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Archive for February, 2011

During Tuesday afternoon’s press conference, Jerry Sloan credited a recommendation – from Phil Johnson to Frank Layden – as the main reason he ended up as an assistant in Utah under Frank Layden. One thing that’s often overlooked is just how many times Jerry Sloan’s and Phil Johnson’s coaching careers have intertwined.

While it’s not uncommon for head coaches to forge strong relationships with brilliant assistants (Phil Jackson/Tex Winter), the coaching careers of Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson not only reflect dedication, loyalty, and longevity, but also an almost absurd pattern for crossing paths over the past 45 years.

It began 1954 in Grace, Idaho. Phil Johnson would play 7th-grade basketball under a 23-year old middle school basketball coach named Dick Motta. And that was only the beginning. By 1962 in Ogden, Utah – Motta had become the head coach at Weber State. Motta would go on to win 935 games in the NBA and crossed paths with Sloan by first coaching Jerry in Chicago and then offering him a lucrative position as his top assistant on the Mavericks in the 80’s – which Sloan turned down out of loyalty to Frank Layden (similar to how Phil Johnson would turn down head coaching opportunities – Pacers/Nuggets – out of loyalty to Jerry).

Starting in 1964, Phil Johnson became one of Dick Motta’s top assistants at Weber State, and would replace Motta as head coach when Motta left to coach the Bulls (Sloan was named an all-star in Motta’s first season in Chicago). As head coach at Weber State, Johnson took the Wildcats to 3 consecutive NCAA tournaments before he accepted a position as an assistant with Motta in Chicago (where he would coach Jerry during the second half of Sloan’s playing career).

Phil Johnson then left Chicago to become head coach of the Kings where he won Coach of the Year in his second season. He was fired after 5 seasons with the Kings, and returned to Chicago in 1979 as an assistant under recently named head coach Jerry Sloan. Johnson and Sloan would coach together in Chicago until they were both fired in 1982. Phil then returned to Utah where he became an assistant to Frank Layden with the Jazz while Sloan took on various scouting positions.

In 1984, the Kings again offered Johnson their head coaching position, and when Phil left Utah for Kansas City, Frank Layden replaced him on the bench with Jerry Sloan – whom Johnson recommended. When Jerry Sloan replaced Frank Layden in 1988, he hired Phil as his lead assistant and the two coached together for the next 22 ½ seasons – until they both offered their resignations Tuesday.

As disappointing and unfair as their departure from the Utah Jazz is, it was only fitting they left together.

Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson

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Preface: It’s a bit ironic that this blog will begin the day after Jerry Sloan, Utah’s head coach for 23 seasons, resigned along with longtime assistant Phil Johnson.

Jazz Basketball is what I refer to as the refreshing style of basketball the Utah Jazz have played for the past 20 years. It was based upon two things:

1. A precise halfcourt offense with pinpoint execution.

2. Players who competed and played as hard as they could.

For basketball purists, the Jazz’s offensive system was a thing of beauty to watch. It was a hybrid UCLA/flex-style offense predicated on constant motion and constant screening. The ball never stuck – and on the few times it did on the left block – the off-ball cutting would only increase. As John Stockton and Karl Malone developed into two of the games’ greatest players, Utah’s pick-and-roll became known as one of their most effective plays. However, it wasn’t just a 2-man game, it was the system in its entirety which also provided the proper court-spacing for their screen-roll that helped make their entire offense so effective.

The genius behind the offense was Phil Johnson. Like Sloan, Johnson’s coaching roots originated with Dick Motta, a former Weber State coach who would go on to win 935 NBA games during a 29-year coaching career that began with coaching Sloan as a player in Chicago. Motta stressed offensive and defensive fundamentals, and his most successful Bulls’ teams routinely ran a precise halfcourt motion offense. Celtics coach Tom Heinsohn remembered facing Motta’s teams: “They’ll move the ball and they’ll make us play defense. And if we make a mistake – bang – the right guy has the ball at the right time. They’re like a Vince Lombardi football team – execution counts for everything.”

Playing hard was the other trademark of Jazzbasketball and that was solely due to Jerry Sloan. As Frank Layden, the man who groomed Jerry as head coach, put it, Jerry had two simple rules: “Play hard, and play smart.”

Jerry Sloan was known as one of the toughest and most hard-nosed personalities the game had ever seen. During his 10 seasons playing in Chicago (where his #4 jersey still hangs from the rafters), there wasn’t a more intense or fiery competitor than Sloan. Former Bulls’ general manager Jerry Krause remembered Sloan’s Chicago days, “The only person I know that competed as hard as Michael Jordan was Jerry Sloan.” 

Sloan took that persona into coaching. If his players didn’t play hard, if they didn’t give him maximum effort and execute the offense – they couldn’t coexist. Brutally honest, Sloan wasn’t afraid of confronting any player or any person whom he felt wasn’t committed to winning.

Sloan’s success in not only winning games but in also winning over his two superstars allowed him become the longest tenured coach in NBA history. After one disappointing early playoff exit, when management was contemplating a coaching change, John Stockton and Karl Malone both went to management and informed them there that if Jerry left Utah, they would eventually follow.

The late Larry H. Miller, who owned the team from 1986 until his death in 2009, understood that in a “players league,” coaches could only coach to their maximum abilities if they had more security than the players. Often times, if players didn’t like a coach, they would tune him out – knowing in the NBA coaches are fired much quicker than players are let go. Eventually, Larry Miller would give Jerry the unwavering support of ownership and management, and that stability forced players to buy into the Jazz system. As longtime Jazz announcer Hot Rot Hundley said: “It was [Jerry’s] way, or the highway.”

And with the death of Larry H. Miller in 2009, the Jazz organization under new leadership began to lose sight of many of the principles Larry instilled in the Jazz. This time as players began to rebel and act in their own self-interest, Sloan – at 68 years old in the twilight of his coaching career – didn’t feel he had the same support from management to force things to be done his way. Friction with star point guard Deron Williams proved to be the final straw. Sloan wanted to discipline Deron for insubordination. Jazz management balked. Thus, Jerry Sloan resigned on February 10, 2011, along with Phil Johnson – his assistant coach for 23 years.

And along with the resignation of the two men who constructed it, JazzBasketball” as we know it, has also come to an end.

Sloan and Phil Johnson #8

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Welcome and thank you for visiting!

This is an independant blog that is an off-shoot of the Jazzbasketball1 Youtube Channel and Jazzbasketball on Twitter.

I hope this blog will serve as a mothership to help bridge the gap between video-sharing and social media. Here, I hope to share larger volumes of information, opinion, statistics, videos, and X&O breakdowns that will analyze the present and project the future while continuing to pay homage to the past of our beloved Utah Jazz.

…And you gotta love it baby.

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