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Utah Jazz: Mr. Consistent — As Jazz evolve and change, Sloan remains Utah’s rock

SHARE Utah Jazz: Mr. Consistent — As Jazz evolve and change, Sloan remains Utah’s rock

They have made it to the NBA Finals under him twice, back in the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton.

They have made it to the NBA postseason under him 17 times, the three-year absence coming only in the immediate post Stockton-and-Malone era.

They had 16 consecutive winning seasons under him, they've had 12 50-win seasons under him and they've won seven division titles under him — including the last two in the Northwest, during what are now the days of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.

Beyond the relative success of his teams and their lunch-bucket work ethic, however, what Jerry Sloan may pride himself on most is the trait of continuity he has etched into the Jazz's DNA.

Season to season, roster turnover is minimal — and has been ever since stars Stockton and Malone played together in Utah for more than a decade-and-a-half.

Only two current Jazz players, veteran point guard Brevin Knight and rookie big man Kosta Koufos, were not with the team last season.

Nine of the Jazz's 15 roster members have never played for another NBA franchise.

And five of the 15 will be starting their fifth season as teammates for that long or longer, a real rarity in a league where expectations are high and patience is as thin as the Wasatch Mountain's air.

"That has been a norm for a lot of teams: If it's not working, let's get rid of everybody," said Knight, who is in 12th NBA season and is with his ninth different team — never staying as many as four full seasons with any one. "Here, one thing they're really good about is staying together, keeping guys together as long as possible."

"He always talks about keeping the same teams intact, and keeping guys together. I think it helps," Williams added. "There's not a lot of teaching to be done. It's just a matter of getting everything crisp, and tightening things defensively. You know, everybody here knows the offense. It hasn't changed in 19 years."

· · · · ·

It did significantly change at least once, actually.

That was after a certain future hall-of-famer retired, prompting the Jazz to switch to a two-guard front because Sloan didn't feel he had a point guard in whom he could entrust the offense.

Enter 2005 No. 3 overall draft pick Williams to pair with two-time NBA All-Star Boozer, however, and Sloan's teams were right back to their bread-and-butter, running the same sets as Stockton and Malone did for years on top of years.

"I've always believed in continuity," said the 66-year-old Sloan, who with tonight's 2008-09 opener against the Denver Nuggets at EnergySolutions Arena officially opens his 21st season as head coach of the Jazz. "Some guys might not like it here today. ... But then they start playing together and it's not so bad, if they start winning. And that's all I've ever looked for.

"Having guys kind of know what you're kind of doing," he added, "gives you a chance."

The kicker, of course, is that the Jazz wouldn't have the continuity they do if it weren't for Sloan's own persistence in the position he has held since being elevated from assistant to succeed Frank Layden on Dec. 9, 1988.

That's before seven of his current players had entered kindergarten — and before one of them, 19-year-old Koufos, had even been born.

"There's a continuity both ways," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, who himself is beginning his 10th season in charge of the team's front office. "And I think that's beneficial."

· · · · ·

It also lends itself to all sorts of longevity-based milestones from one season to another, and this one will be no different.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the Jazz should win their fifth regular-season game — and Sloan will have his 1,000th victory as head coach of the franchise, No. 1,094 overall including a two-and-a-half stint with the Chicago Bulls in the late 1970s and early 19801s.

Only four others — Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson, Pat Riley and Larry Brown — have won more than 1,000 games in their careers, and none have done it with the same team.

Tenured longer with the same franchise than any other coach or manager in America's four major professional sports leagues, Sloan also will be celebrating his 20th anniversary as the Jazz's bench boss when he works a Dec. 9 road game at Minnesota.

None of that, though, seems to mean a thing to him.

Or, if it does, he'd never publicly admit it.

"I didn't come here to do that," Sloan — who has witnessed 211 coaching changes in the NBA since he took over from Layden, including a league-leading 12 by the Denver Nuggets — said of being recognized for lasting as long as he has. "It's not about me. It's always about the players."

Those very same players, though, appear to fully comprehend the significance of Sloan's atypically lengthy reign.

"It's an honor to play for a legendary coach like Jerry," Boozer said. "We say that every year.

"When you mention those milestones," Boozer added, "we're happy to be on the same team he's been on, and for us to get him some more wins."

