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Tip-Off Timer: Jerry Sloan Enters Year No. 22 With Jazz

Oct 5, 2009 – 9:00 AM
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Tom Ziller

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Tip-Off Timer counts down the days until the first game of the 2009-10 season. On Monday, there are 22 days remaining.

No league's unofficial averaging coaching tenure is as short as that of the NBA. While NFL and MLB coaches last roughly three years on average, the approximate NBA tenure is at two seasons. The longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, Lawrence Frank of New Jersey, has only been around five years. Only two NBA coaches have been with their current teams the entire decade; one of those particularly stands out as a symbol of stability amid chaos.

That'd be Jerry Sloan, the wondrous Jazz staple who, despite now entering his 22nd year at the helm of Utah, despite going to the NBA FInals twice, despite making the playoffs in all but three seasons of his tenure, despite being the only coach to register 1,000 wins with one team, despite being named to the Basketball Hall of Fame on the strength of his coaching, Sloan has never won a Coach of the Year award.

You figure that's just fine by him, though.

Sloan has never been mistaken for pleasant, at least on the court. His face is permanently sculpted into a scowl, and his attitude deviates little. His teams do two things: run the pick-and-roll, and foul your butt. Hard. The fact that he for so long had John Stockton and Karl Malone surely helps that motif carry on, but it's valid all the same today.

Despite that relative predictability, the Jazz always manage to seem fresh, though that might be owed as much to the continued quality of personnel decisions in SLC. It might have seemed like doom to see a young Andrei Kirilenko "trapped" in the controlled Sloan environment, but the ol' coach actually let AK-47 bloom, and Kirilenko became a cult favorite quickly. That's a view into the secret of why Sloan has been near the top of the game for so long: he's not opposed to evolution, he just makes it seem that way. He keeps his old school cred while letting the athletic freaks fly.

Sloan is winding down -- there are more and more doubts about his return every spring. Sloan's wife of 41 years, Bobbye, died in 2004. He quietly remarried in 2006, but the death of Jazz owner Larry Miller last winter clearly affected Sloan, and the conventional wisdom is that the coach has a few more runs at that elusive championship before walking away. It'll be an uphill battle. But keeping an NBA job for 22 years is pretty darn steep itself.
Filed under: Sports