With the selection of Scott Brooks as the NBA’s Coach of the Year last week, what may be the greatest slight in the history of sports awards has carried on for another year.
If the headline didn’t give it away, I am referring to the fact that Jerry Sloan has never been given the award as the best head coach in the NBA, an award determined by a group of sportswriters.
If you ask people about the situation, I would guess that there would be one of three reactions:
"Really? How is that possible?"
"Is he still coaching?"
"Who is Jerry Sloan?"
The third response would come from the casual, new fan who is not aware of the legacy that Sloan has left. The second would be people who don’t pay attention to Utah because, well, it’s Utah.
The first would be those who realize what an amazing career he has had, and it is a complete and utter travesty that he has never been honored with the award.
For those who may not be aware of what Sloan has accomplished, let’s take a quick look at his coaching career.
He has the fourth-most wins all-time with 1,190, and if he hangs around next year, he will pass Pat Riley for No. 3. He is one of only six coaches with over 1,000 wins and the only one with 1,000 with the same team.
He has the seventh-best regular season winning percentage at .604.
Sloan has compiled 13 seasons with 50 wins or more, including three with 60 or more, making him one of only three coaches with 10 or more such seasons.
His 16 consecutive winning seasons are second only to Pat Riley’s 19, but Sloan's are the most with one team.
He has led the Jazz to 19 playoff appearances, and he has an even 20 when you include his one appearance as coach of the Chicago Bulls. His 97 playoff wins rank him sixth all-time.
He also has two NBA Finals appearances, losing both times to his former team and the resurgent Michael Jordan.
Sloan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this past year with his long-time team leader John Stockton.
Despite all of these accomplishments, the closest Sloan has come to winning the award was second place, which has happened twice.
The first time was in 2003-04, when he led a team of rag-tag players to a 42-40 record after the departure of two of the greatest players ever, John Stockton and Karl Malone.
He lost out to Hubie Brown, who led a great turnaround for the Memphis Grizzlies, but Brown ultimately resigned early in the following season as his team struggled.
The other time was in 2006-07 when the Jazz improved their record by 10 games, after improving by 15 the previous year. The Jazz made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, but they lost in the conference finals to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
This time Sloan lost to Sam Mitchell, who had improved the Toronto Raptors win total by 20 games and led them to their first division title. They lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Mitchell was fired with some controversy only slightly more than one season later.
Being fired shortly after winning the award appears to have been a trend in recent years. Of the 10 most recent winners, six of them did not make it more than two more seasons with their teams. One made it three years.
Although Mike Brown of the Cavaliers has been rumored to be on the chopping block if he doesn’t win a title this year, Scott Brooks is obviously still in Oklahoma, and George Poppovich is still in San Antonio.
Maybe if Larry Miller had wanted to help Sloan out, he should have planned on firing him.
I am not saying that any of these coaches were undeserving when they won the award, but it says something about the coach when he only has one good season and then gets fired, or resigns, only a season or two later.
It is about time that Sloan gets some credit for his consistency, despite the constant flow of players in and out of his organization.
He was quite fortunate to have coached arguably the greatest teammates in the history of the game in Stockton and Malone for so long, but two players do not a team make.
Sloan has consistently put a winning team on the floor.
He has only had one losing season with the Jazz—two years after Stockton and Malone left. He followed that up with a season where he improved the team’s win total by 15 games and 10 more games the following season.
Maybe the greatest testament to Sloan’s coaching prowess is that he has run essentially the same offensive scheme his entire career, and teams still can’t stop it.
You can pretty much bank on a huge helping of pick-and-roll when you play the Jazz, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to stop it.
Sloan preaches execution like a pastor preaches repentance. He doesn’t look for fancy plays that make SportsCenter , just grind-it-out basketball that wins games.
In an interview with ESPN, Sloan was quoted as saying, “Size doesn’t make any difference; heart is what makes a difference.”
That is the exact attitude that helped Sloan succeed as a player, being the first Chicago Bull to have his number retired. It is the mentality that he has inserted in all of his successful players that led them to succeed.
Ironically, it is probably his consistency all of these years that has kept him from winning the award. Everyone has just come to expect his teams to play physically and win games, so when they do, no one is surprised.
As much as it pains me to say it, I doubt Sloan will ever win the award as he probably only has a few seasons left.
It is a travesty, plain and simple.
In a time where coaches come and go almost as often as the seasons, it is time that the longest-tenured coach in any major sports league in America—second to only Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United in the world—be given credit for his longevity and win the award.
No matter what happens in the future, Jazz fans will lose a little piece of themselves when Sloan finally does retire.
We will no longer get to hear him talk about farming in the offseason and wearing his John Deere hat.
We will no longer get to see that beaming smile after a win.
And we will no longer be in the presence of one of the greatest coaches in history.
Thanks for all you have done, Coach Sloan.
We will never forget you, even if the press does.