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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Sloan’

Final Score: Jazz 88, Bobcats 85

Following the Jazz’s last-minute road win Jazz assistant coach Brad Jones, nephew of Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan, was so fired up that he inadvertently hit Diante Garrett in the head with is clip board at the conclusion of the game. It was reminiscent of a incident involving Sloan and former Jazz assistant Kenny Natt during a 1999 contest in which Sloan accidently struck Natt as both he and John Stockton were emphatically demonstrating a clearout (offensive foul) that should’ve been called against Shaquille O’Neal.

Considering the tear Brad Jones was on, perhaps Jazz assistant trainer Brian Zettler should consider himself fortunate he didn’t step on the floor any sooner following the game’s final play. Between Sidney Lowe’s tax evasion conviction and Brad Jones’ streak of violence, I nominate Mike Sanders to win the best-behavior award for the Utah Jazz’s 2013 coaching staff.

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Note: Due to weekend events and the upcoming Christmas holiday, I haven’t posted in-depth game reviews for the last two Jazz games (not that there was much to review during Friday night’s abysmal showing in Atlanta) but they will resume next week. I greatly appreciate the compliments and interest I’ve received in the past few months and enjoy using twitter and this blog to discuss Jazzbasketball not matter how fun or frustrating it can be at times.

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Deron Williams Greg Miller Kevin O'Connor

On Tuesday afternoon, Jazz CEO Greg Miller shared his account of the events on the night of February 9, 2011 in which Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson both chose to resign.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan resignation

Miller’s recent account appears to contradict his previous statements as well as the overall narrative the organization projected during the official press conference which formerly announcing Sloan’s resignation. From that time on, the company line was that Sloan simply grew “tired” of coaching and decided to “quit.”

Greg Miller on Jerry Sloan's resignation

While some gullible fans may have bought that, there has been just as much information out that led many to believe that the organizations narrative was false from the beginning.

On February 10th, 2011 Ric Bucher, then a senior analyst for ESPN, reported exactly what Greg Miller did yesterday, saying “There was a disagreement between Coach Sloan and Deron Williams about how a play was run.” Bucher then elaborated, “There was discussion between Kevin O’Connor and Coach Sloan, and I’m told Coach Sloan wanted to penalize Deron in some way and there was a disagreement on how that was going to be handled and so this came to a head.”

This completely jives with other reports by respected national writers. The highly-regarded Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo! Sports wrote on the same date: “After feeling undermined, one source said Sloan told Jazz owner Greg Miller that if this is how he wanted to run a franchise, he could do it without him as coach.”

A few days later, Karl Malone further added fuel to this fire by saying “I know for a fact that (Sloan) was overridden on practices sometime on the road because Deron was calling our GM at that time.

Finally, this past February Jazz president Randy Rigby also contradicted the party line. During his embarrassing weekly brag-fest on Ty Corbin, Rigby stated “He (Corbin) came in – in a very difficult situation, and immediately said to us, ‘Hey, I think I can work with Deron.'” Obviously, if difficulties with Deron weren’t a factor in Sloan’s resignation, there should have been nothing extraordinary about a new head coach claiming to be able to co-exist with his team’s franchise player.

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The obvious counter is the fact that Jerry Sloan himself has repeatedly stated that the decision to step-down was his alone and that Deron had nothing to do with it. I think Jerry’s statements are admirable, understandable, yet admirably untrue.

First, it’s important to understanding the type of coach and man Jerry is. Routinely throughout his career Jerry would look to pass the credit on to someone else. (For example after a 4/1/99 Karl Malone game-winner Jerry’s remark on the final play was “We’ve run that play since Frank Layden was coaching the team.” Jerry had no ego whatsoever, and a great love for the organization that reached a pinnacle following Utah’s 26-56 season in which he was not fired. I believe by 2011 Jerry truly felt management was more closely aligned to Deron, yet because of his love and loyalty to the Jazz he didn’t want his resignation to spark a “Jerry vs. Jazz management” civil war. He wanted out of a no-win situation but he wanted to leave the organization in better shape than when he started (which he did). Yes it’s an incredible sacrifice of pride, but Jerry Sloan is an incredible man.

