Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Jerry Sloan's resignation from the Utah Jazz, a swift and surprising departure after he spent 23 seasons as the team's head coach.
The Jazz have done their best to move forward. They have a new coach and a new point guard and they're challenging for a playoff berth in the crowded Western Conference. Yet even now, 12 months to the day later, some of the Jazz still have trouble making sense of Sloan's exit.
“It happened so fast,” forward C.J. Miles said. “It was just like a sulky feeling for a couple days. It was almost like a funeral. He had been there for so long. No one had expected that – and the way it happened, you go from being in the huddle with him to the next morning he was retiring.”
Sloan had signed a contract extension with the Jazz a little more than two months before he resigned. He treated the signing as he did most of his transactions with the franchise: The announcement was understated, business as usual.
By then, however, some of the players had already noticed a change in their coach.
“To a certain extent, you could see that Coach Sloan was a little tired,” said Miles, who has been with the Jazz since 2005. “He had been in the game for so long, from him playing to coaching. He never took any time off from it.”
Sloan was 68, so it was understandable if age had contributed to a drop in his energy. But there was a bigger issue: His relationship with the team's All-Star point guard, Deron Williams, had deteriorated. Coach and star were both strong-willed, and neither liked to back down from an argument.
“They're fiery, competitive, and they both go as hard as they can,” Miles said. “They just bumped heads a lot because they were the same person. [Williams] felt like he knew how to do it and Coach Sloan felt like he knew how to do it. So sometimes you would see them going at each other.
“But it was more of a fiery argument than it was a tussle. The fight was both of them trying to get their points across."
Sloan and Williams had a heated argument at halftime of Utah's game against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 9, 2011. The Jazz went on to lose that night, and Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson resigned the following morning.
Sloan said recently in a statement that the Jazz didn’t force him out, yet one source close to him acknowledged that the franchise's ownership and management didn't back the coach in his rift with Williams as strongly as he'd hoped.
Just 13 days after Sloan’s exit, the Jazz traded Williams for guard Devin Harris, rookie forward Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash. Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, a rookie last season, thought Williams was joking when he said he'd been traded.
“Going into the season, I thought if anyone was a staple it would be Coach Sloan and Williams,” Hayward said. “But both of them were gone in a matter of weeks. There was some craziness for sure, especially in the community. Everyone was just shocked.”
After Tyrone Corbin was promoted to the role of head coach, the Jazz went 8-20 the rest of last season. The Jazz have shown improvement this season and could emerge with a playoff berth.
Sloan also seems to have moved on. Two sources close to Sloan said he appears recharged and could return to coaching next season. Six teams have already unsuccessfully tried to lure him back before he was ready, the sources said.
A year after Sloan left, the Jazz say their old coach's imprint is still all over them each time they step onto the court.
“He taught you how to play the game the right way,” Miles said. “He didn’t teach you any of the 'hoo-rah' stuff. He didn’t play [big] names. He played who was going to play hard and help him win games.”
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