SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Sloan, the tough, no-nonsense coach who guided the Utah Jazz through their glory years, died Friday at the age of 78.
In the fall of 2015, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, both contributing factors in his death.
Sloan was head coach of the Jazz for 23 years and led them during the Karl Malone-John Stockton era. His Jazz teams earned 19 playoff berths, six division titles and two appearances in the NBA Finals, where they had the misfortune to meet Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. They lost both series 4-2.
There is a long list of superlatives that could sum up Sloan’s career, but two stand above the others: He was the longest tenured coach in professional sports when he retired abruptly in the middle of the 2011 season and he is the fourth winningest coach in NBA history, with 1,221 regular-season victories in 26 seasons, counting three seasons as head coach of the Bulls.
- Coaches Phil Johnson and Jerry Sloan talk as the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder play NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Nov, 7, 2008. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- New Jazz Head coach Jerry Sloan, left, with Jazz President Frank Layden pictured in 1998. Deseret News Archives
- New Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan at a game on December 9, 1988. Jerry Sloan replaced Frank Layden as the head coach of the Utah Jazz. Gary McKellar, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan, laughs during the pre-draft workouts for the Utah Jazz at the Zions Bank Basketball Center on June 19, 2007. Michael Brandy, Deseret News
- Karl Malone and coach Jerry Sloan confer on Aug. 18, 2005. Ravell Call, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wipes away a tear on Feb. 10, 2011 in Salt Lake City as he announces his resignation after being the head coach for the Jazz since 1988. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan watches as his Jazz play the Detroit Piston at the Delta Center on March 19, 2001. Michael Brandy, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan answers questions at a press conference announcing a three-year contract extension. Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
- Former Utah Jazz coaches Jerry Sloan and Frank Layden pose in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan attends the announcement of a $125 million renovation project for the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Coach Jerry Sloan talks with Andrei Kirilenko at Franklin Covey Field. Ravell Call, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan, who was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009, was diagnosed in 2015 with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. KSL TV
- Jerry Sloan is shown with his wife Tammy at their home in Riverton. Sloan, who was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009, was diagnosed in 2015 with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. KSL TV
- Jerry Sloan talks with a fan prior to a game in Salt Lake City Friday, April 8, 2016. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan questions a call during the opening Jazz game of the season that they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2001. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Olden Polynice of the Jazz is pulled away from other players by coach Jerry Sloan after Polynice flagrantly fouled Shawn Bradley on April 24, 2001. Ravell Call, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan goes for one of his daily four-mile walks with his dog Max near his home in Riverton. Sloan, who was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009, was diagnosed in 2015 with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. KSL TV
- Larry Miller, Kevin O’Connor, and Jerry Sloan watch the first-round picks duringan NBA draft party at the Delta Center. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan has some words for the referee after John Starks was called for a taunting technical foul in the fourth quarter Sunday, April 15, 2001, in Minneapolis. Technical fouls on the Jazz’s Karl Malone and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett resulted in both being ejected from the game. The Timberwolves won 107-100. Jim Mone, Associated Press
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan gives instructions to forward Andrei Kirilenko of Russia in the first half against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Final basketball game in San Antonio Wednesday, May 30, 2007. Matt Slocum, Associated Press
- A dejected Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan watches as his team goes down to defeat at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers, 103-85, May 9, 2000, in Portland, Oregon. Jack Smith, Associated Press
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan talks with John Stockton in November 1988 in Salt Lake City. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan watches as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trailblazers at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City Nov. 5, 2008. Mike Terry, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan listens to the national anthem with his team as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trail Blazers at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City Nov. 5, 2008. Mike Terry, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan looks up in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan talks to the press following his 1,000th win with the Utah Jazz. When asked how he felt regarding his marker of 1,000, he deflected the attention from himself. “I’ve always felt it’s a players’ game,” he said on Nov. 6, 2008. Mike Terry, Deseret News
- Utah coach Jerry Sloan yells for a foul as John Stockton and the Maverick’s Steve Nash hit the floor as the Jazz face the Mavericks at Reunion Arena Saturday, April 28, 2001. Jason Olson, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan watches Jazz hopefuls during a practice Monday, July 12, 2004. Jeremy Harmon, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, right, works with Jazz hopefuls during a practice Monday, July 12, 2004. Jeremy Harmon, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan was an assistant coach along with Scott Layden helping coach Frank Layden in the 1985-86 season. Don Grayston, Deseret News
- D.J. Newbill of Penn State, right, greets Jerry Sloan at Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, May 6, 2015. Chris Samuels, Deseret News