While there may have never been a “Jerry or Deron” choice made, it’s now undeniable the halftime confrontation was a main factor and extremely possible that the reported disagreement regarding disciplining Deron was the real breaking point.

Also, there is precedent of the Jazz refuting reports of internal conflict that risk negative exposure – Mark Jackson’s 2002-03 locker room politics being the primary example.

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Both the NBA and the Utah Jazz were in different places in 2011 than they are today. Carmelo Anthony essentially held Denver hostage for the first-half of the season before finally landing in his preferred destination of New York. There was no Kyrie Irving in Cleveland and no 50-win seasons for the post-Melo Nuggets. The Cavaliers and Raptors were still reeling following the departures of LeBron James and Chris Bosh while small-market teams were terrified of ending up in similar situations.

Utah’s attempt to reload in the 2010 offseason had fizzled out. A surprising 27-14 start primarily behind the Jazz system (which routinely made journeyman into efficient role-players) and a brilliant start by Deron Williams turned sour. A recent stretch of losses pushed the insecurity over Deron’s pending 2012 free agency to an all-time high and it’s entirely conceivable how a franchise that had long supported coaches over their star players would begin to lose grasp of those priorities under new and inexperienced ownership.

Deron Williams reached a point where he was beginning to trump everything in the organization and that shift in priorities was exhibited in the immediate aftermath of Sloan’s resignation. Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune reported the Jazz still hoped to retain Deron following Sloan’s departure, calling Corbin “a likeable players’ coach who key personnel within the organization believe can not only reach Williams but convince him that a new era in Jazz basketball has arrived. And with that, the hope: Williams will remain with Utah after the 2011-12 campaign.”

After an 0-3 start under Corbin and Deron’s “networking” during the all-star break, Williams was a New Jersey Net by February 23rd.

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Less than two weeks before Jerry and Phil Johnson submitted their resignations, Johnson did a sit-down interview with KSL where he sounded like anything but a man anticipating his longtime friend and colleague was ready to step down. Phil made the following comments on January 28, 2011:
I think [Jerry’s] at his best at this time. He is at his best at these stages where you’re struggling and the team’s not sure. I think he shows tremendous patience and doesn’t do a lot of yelling and screaming like a lot of people think, he’s very trusting and tries to develop confidence rather than criticizing.”

Johnson also offered this tidbit when asked about the longevity he and Sloan enjoyed with the Jazz, giving credit to ownership for understanding the importance of supporting their coaches:
Larry Miller, although he was very demanding, he understood what was going on as far as coaching is concerned.

Another myth surrounding Phil Johnson’s resignation was that Phil left because he had always said he would go out with Jerry. That was false, as Phil made clear in an interview with KSL’s Rod Zundel directly following the February 10th press conference.
Zundel: “You always said that when Jerry goes, you’re leaving as well…”
Johnson: I haven’t always said that, earlier in our careers Larry Miller told me at one time ‘You have the job if you want it’ and so that’s been there forever, since Larry was here…he always told me that personally.”

Finally, when asked by Zundel what he would say on the reports that Deron Williams forced Jerry out, the words Phil didn’t say said more than the ones he did in his response:

“I just say let it play out and not worry about all that stuff, it was time for us to leave and we left.”

It has played out.
The Nets have gone through two coaches and are seeking a third in their 2 1/2 seasons since acquiring Deron Williams. Greg Miller’s story has changed from Deron having nothing to do with Sloan’s departure – to a halftime conflict which precipitated Jerry’s resignation. If the story emanating from the Jazz has changed to the point it now partially supports the initial reports the organization tried so hard to refute, what’s to say the truth doesn’t lie entirely in the story that management’s refusal to discipline Deron Williams evoked Jerry Sloan’s resignation?

I’m not sure we’ll ever learn exactly what happened between Jerry Sloan, Deron Williams, Kevin O’Connor and Greg Miller in February of 2011, but it’s as obvious as a 42’x24′ jumbotron that many more elements factored into it than simply one man’s solitude choice to retire.

