More than two decades ago, Jerry Sloan became the sixth coach in Utah Jazz history. On Friday night, a new face will patrol the sidelines.
After Sloan’s shocking resignation, the Jazz will be led by Tyrone Corbin when they host the Phoenix Suns.
On Thursday, less than 24 hours after Utah (31-23) lost for the 10th time in 14 games with a 91-86 setback to Chicago, the 68-year-old Sloan stepped down saying he had run out of energy to coach.
Oddly, Sloan had agreed to a one-year extension Monday, but leaves as the longest-tenured coach among the four major professional North American sports, taking over when Frank Layden resigned on Dec. 9, 1988. A former player who spent 10 seasons with the Bulls in the 1960s and 1970s, Sloan recorded 1,127 wins and made two NBA finals appearances with the Jazz.
“I had a feeling this time was the time to move on,” an emotional Sloan said. “(That’s) a long time to be in one organization. Again, I’ve been blessed. Today is a new day. When I get this over with, I’ll feel better. My time is up and it’s time to move on.”
Sloan’s 1,221 career wins are third in the NBA behind Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332).
Despite the Jazz’s recent struggles - and amid rumors of a rift with star point guard Deron Williams(notes) - Sloan and team officials insisted the longtime coach wasn’t forced out. Williams told a local radio station there was a clash with Sloan at halftime Wednesday, but nothing more.
“I would never force coach Sloan out of Utah. He’s meant more to this town, more to this organization than I have by far. I would have asked out of Utah first,” Williams said.
Corbin, an assistant and former player under Sloan, takes over after team officials made it clear there is no interim tag next to his name.
With 28 games to play, Utah is tied with Denver for sixth in the Western Conference. The Jazz have dropped three straight at EnergySolutions Arena, where they’re 17-11 after averaging seven home losses per season from 2007-10.
Corbin debut comes against the Suns, who have won three straight from Utah. The Jazz fell 110-94 at home to Phoenix on Oct. 28 as Williams was held to 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Williams also has been struggling since returning from a four-game absence due to a wrist injury. He’s shot below 40 percent in three of the last four games while totaling 16 turnovers, including five Wednesday.
Phoenix (25-25) will be looking to move above .500 for the first time since Dec. 7. The Suns have won five of six, including a home-and-home sweep of Golden State capped with a 112-88 win Thursday.
The Suns made it a blowout with a 20-0 run, scoring the last 14 points of the first half and first six of the second, to go up 71-42. Phoenix led by as many as 33 in the fourth quarter.
“We’d like to be at about .650 but we have a lot of work to do,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we did a good job. We took care of business right from the start.”
The Suns shot 12 of 22 from 3-point range and have connected on 44.7 percent of their shots from beyond the arc over the last three games while averaging 107.7 points.