Last of the Mohicans

By John Canzano
Updated: February 11, 2011

OREGON — Jerry Sloan resigned on Thursday.

The longest-tenured coach in professional sports threw in the keys after 23 years with the Utah Jazz. He’s going home to his farm and will spend more time with his tractor. And why not? I doubt the thing will whine at him about playing time. Or complain about his old-school philosophy. It won’t second-guess about playing rotations. Or threaten to leave him for a bigger market or better contract. Lockout next season? Nope. On Thursday, Sloan beat them to the punch. He locked out the NBA. Said Sloan: “My time is up, and it’s time for me to move on.” The Jazz felt stale. Sloan says he’s lost a little energy. But it wasn’t lost here that Sloan is looking around the league at some of the hard-nosed players he developed and watched walk away — Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Brewer, among them – and wondering where all this is headed. Sloan probably could have overcome a rocky relationship with his star point guard, Deron Williams. He’s been through worse in two-plus decades. The coach also could have seized back his team, which revolted against his old-school ways. And Sloan could have grinded out this season and probably made the playoffs for the 20th time in his career. But why bother anymore? Swollen egos. Brats unleashed. A broken-down business model. Too many questions about his playing rotations. And too much small-market heavy lifting. Sloan was tearful on Thursday. But everything that is wrong with the NBA was left naked — in the open — when Sloan made his announcement. The game is broken. The players make the rules. And, however long the NBA continues in its current form, it’s clear we won’t ever see another coach like Sloan. That’s the rub here, isn’t it? That when a guy with the credibility of Sloan decides he doesn’t fit anymore, that he’s had enough, the NBA should stop and take a look at itself. Maybe you heard the news and thought, Sloan must have health problems. Maybe you thought, family issues. Sloan put all that to rest on Thursday. None of the above. He said that he figured that this was the right time.

And given the chance to throw Williams under the team bus as the guy who pushed a legend into retirement, Sloan waved it off. He said he’s always dealt with player difficulties, and that any current issues were only “a minor” part of his decision. To the very end, Sloan had dignity and class. Those are words that are typed and said too infrequently in an NBA arena. Thugs aren’t the NBA’s problem. Heavens no. That’s a tired and inaccurate argument. Pay attention: This is a league of babies, and the head coaches are the primary sitters. Sloan has coached 1,809 games in Utah, and has won a blistering 98 playoff games. But his role as a coach has become less inspired teacher and more child psychologist in the last decade. More than it’s worth, it seems. That tractor must have looked like a cushioned lounge chair by late Wednesday. Reports that Sloan would retire surfaced after the Jazz lost Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls. Sloan, who is always quick to address the media, didn’t appear for nearly 30 minutes. He was in a closed-door meeting with Jazz management. They were trying to talk the coach into sticking around. And that discussion carried into Thursday, when those inside the organization held out hope that he’d reverse his decision. But Sloan didn’t. Assistant Tyrone Corbin was named interim coach by the Jazz. And those present will tell you that the moment that Corbin was named was the only time they saw Sloan smile. I’ll bet.