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Footnote: I’ll close with this video (courtesy of jazzfanatical) from a 113-106 Utah win in Denver – just 5 nights before Jerry would decide to step down. During the confrontation, take note of how worn down, tired and uninvolved Jerry appears* to be. (*He showed more emotion and in-game involvement during that skirmish than Utah’s current head coach has exhibited in over 2 years)

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Jerry Sloan vs Rasheed Wallace 1999

“A technical foul has been charged to coach Jerry Sloan.

Longtime Utah Jazz public-address announcer Dan Roberts has uttered that exact phrase dozens if not hundreds of times.

Jerry Sloan technical fouls

In Wednesday’s radio interview, one of the most interesting things Jerry Sloan said when asked to reflect on the past two years (since friction with Deron Williams led to his departure as Jazz head coach) was that he regretted he wasn’t able to maintain better relations with the officials.

Here is a portion of Jerry’s transcript from the great @monilogue:

Jazzfanatical - Jerry Sloan Transcript 6/19/13

As a player Jerry Sloan was one of the fiercest competitors to ever play the game and that fire carried over into his hall-of-fame coaching career. His competitiveness translated not only into motivating and willing his players to perform to their fullest potential, but also into fighting for every call he thought his team deserved.

When Jerry felt his team wasn’t receiving fair treatment from the officials, he let them know about it the best way he knew how: directly and with blunt honesty. He did so loudly and often with strong language, but most importantly he did so with the underlying message that he was willing to fight tooth and nail to help his team win.

As a result, Sloan was often ranked among the league leaders in technical fouls assessed to coaches.

That begs the question: How many technical fouls were assessed to Jerry Sloan over the course of his career?

I keep detailed Jazz logs which include technical foul tallies – but my records don’t go back anywhere close to when Jerry first became head coach of the Jazz in 1988. Therefore using the 2008 Guiness Book of World Records – it was stated that as of March 15, 2007 Jerry Sloan had accumulated 413 technical fouls as both a player and a coach. Adding in technical fouls accumulated since provides a bare-minimum number of T’s Sloan has been assessed since entering the NBA over 40 years ago.

Jerry Sloan – NBA Technical Foul Totals
  Season Regular Season Postseason Total
Pre-3/15/07 413
2006-07 (post-3/15) 1 2 3
2007-08 6 2 8
2008-09 12 3 15
2009-10 4 1 5
2010-11 2 2
Total 446

Assuming the 413-figure includes postseason numbers – Jerry Sloan finished his NBA career amassing a total of at least 446 technical fouls. The actual total is likely higher considering Sloan played five seasons before the NBA began officially recording technical fouls as statistics in 1970.

Regardless, 446 is an extordinary number. By comparison, Rasheed Wallace (who holds the NBA single-season technical foul record of 41 set in 2000-01 – which broke his own record of 38 he had set the previous season) was T’d up a total of 373 times (including playoffs) in his NBA career which may (or may not) be over.

Oh and when those two technical foul wizards crossed paths – all kinds of good stuff happened:

Jerry’s willingness to go after Rasheed Wallace always harkens back to an old Frank Layden quote that Michael C. Lewis shared in his outstanding must-read book “To The Brink” in which Layden said of Sloan: “Nobody fights with Jerry because you know the price would be too high. You might come out the winner, at his age. You might even lick him. But you’d lose an eye, an arm, your testicles in the process. Everything would be gone.”

While Sloan definitely had his own distinct manner in dealing with the refs, it’s important to remember how the league has cracked down on the verbal abuse of their officials in recent years. The leeway that Sloan and other hot-tempered coaches such as Don Nelson once had to work over officiating crews no longer exists in the current NBA. Coaches were forced to relatively “adjust” aspects of their sideline presence as the years went on and Sloan adapted with it.

