Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cox And the Difficulty In Replacing A Legend

Best Wishes (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As you might have heard yesterday, one of the most distinguished coaches in the NBA has decided to hang it up. Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has elected to step down immediately ending a 23 year stint on the bench in Utah. While this isn't exactly Hawks related I feel that each NBA team should take notice. Sloan's parting might not have been ideal, but he walked away on his terms as he most certainly deserved to. When you are 68 years old with over 1200 NBA victories on your resume, then you get to make the call when the time is right.

Growing up with the NBA in the late eighties into the early mid nineties, I had the privilege of watching Sloan's teams at their height. Somewhere lost in my youthful immaturity I failed to realize exactly what I was seeing. I seldom pulled for the Jazz and didn't recognize what made them successful as I was too easily caught up in the individualism of basketball. I was more concerned with what the individual could do on the court than what the team could do. 

It was much later in life that I clearly opened my eyes and saw the beauty in something that Jerry Sloan and many other coaches out there created nightly. It is not a common occurrence  in the NBA for a team's system and style of play to become more synonymous with the team's name than its players. Sloan successfully transformed the Jazz from the Stockton-Malone era into the Williams-Boozer era rather quickly and never once changed his style or his thinking. Sure he adapted the game plan somewhat along the way but no coach becomes so stubborn to never adjust and survive for 23 years. 

I remember when the Hawks were looking for a coach this summer the name Jerry Sloan came up many times. Not because we thought he was a candidate but he was the type that we wanted to guide this team. I have described the motion offense that Larry Drew has employed as Jazz like in the past and I do think it is similar. However, it doesn't truly belong in that conversation until it has become a staple of the franchise. A calling card of sorts. It is also worth mentioning that when the Hawks defeated Utah in Salt Lake City the last two seasons I was probably guilty of overrating the victory, but that is because of how highly I thought of a Sloan coached team.     

While I will choose not to get into the young point guard versus a stubborn old coach debate I will just say this. When I think of Sloan I think of another Atlanta great in Bobby Cox who also chose to hang it up on his own terms this past season. Neither won as many championships as their critics said they should have, but both defined their franchises. Throughout the past decade their names became synonymous with the Utah Jazz or the Atlanta Braves. Along the way they might have got boring to us, seemed stale. We might of dreamed that we needed a breath of fresh air. Just be careful what you wish for because sometimes that breath of fresh air doesn't quite taste like you thought it would. It is much more likely to not last as long as Jerry Sloan did. 

With every ending there is a new beginning and former Jazz and Hawks forward Tyrone Corbin gets his opportunity to take over as the new head coach of the Utah Jazz. Corbin's name is no stranger around here as he was thought to have been a candidate for head coach of the Hawks this past off season. I wish him the best of luck but just like Fredi Gonzalez will find out this season, he has some very big shoes to fill.  

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