- Current Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder is joined by former head coaches Jerry Sloan and Frank Layden following the formal announcement Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, of the name change from EnergySolutions Arena to Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
- Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan disagrees with a call during the semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Delta Center on Thursday, May 11, 2000. Johanna Workman, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan congratulates Michael Jordan after the Bulls won their third-straight title in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at the Delta Center, June 14, 1998. Chuck Wing, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan argues for a flagrant foul during a game against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 17, 1998. Chuck Wing, Deseret News
- Coach Jerry Sloan talks to reporters about his seven-game suspension for having contact with a referee during a Sacramento Kings game Jan. 30, 2003. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Photo illustration was prepared for Jerry Sloan’s thousandth win. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan tries to explain a call to a referee. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Coach Jerry Sloan talks with the media after a workout June 23, 2005, at the Zions Bank practice facility. Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and seventh-grader David Hicks help make beds at the overflow winter homeless shelter on 600 South and 300 East in 1997. Kristan Jacobsen, Deseret News
- Head coach Jerry Sloan argues a call during the Western Conference semifinals at the Rose Garden in Portland May 24, 1999. Chuck Wing, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan is restrained by John Stockton while Tom Chambers sits dejected on the floor after being ejected from Game 2 in a series against the Spurs. Gary McKellar, Deseret News
- Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan has an Olympic torch presented to him by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee during halftime against the Detroit Pistons at the Delta Center on March 19, 2002. Michael Brandy, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan reacts after the refs missed a goal-tending call. Jeffrey D Allred, Deseret News
- Former Utah Jazz guard John Stockton, right, and former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan sit next to each other before their enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, Sept. 11, 2009. Stephan Savoia, Associated Press
- Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan acknowledges the crowd as they applaud after it was announced that a banner with his name will be hung from the rafters with other Jazz greats Dec. 9, 2013. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- The Jazz Bear greets Jerry Sloan with confetti before the Utah Sports Hall of Fame 2011 induction banquet in Salt Lake City Nov. 16, 2011. Ravell Call, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan screams at a ref in Salt Lake City Nov. 26, 2010. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan relaxes during media day for the Utah Jazz Sept. 29, 2008 in Salt Lake City. Keith Johnson, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan screams at referees during a game against Houston at the Delta Center on Nov. 1, 2006. Michael Brandy, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan makes a statement before his enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, Sept. 11, 2009. Stephan Savoia, Associated Press
- Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan talks to a referee as the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves play in Salt Lake City Jan. 20, 2009. Tom Smart, Deseret News
- Jerry Sloan watches the 2007 NBA draft at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City Thursday, June 28, 2007. Jason Olson, Deseret News
- Utah’s head coach Jerry Sloan walks up the ramp and into the Toyota Center as the Jazz arrive for Game 5 with the Houston Rockets in Houston April 29, 2008. Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.
- Assistant Jazz coach Phil Johnson and head coach Jerry Sloan show respect during the national anthem prior to the start of the Utah Jazz game against the Memphis Grizzlies in the EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City Nov. 30, 2009. August Miller, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan reacts to his team turning over the ball to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007, in Salt Lake City. Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
- Utah head coach Jerry Sloan talks with the media after practice for Game 2 on Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston on April 22, 2007. Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan gives instructions to his team during a home game against the Dallas Mavericks Dec. 11, 2006, in Salt Lake City. Mike Terry, Deseret News
- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and the Jazz staff talk before the 2006 NBA basketball draft at the Delta Center. Michael Brandy, Deseret News
- Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has his banner unveiled in his honor during halftime of the Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Jeffrey Allred, Deseret News
- Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and his wife Tammy clap as his banner is unveiled in his honor during halftime of the Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Deseret News
- Alec Burks shakes hands with former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan after having his banner unveiled in his honor during halftime of the Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Deseret News
- Steve Miller hands former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan a jersey as his banner is unveiled in his honor during halftime of the Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Sloan coached so long and so successfully that it was easy to forget that he had been a good player — a two-time All-Star who was named to the NBA All-Defensive team six times during his 11-year career. He is one of the few men in professional sports who has had his number hoisted into the rafters of the local arena by two teams for two roles — first, as a player for the Bulls (the first in franchise history to be so honored) and, second, as a coach for the Jazz, whose banner is emblazoned with “1,223” — the total of his regular-season and playoff victories with the Jazz.