For example, during the 1999-00 regular season Sloan was called for 24 technical fouls and ejected 6 times. That carried over into Utah’s 9-game postseason where he was called for 4 more technicals and 1 more ejection. By comparison, from the 2007-08 season until the end of his coaching career in 2011 – Sloan was called for a combined total of 24 regular season technicals and 4 ejections. He still maintained his fire and knew when to pick his spots but overall he had calmed down a great deal compared to the Stockton&Malone era when he would pick up technical fouls as if they were candy antique tractors.

While it’s highly possible Jerry Sloan will never coach again in the NBA, I’ll always remember him not only for the great teams he put out on the floor and the toughness and teamwork they displayed – but for his sheer fire and competitive spirit that often carried over into his team’s play.

It’s great to have Jerry back in an advisory role with the franchise, but his best and greatest role ever was as a head coach and it’s still very sad he no longer maintains that position. He truly was an outstanding coach and face of the franchise, technical fouls and all.

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Jerry Sloan and Andrei Kirilenko - 2001
Note: This is the first of a series of “Jazz Mythbuster” posts intended to clear up many common misconceptions and false narratives that have been perpetuated by either fans or media regarding the Utah Jazz and their franchise history.

The frustration over Ty Corbin and the Jazz’s refusal to play the “Core-4” significant minutes over the past two seasons has been well documented. Many excuses have been offered in their defense – but none are more blatantly erroneous than “Jerry never played young guys either.” There couldn’t be a more false or inaccurate statement as Jerry Sloan’s 23-seasons in Utah are littered with examples of the Hall-of-Famer entrusting the ability of rookies moreso than their veteran counterparts.

Before delving into specific examples, there are a couple important points to consider.

1.) Not all rookies are created equal.

Successful teams picking at the back-end of the first-round aren’t often bringing in rookies with high ceilings to attain.
Jerry Sloan often was handed mid-to-late 1st-rnd picks with very little NBA ability. Players such as Erick Leckner (17th overall), Luther Wright (18th overall), Quincy Lewis (19th), and Morris Almond (25th overall) simply never possessed the qualities to be a competent NBA player. As head coach of the Utah Jazz, Sloan only had three lottery picks at his disposal for an entire season – one #3 pick and two #14 picks. Between 2010 and 2011 the Jazz selected two #3 picks, a #9 pick and a #12 pick.

2.) Not all rosters are created equal.

A coach with two future hall-of-famers competing for an NBA title does not have the same luxury to allow young players to grow and learn through their mistakes – and that is common with virtually all championship-caliber coaches. Phil Jackson didn’t go out of his way to give 1st-rnd pick Rusty LaRue developmental time in 1998. Greg Popovich played 1st-rnd pick Ian Mahinmi played a total of 188 minutes in his first two seasons in the league. It’s not like Sloan could’ve easily sacrificed the home-court advantage Utah attained throughout the 1998 Playoffs by giving Jacque Vaughn extra minutes in place of John Stockton.
When a team is established as a top-8 team in the league – it has a different set of priorities regarding the future of the franchise as opposed to – let’s say a .500 team that fails to qualify for the playoffs.

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Deron Williams (3rd overall) was the only top-10 Jazz draft pick Jerry was able to coach for a full season (the next highest draft picks were #14 – Kris Humphries and Ronnie Brewer). Much has been made over Deron not playing enough as a rookie, with Sloan himself admitting in 2007I probably screwed him up a little bit“). It should also be pointed out however, that Deron significantly struggled in the first-half of his rookie season (he became a full-time starter after the All-Star break) to the point not giving him the starting position also made quite a bit of sense.

Deron Williams Rookie Season
2005-06 Pts Ast FG% FT% 3pt% Min
Pre All-Star Break 9.3 3.9 38.4% 72.3% 34.7% 26.4
Post All-Star Break 12.4 5.2 47.2% 87.8% 53.7% 30.8

With shooting percentages mirroring those of Keith McLeod – Deron hardly gave Sloan much reason to name him a starter any earlier than he did. Nevertheless, for the season Deron still finished with 47 starts and averaged 28.8 mpg. In his second season Deron averaged 36.9 mpg starting all 80 games he played; and in his third season he made 82 starts averaging 37.3 mpg. Comparing only Deron’s rookie season numbers to those of Utah’s two current #3-overall picks shows how the “limited” opportunity Deron received as a rookie still blows away the opportunities Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have received through three seasons.

