Once in awhile, or in 23 years in the case of Jerry Sloan, a story emerges that transcends the world of sports and touches us all. Such is the announcement yesterday by Jerry Sloan, the longest tenured coach with one team in the history of professional sports, that he knew it was time to go, to move on. Even an announcement that the governor or other prominent politician was resigning would not have created the stir caused by Sloan's announcement. For one thing, many people have no idea who the governor is or who other prominent politicians are. But for 23 years, Jerry Sloan has been the stern father figure and role model for Utah Jazz basketball, with that image becoming part of Utah folklore. The name of Jerry Sloan is a household name throughout Utah and throughout the world of professional sports.
To say that Jerry Sloan appeared to be a grouch, and fairly often, may be an understatement. But he also had a human side and was always moved by the troubles of his team members and others. The loss of his first wife, the loss of Larry Miller, his induction into the NBA Hall of Fame, and his retirement announcement yesterday all showed the human side of Jerry Sloan. But for 23 years Sloan prowled the sidelines of Jazz basketball games, sticking up for his players, barking at his players, barking at the officials who made egregious mistakes affecting his players, some times held back by his players or his assistant coaches, and occasionally being sent early to the locker room for one too many outburst. But his players and his fans always knew exactly where coach Sloan stood, what he stood for, and knew the lessons Sloan taught his players for 23 years, and by extension, seeped over into what the rest of us learned as well. Here are some of the most obvious lessons we learned from Jerry Sloan:
- Compete. If we ever heard a more frequent comment than compete, I don't know what it would be. "We just didn't compete." "All I expect is for my players to go out and compete."
- Work hard. Don't just work. Work hard. And if you don't, you'll hear about it.
- Play as a team. Don't go off as individuals and showboat and show off. We win and lose as a team not as a bunch of hotshot individual stars trying to make the highlight reel.
- Defend your team. Stick up for your guys.
- Be stingy with praise, and praise only when warranted. Don't tell players they did a good job when they didn't.
- Be humble and self-effacing. You are not the most important thing in basketball or anything else. Give credit to all who deserve it, who helped you get where you are and who made it possible for your accomplishments.
- Do your job. You are being paid a lot of money to play basketball. So play basketball and do your job.
- Do the best that you can do. "That's all I ask."
- Be tough. Hang in. Grit it out.
- There are more important things in life than the game of basketball.
- If you are the coach, then you are the leader. Not the players, not the assistant coaches, not the media who often act as if they knew a tad too much, not my wife who occasionally offers her unsolicited advice.
- If you are a basketball player, don't let your ego blindside you and stand in the way of doing what you are being paid to do.
- Be loyal. Be loyal to your bosses, to your associates, to your players, to the organizations that hire and support you. If you can't be loyal, get off the boat.
I suppose I have left out a few lessons. But to Jerry Sloan, our legendary and iconic coach with the occasional stern growl and loud bark, we bid a fond farewell. Go see your collection of John Deere tractors in Illinois and play with your grandkids and have dinner with your wife and get introduced to household chores. You leave with our love, respect, and unbounded appreciation for your contributions to sports, to morality, to personal standards, and to the indelible lessons of decency and honesty and humility that will long be a part of our lives and our culture. Godspeed.