In all, Sloan spent 45 years in the NBA as a player, scout, assistant coach and head coach. He also was an assistant coach for the 1996 gold-medal Olympic Dream Team. The one thing that eluded him was a championship.
Sloan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Sloan reflected the humble, hardscrabble circumstance of his youth, imbued with a work ethic, toughness and pragmatism. He was the youngest of 10 children raised on an Illinois farm. His father died when he was 4, creating more hardships for a family already faced with meager means. They grew and hunted much of their own food.
“He lived in as much poverty as any NBA player,” said his late first wife and high school sweetheart, Bobbye.
In some ways he never fully left that life. Despite fame and million-dollar salaries, he often drove to the arena in an old van, parking it alongside the luxury cars his players drove. Pretentious, he was not. In the offseason he returned to his Illinois farm, rising at dawn each morning to work in the fields in bib overalls or an old Jazz polo shirt. “Nobody does this unless they have to,” Bobbye would tell him. His reply: “It’s cheaper than a psychiatrist.” His old friends said he never changed despite his worldly success.
Once, when asked about Sloan, Frank Layden, the team president at the time, said, “He’s a farmer. He gets up in the morning and says let’s get the job done.”
He could accept losses, but he abhorred, above all, anything less than an intense effort by his players. He talked frequently of his respect for the game and, unlike some of his coaching peers, he refused to sit his star players late in the season to rest them for the playoffs. He reasoned that people paid money to see the players and had to work jobs a lot more difficult than playing basketball, so he put them on the floor.
- Utah Jazz fan Nate Salazar brings a tractor and a ball to place an informal memorial outside Vivint Arena in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday, May 22, 2020, after former coach Jerry Sloan died at age 78. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- A sign honoring former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan appears outside Vivint Arena in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday, May 22, 2020, after Sloan died at age 78. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Items placed at an informal memorial created by Utah Jazz fans outside Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 22, 2020, after former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan died Friday at age 78. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- Utah Jazz fans Steve and Nicole Austin place a tractor hat at an informal memorial outside Vivint Arena in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday, May 22, 2020, after former coach Jerry Sloan died at age 78. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- A sign honoring former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan appears at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 22, 2020, after Sloan died at age 78. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
He demanded discipline, even from a generation of players that wielded power via multimillion-dollar contracts that made them more valuable than coaches. He demanded that players wear their socks four inches high, that their shoes be the same color shoes, that jerseys be tucked and shoes tied, even on the bench. He even dictated where they sat on the bench. Malone, who enjoyed superstar status, once announced he was going to wear black shoes. Sloan told him “not on my team,” and that was the end of that.
While the NBA game drifted increasingly to a selfish, star-oriented, one-on-one game that rewarded scorers, Sloan demanded team play. Former player Matt Harpring once described Sloan as “an old-school coach. We don’t play playground basketball. We pass, cut, move the ball, play tough defense. People think that’s a lost art. ...” Sloan liked to say, “I’m not a me-first coach.”
Sloan might never have thrived as a coach if he had not come to the Jazz and, specifically, to Layden and owner Larry Miller. His first head coaching job had ended badly with the Bulls. In 1981, he was fired midway through his third season despite taking the team to a rare playoff appearance the previous season (years later, his Chicago GM, Rod Thorn, would apologize to Sloan for firing him). As it turned out, the Bulls performed poorly the next three years until Jordan showed up. It’s intriguing to wonder what might have happened if Sloan had still been with the Bulls when Jordan arrived.
Sloan, his feelings hurt (as he would say later), returned to his Illinois home and farmed full time while watching his three children play school sports. After 2½ years out of basketball, he was ready to return to the game. He coached a CBA team in nearby Evansville and then was hired by Layden as an assistant coach. Four years later, Layden elected to become general manager and gave his coaching job to Sloan. Layden had started the rebirth of the Jazz, a previously moribund franchise, but as he graciously put it years later, “I took them as far as I could take them. Jerry took them to the next level ... if you can’t make the sale, turn it over to another salesman to close the deal.”
