In this corner…

Jerry Sloan was always the tough guy coach. He screamed and he scowled and he roamed the sideline with that stone-carved face only stopping occasionally to fall into that slightly hunched-over, hands-on-in-his-hips stance so he could glare more threateningly at Ostertag after another thoughtless foul. He was also an institution. I could never tell whether or not it was a cop-out, but the compliment everyone kept pounding about Sloan in the post-retirement reverie was his “consistency.” Same team, same system, 21 seasons, 15 consecutive playoff appearances. Consistency. Every game night, when you turned on KJZZ or when you made your way from Crown Burger to the stadium, you knew Sloan was going to be working those refs and making those clockwork substitutions. In fact, he was so intimidating and he was such an institution, that to my seven-year-old self, the most persuasive argument against growing up to play for the Jazz was that Sloan might still be there, screaming, scowling, glaring my once-soaring  basketball confidence into oblivion.

So yeah, he was tough and he was always there. But his very toughness and consistency (and I would use “hard-nosed” here too, but in reference to Sloan, that word has to have achieved Bob Ryan level cliche-hood in the year since his retirement) combined to cover me in a blanket of well-worn security. I can’t say whether I liked it or not, but that security was always there. I never felt like we’d be down and out for too long. Even during the early post-Stockton/Malone years, I still maintained some degree of hope for any Jerry Sloan-led Jazz teams. I looked at organizations like the Clippers and the Bobcats and thought to myself, “hey, at least the Jazz will never be that bad for that long.” And maybe I should have attributed that to a savvy front office, but I never saw those savvy executives. They didn’t have a face for me. They didn’t play. They didn’t chew out C.J. Miles for his indefensible shot selection. And they certainly didn’t do anything like this:

The greatest part about this clip is that it shows the aspect of Jerry Sloan that I respected the most: out of everyone on the court, Sloan cared the most. You never doubted how much he cared. After Rasheed’s cheap shot, a demure Thurl Bailey, the victim in the situation, steps aside while Sloan has to be held back by his own players. Held back by THE PLAYERS. The guys actually playing the game were less enraged at the episode than their coach. Which is why this matters. Because Jerry Sloan needed some of his own players to stop him from taking on one of the baddest, meanest NBA players we’ve see in the last 15 years, and if he thought about it at all, I’m sure he thought he could win.

Those years are over though. Sloan is gone, Deron Williams is gone, and the Jazz of our current reality, with a rookie coach and a slew of either unproven or unreliable and flawed players, must play on. And all the better. Sloan is gone and though certain aspects of the identity that he established cannot be shaken (namely execution and overachievement), we also get to enjoy the absence of other, more odious facets of his coaching philosophy. But more importantly, we get to enjoy becoming something new. We now have the opportunity to witness the Jazz find an altogether new identity, free of Sloan, free of D-Will, and free of an established system. That’s worth watching, cheering for, and analyzing. This Jazz team can be a lot of different things, and maybe, one of those things will be tough. Maybe, by channeling some of that Jerry Sloan fire, this team will jump up off the bench, eyes blazing and expletives flying, to land a few on the Rasheed Wallaces of this league.

Except this time, there won’t be anyone there to hold them back.

  1. David Stern selfless? Maybe if he didn’t make 28 mil a year. And the Duke Blue Devils? You might as well root for the Lakers Mr. Small town.

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