Player –   Season Starts/Games Start% Min
Williams – 2005-06 47/80 58.8% 28.8
Favors – 2010-11 4/22 18.2% 20.2
Favors – 2011-12 9/65 13.8% 21.2
Favors – 2012-13 8/77 10.4% 23.2
Kanter – 2011-12 0/66 0.0% 13.2
Kanter – 2012-13 2/70 2.9% 15.4

Yes, Deron made more starts during his “He should have played more” rookie season than Kanter and Favors have made combined in their first two and three seasons with the Jazz. What makes these splits unforgiveable is that their development wasn’t even sacrificed in the interest of significant team success (i.e. contending for a championship) with Utah earning merely an 8th-seed and subsequent first-round sweep in 2011-12 and failing to qualify for the playoffs in 2012-13.

Those two seasons of mediocrity squash any notion that limiting Utah’s young players in favor of veterans who theoretically gave the team a better opportunity to win was a wise decision. Given the success Utah has seen when the Core-4 has been given increased roles – it also flies in the face of Jerry Sloan’s coaching philosophy in which he consistently played whoever he felt gave him the best chance to compete regardless of age or size or experience.

In Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals – Sloan opted to play rookie 2nd-round draft pick Shandon Anderson throughout the 4th-quarter of a tight game which was eventually tied at 86 with less than 30-seconds remaining. Not only did Anderson secure a spot in the rotation as a rookie – his role only increased over his next two seasons with Utah and he often found himself out on the floor in crunchtime of crucial playoff games.

In 1999, Jerry Sloan gave rookie Scott Padgett (28th-overall) a golden opportunity – naming him a starter in only the 4th game of the season. Despite making 9 consecutive starts, Padgett struggled mightily in those contests – averaging only 4.2 points and shooting just 32% from the field. That same season, Sloan gave fellow rookie Quincy Lewis (19th overall) every opportunity to replace the departed Shandon Anderson as Utah’s primary off-the-bench scorer but Lewis shot just 37% and struggled so badly defensively that by the end of the season Sloan was playing 6-1 point guard Jacque Vaughn at SG in relief of Jeff Hornacek.

Utah opened the 2001-02 season with a veteran-laden roster coming off a 53-win season. On opening night, Sloan had 28-year old Donyell Marshall (in a contract year) starting at SF, 28-year old Greg Ostertag starting at center, 31-year old John Amaechi (the team’s marquee free agent signing) as the first big off the bench and 36-year old John Starks (final year of contract) as the first wing off the bench.
By the end of the season, Sloan had benched the oft-injured and inconsistent Marshall in favor of starting 20-year old rookie Andrei Kirilenko (40 starts and over 2100 minutes played). He also gave 20-year old DeShawn Stevenson a chance midseason with 23-starts at shooting guard. Searching for a spark, he opted to leave John Starks off the playoff roster (in those days you set a 12-man playoff roster and only those 12 players were eligible to play in the postseason) in favor of Quincy Lewis who had spent much of the season in the Developmental League after starting opening night and repeating his struggles. Frustrated with the lethargic play of his veteran centers, Sloan also opted to start rookie 2nd-round pick Jarron Collins at center for the final 68 games. Utah opened the playoffs with two rookies in their starting lineup and put a serious scare into the Sacramento Kings – the league’s best team.

The makeup of the 2003-04 team is well-documented but it should be noted that Sloan played a slew of young players (including four rookies in Sasha Pavlovic – 14 starts, Curtis Borchardt  -16 games before breaking wrist, Raul Lopez -11 starts and 20 mpg, and 30-year old undrafted rookie Ben Handlogten -backup PF before tearing ACL) ahead of the few veterans the team possessed in Keon Clark and Michael Ruffin.

