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  Thu, March 18, 2004


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Sloan has staying power

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

The Raptors have had five head coaches in nine seasons. The Utah Jazz has had one head coach in 16 seasons.

That may be an indictment of the Raptors' taste in bench bosses, and there will be more fuel for the fire if Kevin O'Neill lasts only one season. But the fact is, the Raptors are closer to the NBA norm in this regard than the Jazz.

Maybe you have to luck into a guy like Jerry Sloan, the crusty coach of the Jazz who is being appreciated around the league more than ever this season. But even if luck is a factor, the Jazz has taken maximum advantage.

"I tell our players: 'I'm going to be here and you may not,' " Sloan said. "I don't mean that in a cocky manner. It's just the way our owner (Larry Miller) has presented it.

"That's just the luck of the draw. I realize how lucky I've been. I'm sure there are 100 good coaches better than I am who could do the same thing if they had the opportunity."

A hundred coaches better than Jerry Sloan? That's really pushing it, Utah's agonizing 85-81 loss to the Raptors last night notwithstanding.

For a decade and a half Sloan, who was known for his grit and defence in his NBA playing days, coached a Utah club led by Karl Malone and John Stockton. While everyone knew Sloan was a smart guy, understandably Malone and Stockton got most of the credit. But this season, with Malone playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and Stockton retired, Sloan again is a strong candidate for his first NBA coach-of-the-year award.

Not that Sloan, who will turn 62 later this month, would admit to giving a damn about such recognition. He puts his head down and keeps coaching, despite his talent-challenged roster, despite the pre-season pundits who picked the Jazz to win as few as nine games, and despite the serious health issues facing his wife Bobbye, who is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Incredibly, the Jazz is 34-34 and is locked in a tight three-team race with the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers for the final playoff spot in the West. The Jazz has made the post-season 20 years in a row and, if it makes it to 21, Sloan will deserve a 21-gun salute.

"It's just basketball, it's not anything drastic," said a shrugging Sloan when asked what his secret is. "There's not that great a difference from top to bottom (in the NBA). It's attitude, approach. Everybody has talent. But talent will get you fired. I coached talent and got fired in Chicago (in the early '80s). The street's full of guys who are talented but have a difficult time winning. And I'm only interested in one thing, winning. I'm not interested in making a guy an all-star.

"I've just coached from day to day, that's all I've ever done."

Fair enough, but Sloan coaches with a bluntness that always gets his players' attention, even while annoying them. And given his job security -- he will coach the Jazz until the moment he wants to quit -- the players can't just sulk and pout and ignore him and try to get him fired.

"I'm not intimidated by anybody in this business, player-wise," Sloan said. "These guys make a lot of money and sometimes we think we shouldn't say anything to them. It really doesn't bother me.

HAS TO BE HONEST

"There's not a lack of people telling them how great they are. They go home, their wife or girlfriend or father or mother or agent tells them they're great. I just have to be honest with them. That's the most important thing."

Actually, the most important thing might be Sloan's palpable integrity. You never get the impression he's telling you something for impact or effect. He is who he is.

"It's just like having a kid," Sloan said of coaching in the NBA. "These guys aren't kids, but they see through your bull---- right away. It's pretty easy to see if you're trying to con them. They figure those things out."

Jerry Sloan has a lot of things figured out, too. And luck has nothing to do with it.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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