SALT LAKE CITY – Two-and-a-half years after quitting in mid-season, Jerry Sloan was back in the game Thursday, surrounded by media as though he’d never left. His wit was still as dry as grain chaff from his Illinois farm.
“This,” he wryly smiled, “is the last time I’ll be doing this.”
No more post-game press conferences or coach’s shows for him.
“I’m not here to step on anybody’s toes,” he said.
Sloan held a media session at the Jazz’s practice center, which drew wide response. Once you're in the Hall of Fame, you can’t scratch your nose without people making a federal case. The man who coached the team to 19 playoff appearances, and 15 consecutive winning seasons, is the team’s new professor of hoopology.
He was at nearly every home game last year, a dozen rows back of the team bench.
“I wish I could have called him down,” said coach Tyrone Corbin.
The news release explained Sloan’s hiring this way: “In this role, Sloan will support the Jazz basketball operations and coaching staff through player evaluations at workouts, camps and summer league; limited pro and regional college scouting; occasional practice observation; and as host of an annual prep and college coaches clinic.”
Limited. Occasional. Observation.
In other words, he’ll work whenever he wants.
And he’s not tripping to Duluth to scout out the latest prospect.
Will he attend practices?
“If they have ‘em too early, I won’t,” he said. “Gets me out of bed.”
Basically he’ll be Jerry Sloan, resident legend and current Wikicoach, the man with ready answers. He’ll undoubtedly be in charge of all high-end cursing, too.
“I don’t swear anymore,” he deadpanned.
The hiring is good news for both Sloan and the team. The Jazz can use the help, especially from a proven winner. Also, there’s the public relations component. Two weeks ago the Jazz announced a similar deal with Karl Malone, who will assist the team’s big men.
Exactly how many hours either invests is unclear. But anyone who saw Sloan and Malone in their glory days knows they probably aren’t doing this for laughs.
Those guys take losing as seriously as a warrant.
As a personnel advisor, Sloan’s contribution will be valuable. His was always the most important opinion on player moves, anyway, before Larry H. Miller rubber-stamped the deals. The selection of Deron Williams had Sloan’s fingerprints all over it. He wanted a nasty, tough player and Williams filled the bill.
Now the franchise is trying to connect to its history. A generation of fans is rising that thinks Thurl Bailey is a television commentator, Mark Eaton a restaurateur and Jeff Hornacek a coach.
So Sloan returned looking trim and happy. He was vague on the specifics, but this much seemed obvious: Not only will he advise on matters such as personnel, but also coaching. Corbin is beginning his third full season as the Jazz coach, but only a handful of players remain on contract from last year.
A steadying hand can only help as Corbin revamps his team and struggles to return to contention. The challenges aren’t lost on Sloan, who said Corbin has done a fine job with the transition.
“People expect you to win every time you step on the floor," Sloan said, "but you’ve got to be fair ... (Corbin) deserves better than that.”
Even Sloan had his trying years. Amid a five-game losing streak during the 1992-93 season, fans at the Delta Center referenced the firing of Jerry Tarkanian by unfurling a banner that said, “Do like the Spurs — fire Jerry.”
Sloan never forgot the Chicago Bulls axing him midway through his third season.
Jazz fans later rode Sloan about not winning a title. But respect rose after he left the game. Recently he has been informally working with the team on draft prospects. Asked about young players Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, he noted they have “tremendous talent, but they have to do the work.”
On Thursday it was hard believing that, even from a distance, he couldn’t help make that happen.
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