-In 2006-07 Utah finished the season with PG Derek Fisher as their starting 2-guard but only after Sloan gave 19-year old C.J. Miles the opportunity to start the first 12 games of the season. Despite some overall team success, Miles struggled defensively and offensive averaged just 4.2 points in those starts. The next man into the lineup was Ronnie Brewer (14 starts at SG as well as SF filling in for an injured Kirilenko) who showed flashes but struggled with his perimeter shot. Only after giving Gordan Giricek another chance did Sloan resort to Fisher. The young player who made the biggest impact however was 21-year old rookie Paul Millsap – who played in all 82 games, averaging 18 minutes filling in at both PF and even some at SF early in the season when Kirilenko was injured.

From 2006-2010 the Jazz were competing among the top teams in the West, so setting aside developmental time for rookies became difficult but one of the most promising rookies in that group was Eric Maynor – whom Sloan played at both backup PG as well as some SG alongside Deron Williams before management traded him to Oklahoma City midseason in a salary dump.

-In 2009 injuries allowed undrafted Wesley Matthews to find a spot on the roster, and Sloan opted to start the rookie by the 9th game of the season in place of 28-year old Andrei Kirilenko and his $16.5 million salary. Even when veterans Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles returned from their respective wrist and hand injuries, Sloan kept Matthews in the rotation to the point either Korver or Miles was squeezed out of the 5-man logjam on the wing. Following the trade deadline deal of soon-to-be free agent Ronnie Brewer, Sloan inserted the rookie back into the starting lineup for the final 38 games of the regular season as well as all 10 postseason games and Matthews responded with numbers of 11.0 pts on 50%FG/90%Ft/41%3pt following the trade.

Kyrylo Fesenko was one young player who many fans clamored to play more due to his likeability as well as eye-popping analytics (Utah’s defensive metrics were significantly better with him on the floor) A 7-foot-1, 300-pound teddy bear , Utah’s 2007 2nd-round pick rarely saw significant playing time barring injury to Mehmet Okur but played reasonably well in the 2010 first-round playoff series against Denver (3.8 pts/3.2 reb/57% FG) before coming back down to earth in the 2nd-round series versus the Lakers (2.5pts/5.0reb/31% FG).

Fesenko opened the 2010-11 season as Utah’s backup center and had some nice moments but still fouled a ton (for his Jazz career Fesenko averaged 7.3 fouls per 36 minutes) and also missed multiple games do to ailments ranging from “ankle” to “sinus infection” to “gastric distress.” During his Jazz tenure Sloan had always harped on Fes’ lack of maturity – particularly his “jackpotting,” and Fes gradually lost minutes to Franciso Elson.
Nevertheless on February 7, 2011 Sloan played Fesenko  heavy minutes in the second-half and Fes responded by scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in a comeback win in Sacramento. Following the game, point guard Deron Williams took a public shot at Sloan’s decision-making saying “Fes, given the minutes, he always performs…He might make a few boneheaded plays a game, but who doesn’t? Coach has got to realize that and let him roll with it.” Jerry Sloan would choose to resign two nights later.

Fes would sign with the Pacers for the last part of the 2011-12 season but saw a total of just 17 minutes in only 3 games. Indiana opted not to re-sign him and he joined the Chicago Bulls’ for training camp in 2012 but was waived just 12 days later. Perhaps Jerry Sloan was wrong in his evaluation of Fesenko’s defensive potential – but Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers found no use for him and neither did Tom Thibbedeau’s Chicago Bulls. Two of the league’s best defensive coaches gave Fesenko far less of a chance than Sloan did. In hindsight, it’s again hard to argue Fes should have played more in Utah.

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Jerry Sloan certainly wasn’t immune to making errors or mistakes – but one thing that is certain is that he didn’t shy away from playing talented players just because they lacked experience.

I’m critical of Ty Corbin but I judge him on being a quality NBA head coach – not on being Jerry Sloan. It’s completely unfair to compare Ty Corbin to a Hall-of-Famer, but it’s equally ridiculous and absurd to compare Ty’s decision-making and rotations to Jerry Sloan’s.

