JERRY SLOAN IS not an easy guy to overlook. He's got serious Presence. He's what you would call a strong personality, and 6-foot-5 to boot. He could weld steel with his glare. On the highly scientific 10-point Intimidation Scale, he ranks, oh, about a 13 - when he's not even trying. Shaquille O'Neal, to put things in perspective, is an 8.
The point is, you have to TRY to overlook Sloan, but some people manage anyway. The entire NBA, it seems. Every year, when it comes to the Coach of the Year campaign, Sloan is forgotten. Overlooked.Sloan just led the Over-the-Hill Gang to its best season ever, but has anyone noticed? Has anyone mentioned him for Coach of the Year?
In this, the Jazz's wonder year, the Karl Malone MVP campaign has gathered widespread attention and support. But what about Sloan as Coach of the Year? He's forgotten even in his own town.
All he's done is lead the Jazz - supposedly the Geezer Club on the verge of collapse - to their best season ever. The Jazz were on their last legs, remember? They were supposed to finish second or third this year - in their division. Instead, they finished first in the Western Conference and produced the best record in the NBA by a team not residing in Chicago.
The Jazz, who will meet the L.A. Clippers tonight in Game 2 of the playoffs, became only the 11th team in history to win 64 or more games in a season.
If cumulative credentials are ever considered for the award - and certainly Malone's campaign contains a measure of that - consider this: Sloan has led the Jazz to the playoffs nine consecutive years, winning 50 games or more in eight of them. He has endured with the same team longer than any coach in the NBA, and, for that matter, any coach in professional sports.
But Coach of the Year? He's never gotten a sniff. Never come close.
"What's wrong with this picture?" says Jazz president Frank Layden, a former Coach of the Year. "I've said it all along. He deserves to get the award. But I don't think he will."
Oh, sure, Sloan does the small things, such as win games, but he's never written a book, never done the speaker's circuit, never modeled clothes on the cover of GQ, never made anybody's best-dressed list, never appeared on MTV, never slicked his hair, never courted a following, never did a movie.
He's never charmed the media with his wit and charm. What, are you kidding? Sloan is Clint Eastwood to Pat Riley's Pierce Brosnan. He is all business, no-nonsense. In terms of style, he comes off more street fighter than CEO. Quotable? No way, just a steady diet of "We didn't execute," "You've got to give 'em credit."
He never promotes himself. If the Jazz win, he tells you what the team did to win, but not what role he played in it. If they lose, he takes the blame and says "we didn't prepare for them well enough."
How you going to win a coaching award if you're always taking the high road and refusing to draw attention to yourself?
"To some extent, you have to be willing to promote yourself," says Dave Allred, the Jazz's vice president of public relations. "He never has been and never will be. He doesn't care and never will."
He turns down opportunities for self-promotion, rarely doing speaking engagements or talk shows. He'd rather plow the north 40 or take his mid-day nap. If he has an ego, no one's ever discovered it. Some coaches have to pack two bags for road trips to carry both their egos and Armanis along (neither one will fit in the overhead compartment). You could fit Sloan's ego in a wallet.
Otherwise, there really is nothing extraordinary about Sloan except his work ethic. He's as ordinary as that bowl of chicken soup he has every day for lunch.
"He's the average guy who goes to work every day, does his job and doesn't get much credit," says Allred. "He's the majority of the people out there who go about their business every day. He works hard. I'd like my kids to be like him - well, maybe lighten up a bit."
Some observers believe Sloan is ignored by voters because the Jazz have good players and expectations are so high for the team. Never mind that Phil Jackson won the award with guys named Jordan and Pippen at his disposal.
"Vince Lombardi was once asked what a good coach was," Layden says, "and he said, `One who wins when he has good players.' No one can make bad players play well, and there are a lot of guys who screw up good players."
Voters tend to prefer coaches who have led their teams back from poor seasons - see Danny Ainge, Flip Saunders, Riley - but under Sloan the Jazz have never faltered badly enough that there was anything to come back from. Sloan and Scott Layden, the front-office whiz, have continually improved the Jazz and kept them on top despite never having a lottery draft pick.
But all this is forgotten. The Jazz have been winning so long that it's expected, and who cares who's on the bench. The coach just comes with the franchise, like the arena and the office furniture. Which is fine with Sloan.