While neither coach has a championship to boast of, both have winning records, which may be the most obvious and agreed upon mark of a good coach.

"If you win 62, 63, 64 games (in a season), then I guess that says you're a good coach," said Jazz forward Karl Malone, who's said repeatedly that he won't play for the Jazz if Sloan isn't coaching.

Sloan recently signed a new three-year deal with the Jazz.

"They've both won with different players over a considerable length of time, and they haven't screwed up their programs," said Tom Nissalke, a former coach who now offers analysis for Jazz games on KFAN Radio (1320 AM) both before and after the games.

"A lot of coaches could have taken Utah to the Final Four (this year) and the Jazz to the NBA Finals (the past two years)," Nissalke said. "But to have consistent success, year after year, not many coaches can do that."

But a winning record alone doesn't seem to be the answer either.

Just ask former Seattle coach George Karl or Los Angeles coach Del Harris. Both men won 61 games during the regular season, but the minute their teams were knocked out of the playoffs, people started questioning their coaching abilities.

Karl was fired just a few weeks after his team lost to Harris' team, and there's been endless speculation about Harris' future with the Lakers.

Maybe coaching is a little like parenting in that it's difficult to distinguish between good children, good parents and good luck.

Maybe Sloan and Majerus are considered good because they're well-liked. On second thought, that can't be it. Neither seems overly concerned about being liked, and both have had players leave their programs on less than good terms. Majerus has had 20 players leave his program in his decade with the U.

"He's hard to play for because he's so tough," Utah's star point guard Andre Miller said of Ma-jer-us. "Everyday we have a practice plan. If we don't get through it, we'll be practicing for four hours. We play until we get done."

Their strict approach earns them something more valuable than friends when you're a coach - respect.

"They're not the kind of guys who will win a popularity contest either," Layden said. "They want you to like them, but (if you don't) it's not the end of the world."

"(The players) respect the fact that both of these (coaches) don't ask the players to do anything they won't do themselves," Layden said. "Just like a strict father, (players) might like an `easier' type of coach, but you're going to respect the discipline of the strict coach."

Malone thinks some of Sloan's coaching sense comes from practical experience.

"He played the game," Malone said. "He knows what it's like to be tired. He knows all of that."

But Majerus was a mediocre player at best, according to friends.

Perhaps it's personality - at least their coaching personality.

Sloan stands on the sideline, arms folded, brow furled, calling out plays and chastising players regardless of the score like the Energizer Bunny. He never quits - even when he's winning by large margins. Games that don't matter simply don't exist to Sloan.

"On the court, he's intense, which I like," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "He stays on players to do the little things . . . That's why I think he's such a good coach."

Tough, intense and passionate about basketball. That's what those who know them professionally and personally say Sloan and Majerus have in common.

"In both coaches what you see is what you get," Layden said. "They're both blue-collar guys, who are hard working . . . In the modern world of coaching you have an awful lot of three-piece suits, computer guys, button pushers."

And while most agree the men are "far more different than alike," they also agree they have in common a passion for the game of basketball and those who play it that is as rare as blue diamonds, four-leaf clovers and country songs with happy endings.

"Both of them are quality, down to earth guys," Layden said. "They're going to give it (basketball) everything they've got, and they expect the same things from their players . . . They're the same every, single day. Both are disciplinarians. Both love the game of basketball in a way that I never quite did. They have an obsession with basketball. They eat it. They drink it."

And there is one more thing Sloan and Majerus share - being in THE GAME only to lose. They've taken their teams to the brink, but not the bank of success.

It's a fact that gnaws at them. Both want a championship so bad-ly the hunger is obvious. It shows in their faces whether they're stalking the sidelines barking out plays or being interviewed on a talk show.

And while new recruits might not recognize it, they'll feel it's effects as the coaches gear up each year for another training camp, another season, another chance to feed that hunger.