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Sloan looking for his team to fight back

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan gives referee Tommy Nunez Jr. an earful.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan gives referee Tommy Nunez Jr. an earful.
Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

PHOENIX — He would rather be winning, and prefers that was all rosy.

But it's not right now for the 4-5 Jazz, and coach Jerry Sloan can deal with that fact.

"If everything's going good all the time, I don't know how exciting that is," Sloan said. "I like to see guys have a little problem, and see how they fight back."

This, then, he's got to be lovin': His Jazz have dropped three straight heading into tonight's visit with Phoenix.

Five would-be rotation regulars — all potential starters on any given night, including Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring and Carlos Boozer — missed the last game due to injury or illness.

The most-recent loss was by 36 on Tuesday in Sacramento, and before that, against New York on Monday, they scored just 62, incurring team owner Larry H. Miller's verbal wrath.

How much more adversity must one club overcome?

In the big picture, though, this pales.

Sloan knows.

It's why he constantly sits on the edge of his seat, cognizant always of the reality that in his chosen profession coaches are hired one day to some day be fired, clinging — "without a doubt," he said this week — to that notion even while working his 18th season as head coach of the Jazz.

He can't help it.

"I mean, I've had so many things happen in this business that I have no other way to look at it. My wife got sick, and I knew that was a day-to-day thing. She passed away . . . I've been fired," said Sloan, just 17 months removed from the cancer-caused loss of his beloved Bobbye. "I know all that stuff. If you don't understand that, I don't know how you deal with it every day."

Sloan was canned just once — in Chicago, by the team for which he played most of his NBA career.

To this day, he considers the experience merely one of life's little lessons. When it happened, he gathered his family and talked to the children, holding back nothing.

"I wanted my (three) kids to learn at an early age that there are some problems out here," he said. "What are you gonna do when you're on your own? Holler, 'Mom, Dad, come help me out of a problem'? Well, that's too bad. I won't do that.

"That's part of growing up. It's the same way in our business. Part of it is growing up, and taking responsibility, and (being) held accountable."

Sloan wants his Jazz players — many of them young, one just 18, four in their first NBA season and one in just his second — to be just that: accountable.

He wants them to try to figure out for themselves how to get out of a pickle, just like when one of his two daughters had to do the same back when she was in college and about the same age C.J. Miles, Robert Whaley, Deron Williams and Kris Humphries are — all just 22 or younger.

"My daughter had a wreck one time," Sloan said. "She came to the house and had her car parked in the driveway, crying.

"I said, 'Well, you better drive your car back over there where you had a wreck and check with the insurance company and see if you can get it fixed. I don't have time to get it fixed.'

"Those are things they have to learn. Just like when I got fired. I sat them down and said, 'Hey, this may happen to you. What are you gonna do about it?' . . . I thought it was important that my kids try to understand that, rather than say, 'Oh, I got mistreated.' "

When Miller walks from his courtside seat, joins the Jazz huddle and dresses down the entire team within earshot of some fans and full view of most — just like he did between the third and fourth quarters of Monday's loss to the Knicks — Sloan does not feel mistreated.

Same for when Miller sits in the Jazz's Delta Center locker room, be it pre-game, halftime, post-game or all three.

To the contrary, he understands.

"It's not second-hand. He doesn't hear it in the newspaper," Sloan said of Miller's knowledge of whatever issues the Jazz coaching staff may be facing. "If I have a problem with a player, he sees it. If he has a problem with me, he tells me. That's easy for me to deal with."

Miller had something to say Monday, so he said it. So be it, Sloan suggests. He'd much rather have it that way than the alternative, which nonetheless is a fear he lives with daily.

"I've always been insecure when it comes to that," he said of the possibility of getting fired.

Miller, though, has long chosen not to take the easy way out that so many NBA franchise owners have over the years.

As a result, Sloan said, it makes the job of coaching the Jazz so much easier.

"As soon as there are problems going on, players know that," Sloan said. "They jump right onto it: 'We're not going to go play hard; we'll wait for the other guy to get here.'

"But once a player knows the coach is gonna be there, all of a sudden things change. Because what are they gonna do? They know they can't get their coach fired . . . They're gonna be held accountable."

Just like a teen who has a wreck, and can't see clearly enough through the tears to figure out what to do.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com