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Sloan's tenure with Jazz hits 20 years

Sloan's tenure with Jazz hits 20 years

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Frank Layden felt comfortable when he turned over the Utah Jazz to assistant coach Jerry Sloan early in the 1988-89 season.

Layden says he was spent and didn't have the drive to keep coaching. He sensed that was not the case with Sloan.

"I saw how he loved the game and how he related to the players and how the players respected him," Layden said.

Twenty years later, Sloan is still doing the same things, holding the same job he took on Dec. 9, 1988, when Layden resigned as coach of the Jazz. Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of Sloan's promotion, a milestone that Sloan would rather ignore than celebrate.

Utah will be on the road Tuesday at Minnesota, which will be playing under interim coach Kevin McHale. The Timberwolves fired coach Randy Wittman on Monday -- the 223rd coaching change in the NBA since Sloan took over the Jazz.

Wittman didn't even hold the job for two years.

"I hate to hear that. It's just a constant every day thing," Sloan said before Monday's practice. "I know how volatile this business is. I just think how lucky I've been to be here for so long."

How long has it been? When Sloan took the job, the Koufos family of Canton, Ohio, was a few months from welcoming baby boy Kosta to the world in February, 1989. Koufos is a rookie center for the Jazz this year.

"That's crazy. That's a testament to him to be around that long," said forward Carlos Boozer, who had just turned 7 when Sloan was promoted. "We're all proud to be a part of it, but that's all Jerry Sloan."

No one currently in major pro sports has been coaching in the same place as long. And if Sloan wasn't as successful as he has been, his run in Utah would have ended long ago. Utah's win over Oklahoma City on Nov. 7 was the 1,000th during Sloan's tenure, making him the first coach to reach 1,000 wins with one team in league history.

Sloan treated it like most any other accomplishment tied to him in the last two decades: He tried to make it go away as quickly as possible. About the only thing he did differently after the game was maybe go to the locker room a little faster, hoping to avoid any more adulation.

Sloan would much rather see his players or assistant coaches get the attention. That's one reason he's glad the 20th anniversary will be spent in the Twin Cities instead of Salt Lake City, where the crusty Illinois farmer has become an icon.

"Anybody could have been in this position. I think I just happened to be lucky -- the guy who came along at the right time and the right place," Sloan said. "I've been fortunate. There are a lot of great coaches. I don't consider myself that. I have a very good staff."

Sloan was fortunate enough to coach John Stockton and Karl Malone in their prime, which would add longevity to most any coach's career. But the Stockton-Malone era ended in 2003 and Sloan has survived without the superstars and rebuilt the Jazz into a Western Conference power again.

"Jerry's tough. He's not a coddler. You always hear about a 'player's coach' and that worries me," said Layden, who still drops by Jazz practices. "The players will take advantage of you."

There is little chance of that with Sloan, who is known for not having much of a soft spot.

Although the Jazz have never won an NBA title and Sloan has never won the NBA's Coach of the Year award, he has outlasted plenty of those who were chosen instead. He has said he would give the award to his staff, including assistant Phil Johnson, who has been with Sloan the entire 20 years in Utah.

"I rely heavily on my coaches and the people who work with us. I'm not a one-man show and never wanted to be," he said.

Sloan also credited team owner Larry Miller, who was patient through a three-year stretch when the Jazz didn't make the playoffs. But only once during that span did the Jazz have a losing record, going 26-56 in 2004-05, then improving to 41-41 the following season.

Sloan says he has always known the call could come tomorrow, saying the Jazz have decided to make a change. He got that call when he coached the Chicago Bulls for 2 1/2 years and has had to cut enough players over the last two decades to realize how tenuous his profession can be.

So to hang on to the same job for so long seems even more remarkable.

"In professional sports, that's unheard of," forward Matt Harpring said. "It really is a tribute to the way he coaches and this organization."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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DOUG ALDEN Sports Writer


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