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Vogel and Hibbert

Everyone loves to blame the coach. Sometimes the blame is justified, sometimes it isn’t. Nevertheless, when things don’t go well in sports the head coach is often the first and easiest target.

With that said, there’s nothing I respect more than hearing a high-profile head coach admit they were wrong. With today’s 24/7 news cycle and a media ready to pounce on every word, to admit to a game-changing mistake takes confidence, honesty, and as Bill Raftery would phrase it: “onions.”

I was further impressed by Indiana’s 39-year old head coach Frank Vogel as his Pacers played the NBA’s best team down to the wire for the second consecutive game, still less than 48 hours after Vogel’s highly questionable decision to bench Roy Hibbert late in Game 1. During the telecast, TNT’s crew mentioned that one of the first thing’s Vogel did in the lockerroom after Game 1 was tell the team he made a mistake not having Hibbert on the floor. Vogel echoed these sentiments in public to the media where he said “I would say we’ll probably have [Hibbert] in next time.”

That explained much of how Vogel (who at the age of 37 took over the Pacers with 38 games to go in the 2010-11 season and then coached them to a 42-24 record with no training camp in 2011-12) has quickly earned the respect, trust and loyalty of his collection of blue-collar, no-nonsense players. It’s also shows why the player who had the most reason to feel bitter – Roy Hibbert – tweeted this after Game 1:

Hibbert Tweet

A lot of times young coaches who aren’t confident in their ability (or job security) will defend decisions that didn’t work out by blaming it on their players’ execution. Even though nobody would’ve questioned Vogel’s choice had Paul George not played soft defense in allowing LeBron to catch the ball 17-feet from the basket and then convert one of the easiest layups he’s ever had – Vogel (rightly so) didn’t blame his 3rd-year pro. He explained his thought-process during the timeout while admitting next time he would do things differently.

In Game 2 he did. His team played their tails off and in the final minute his adjustments (not switching LeBron/PG screen-roll like they did in Game 1 and primarily leaving Hibbert in the game) resulted in two James’ turnovers in the final minute.

Vogel’s willingness to take the blame reminded me of Jerry Sloan’s post-game press conference following Utah’s Game 6 and series win over Denver in 2010. There was a situation late in the 1st-half when Paul Millsap was cut, and amidst the confusion Jerry puzzingly substituted both Millsap and Kyle Korver (replacing Korver with D-League call-up Othyus Jeffers). The confusion backfired when Utah missed a technical free throw on the ensuing possession with Korver (Utah’s best FT shooter) on the bench. Jerry immediately sent Korver back into the game at the next whistle.

Following the 112-104 win, Jerry closed his press conference by praising his team before bringing up his own mistake without any prompting:
“…We had a lot of guys play well…I just about screwed us up with the substitution that I did. I’m glad we won the game, but I kinda got screwed up there when Paul got hurt and had blood on him and instead of making one mistake I turned around and made two in a row…so that was a mistake on my part. That won’t be the last one either. Anybody else? Thank you.”

Sloan’s post-game display of humility was not an isolated incident.

The late Larry H. Miller, Utah’s beloved owner for nearly 24 years, said in a 2007 radio interview that Jerry regularly accepted responsibility for his mistakes to his players in the locker room.

Play Button

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Just as the Utah Jazz competed hard every night for Jerry Sloan regardless of the odds – the Indiana Pacers have fully bought into Vogel’s sell-job that they are good enough to beat a team that had won 46 of their last 49 games prior to Game 2.

In March Madness you’ll see a Cinderella team make a push and have their confidence snowball, but in the NBA the best teams win in a best-of-7 series. The Pacers are huge underdogs to the Heat, yet it’s obvious they have no fear and every single player on the court believes they are the better team. That attitude and mindset starts at the top.

This whole team is showing great desire and great heart and great belief,” Vogel said after their Game 2 victory. “They believe we can win the series.”

They also believe in their head coach, because he’s given them reason to.

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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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