Williams — an Olympic teammate with Boozer on Team USA's 2008 gold medal-winning club in China, 12 years after Stockton and Malone teamed in Atlanta to win Olympic gold together for a second time — feels similarly.

"What he has done in his career is because of him and the coach he is," Williams said. "I'm definitely happy for him and proud to play for a coach of that caliber and somebody that's going to be in the hall of fame. I'm just lucky I get to learn from a guy like that."

· · · · ·

It wasn't always like that, however.

Williams butted heads with Sloan during his rookie season out of the University of Illinois, a year in which he had to prove his worth to earn not only an eventual starting job but also his coach's full respect.

It didn't take Williams long to do just that, but the times were trying nonetheless as he strode a road that many preceding him have had to navigate as well.

"He doesn't like rookies," Williams said. "That took getting used to for me."

True or not, what is accurate is that Sloan does not like those who do not constantly deliver the ditch-digging attitude he not only expects but demands.

Once Williams — or anyone else — figures that out, more than half the battle of just what it takes to play for Sloan has been won.

"Coach gets on everybody, no matter who they are," Williams said.

"After my rookie year," he added, "I was fine. And I've liked him ever since."

· · · · ·

For Sloan, though, it's never really been about being liked.

"My job is to win," he said.

Also centric to his life's work since he transitioned from NBA player to coach has been pursuing the sometimes elusive, other times quite-gratifying satisfaction of knowing he's gotten every ounce out of every player he could.

And it's no more different in his 21st season with the Jazz than it was in his first.

"I'd go to sleep every night and sleep like a log if I knew we were going to have great effort," Sloan said. "But sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and guys won't run the floor, they won't guard their guy.

"That's when you're looking to jump off a tall building."

The yearning for full compliance is compounded when the team is as good as Sloan suspects this one can be.

On one hand, Sloan said this shortly after training camp opened late last month in Boise: "I think I know who this team is. And, in all fairness, they have a lot of work to do."

On the other, he had this to say less than two weeks ago, during a preseason road trip to his native Illinois: "I think we have a talented team. But I think they have to go out and prove that, as far as being able to win games, trying to get the homecourt advantage going into the playoffs."

· · · · ·

If Utah does get to the playoffs in 2009, it would mark Sloan's 18th trip there as head coach of the Jazz and 19th including a visit while coaching the Bulls.

How many more that are in the cards beyond that remains to be seen, since Sloan takes things on a season-by-season basis — yet hasn't shown any signs lately of slowing, either.

He merely plows forward, perpetuating the continuity while continuing to pursue the one thing that among all the victories and seasons coached and milestones reached has managed to elude his grasp.

That, of course, would be an NBA championship.

It is, some suspect, what ultimately drives the man who prides himself on shunning change for the mere sake of just that.

"It doesn't seem like he's going to quit anytime soon," Williams said. "It seems like he's going to keep on truckin'."

"Why wouldn't he?" Boozer added. "Especially when he has a group of guys like us. ... We have a team that can get to the title every year, and hopefully this year we can get it for him."

Most NBA coaching wins with one team

1. Jerry Sloan, 995

Utah, 1988-present

2. Red Auerbach, 795

Boston, 1950-66

3. Gregg Popovich, 632

San Antonio, 1996-present

4. Red Holzman, 613

New York, 1967-82

5. John MacLeod, 579

Phoenix, 1973-87

Courtesy: Utah Jazz

Jerry Sloan's all-time record vs. NBA (by opponent)



690-464 — .598


217-143 — .603


65-30 — .684


54-27 — .667

Oklahoma City

47-40 — .540


46-41 — .529


5-5 — .500


258-175 — .596

Golden State

58-29 — .667

L.A. Clippers

66-22 — .750

L.A. Lakers

42-45 — .483


44-43 — .506


48-36 — .571


215-146 — .596


57-29 — .663


54-35 — .607


35-13 — .729

New Orleans

31-18 — .633

San Antonio

38-51 — .427



399-253 — .612


134-86 — .609


26-23 — .531

New Jersey

34-15 — .694

New York

25-24 — .510


32-17 — .653


17-7 — .708


142-100 — .587


22-16 — .579


31-19 — .620


34-18 — .654


24-24 — .500


31-23 — .574


123-67 — .647


33-15 — .688


4-4 — .500


27-16 — .628


23-16 — .590


36-16 — .692


1089-717 — .603


995-596 — .625

Courtesy: Utah Jazz

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com