Jerry Sloan caught the basketball world off guard Thursday when he abruptly resigned after 23 years as head coach of the Utah Jazz.
Just days after signing a contract extension, the NBA’s longest-tenured coach had a change of heart and decided to call it quits. Rumors quickly surfaced that Sloan’s departure was due to a clash with Jazz star Deron Williams and that he could no longer stomach the rift between him and his best player.
But Sloan, 68, shot down the speculation in his farewell press conference, electing to take the high road on his way out of Salt Lake City.
"I had a feeling this time was the time to move on," an emotional Sloan said. "(That's) a long time to be in one organization. Again, I've been blessed. Today is a new day. When I get this over with, I'll feel better. My time is up and it's time to move on."
The Hall of Fame coach won 1,127 games and reached the NBA Finals twice with the Jazz, but somehow never won Coach of the Year. He served as the NBA’s model of consistency. During his 23 seasons in Utah, there were 245 coaching changes in the NBA (the Los Angeles Clippers alone changed coaches 13 times). Sloan ranks third all-time in career victories behind Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens and will forever be remembered for his consistent approach and dedication to winning.
But all good things must come to an end, which is why Sloan retired Thursday, also citing a lack of energy and will to push forward. SI.com’s Jack McCallum, who has gotten to know Sloan personally over the years, said he wasn’t shocked to see the legendary coach exit so casually.
“He never changed the way he coached (fundamentally), the way he interacted with the press (straightforward), the way he negotiated his contracts (a series of one-year deals with himself as his agent),” writes McCallum. “Which means that the biggest surprise was not that (Sloan) abruptly announced his retirement after 1,127 wins in 23 years with Utah; it was that he had stayed this long in a league that had changed so much since he played his commando style with the old Chicago Bulls of the 1960s.”
SI.com’s Ian Thomsen reports Sloan made up his mind to retire following the Jazz’s loss to the Bulls on Wednesday. Utah’s front office was unable to talk him out of resigning and for the first time in 23 years the Jazz would have to find a new coach.
“His reasons for leaving are his own,” Thomsen writes. “But there is nothing more for him to prove. The irony, after all these years spent staying the same, is that he leaves us wishing for more.”
Here's what to watch tonight (all times Eastern):
Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks (8 p.m., ESPN): After knocking off the Celtics 92-86 on Thursday, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers continue their seven-game road trip in New York where they look to beat the Knicks for the eighth straight time.
Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz (10:30 p.m., ESPN): In their first game without Sloan, interim coach Ty Corbin and the Jazz host the Suns, who ran past the Warriors 112-88 on Thursday.
By the numbers:
$55.4 million – Amount Tiger Woods reportedly received to promote a Dubai golf course that is yet to be built. The golf course, which is also a real estate venture, is reported to be a $1 billion project.
2,561 – Number of career 3-pointers Celtics guard Ray Allen has made, an NBA record. Allen hit two 3s against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday to pass Reggie Miller for the all-time record.
600 – Career victories for New Jersey Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire, who became the eighth coach in NHL history to reach the plateau on Thursday.