In Miller, Sloan had the perfect owner to facilitate his success. Unlike his contemporaries, Miller didn’t believe in letting players manipulate teams and coaches with their star power. He gave complete authority to Sloan to coach the team as he wanted. Miller broke with fellow owners in another way as well: Instead of changing coaches when teams slumped, he believed in hiring good coaches and then sticking with them. It brought stability and consistency to the franchise. Sloan and the Jazz thrived for decades, and his longevity was a marvel in a profession where job turnover was the norm.
Sloan had the full support of management to back him up as a coach, but he was also well served by a don’t-mess-with-me aura. He was Clint Eastwood of the hardwoods. Almost no one dared cross Sloan, not even larger, stronger, younger basketball players.
Layden once told reporters, “Nobody fights with Jerry because you know the price would be too high. You might come out the winner; at his age, you might even lick him, but you’d lose an eye, an arm, your testicles in the process, everything would be gone. He’s a throwback, a blue-collar guy, a dirt farmer. ... He’s loyal. He’s a hard worker. He’s a man.”
Sloan once stormed onto the court to confront Pistons bad boy Dennis Rodman after the latter roughed up the Jazz’s smallish guard, Stockton. Rodman egged him on, and Sloan, as Deseret News reporter Brad Rock later recounted, “doubled his fist and drew back, but was restrained by assistant coaches.” After the game — after he had slapped away Rodman’s hand in an attempted postgame handshake — Sloan told reporters, “It’s a part of the coach’s job and sometimes it can get ugly, looking out for your players.”
One reporter echoed the sentiment of many when he said, “Anytime they want to let Rodman and Sloan go at it, I know where my money is. And it wouldn’t be a long fight. I saw Jerry Sloan play. He didn’t get his reputation for nothing.”
As a player, the 6-foot-5 Sloan was legendary for his physical, aggressive, go-to-the-floor style of play, especially on defense. His attitude was reflected in one incident. Sloan attempted to take a charge by stepping in front of 7-foot Wilt Chamberlain during a Bulls-Lakers game in L.A. “Step out in front of me again and I’m going to run over you,” Chamberlain snapped. Sloan replied, “I’ll be right here. You can’t do anything more than stomp on me.”
During his playing career, Sloan collected numerous broken bones, pulled muscles, floor burns and bruises. His nose was broken so many times that he stopped getting it fixed. His elbow required surgery after years of slamming it into the court. He once popped a pelvic tendon, and the noise was so loud that Bobbye ran out of the stands onto the court. “He was in the hospital so many times,” Bobbye said. His knees were drained more than 20 times. He tried to come back from knee surgery for a 12th season, but the damage was too extensive. As Bobbye recounted, “The team physician used to tell him, ‘You know you’re going to pay for this.’”
And he did. In later years, most of his joints became arthritic. Much to his regret, he had to give up recreational running and settle for daily walks because of his knees. He couldn’t even straighten his elbows — both were locked at an angle.
He left the game reluctantly. Basketball had been a lifeline to the world for a shy, quiet farm kid. He signed to play basketball for the University of Illinois, but lasted only a few weeks before he returned, feeling homesick and lost on the big campus. After working in the oil fields, he agreed to play for the University of Evansville, an hour’s drive from his home.
He led Evansville to two NCAA Division II titles, capped by a 29-0 season during his senior year, and was a second-team All-American and the sixth overall pick of the 1965 NBA draft.
Sloan’s potential as a coach was spotted early. As Sloan told the Deseret News years later, “My college coach (Arad McCutchan) told me when I was a sophomore that he wanted me to come back and take his place after I’d played 10 years in the NBA. I thought, the guy’s half crazy. I was still wondering if I could play in college. As it turns out, that’s what happened. I did replace him.”
After retiring from the NBA, Sloan agreed to replace his old coach at Evansville, but five days later he changed his mind. A year later, the Evansville team was killed in a plane crash, including Sloan’s replacement, Bobby Watson. Sloan was hired for a year as a scout for the Bulls and then became an assistant coach and finally the head coach, starting a career that would end in Salt Lake City three decades later.
Sloan once allowed that people had always told him he was an intimidating man — he said this with a shrug, as if it perplexed him — but Bobbye described him as soft-hearted and sentimental in their home life and nothing like the tough man people would have expected. They raised three children together.
Bobbye, his wife of 41 years, died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 61. Sloan married Tammy Jessop in 2006 and, after retiring from the Jazz, settled in Utah, the place where he’d twice brought the hometown team to within two games of a world championship.