Sad Sad City

February 14th, 2011 | by Jeff Lind

I’ve spent the last few days writing and rewriting this post. I can’t get it right, and I’m done trying. Like most lifelong Jazz fans, I’m frustrated, annoyed, confused, and a bit angry after the departure of Jerry Sloan. I’ve read the he said/she said, listened to the Karl Malone firestorm, and heard the pressroom rumor mill. Through it all I still have no clue why he left, and after experiencing near Sloan overload, I’ve come to this conclusion: it doesn’t matter. I don’t really care what the catalyst for his departure was, and I don’t care if he quit or was pushed out. What matters here is that he left, and where it leaves the Utah Jazz as an organization.

When I was a kid, I liked the Jazz because my dad did. I was from Utah, and it was our team. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve stayed loyal to the Jazz because I’ve been proud to call them “my” team. If you know the history of the team then you know that the Utah Jazz were a gift from the Miller family to the Salt Lake community, and the family has worked diligently to make it a true team. From the days of Pistol Pete through Stockton & Malone, the Jazz have never been run by the superstars. Larry H. Miller worked hard to develop an organization that was focused on winning, and winning right. The team was built on principles of putting in a hard day’s work, playing your role, and leaving it all on the court each night. In the four major American sports, there are very few fans that can say that their team’s ownership built their team the right way from top to bottom, but a Utah fan could say it and mean it. The Utah Jazz did things the right way.

Jerry Sloan was the heart and soul of this franchise because he embodied the Jazz’ efforts to do things the right way. I’m not saying he was perfect. Sloan has a lot of good qualities, but also has his fair share of bad, and to say that he’s had Jazz nation’s undivided support over the past 23 years is revisionist history. Sloan made mistakes, fans (and players) were quick to judge, and there were times that we called for his head, but in those moments, do you know what happened? Nothing. The Jazz trusted their coach, knew that they had the right guy, and in every instance took a stand against the fans and sent the message that they were not a reactionary team. The Jazz, for better or worse, were an organization that stood by their man. In a world where coaches are traded in & out on the whims of teenage players, a 23-year tenure sends a powerful message. It says that Coach Sloan’s voice was the most important one in the gym. The front office’s implicit trust of Sloan told fans, superstar players, and other organizations that this team was principled. No matter who walked through the door at the beginning of the year, one thing always stayed the same: Coach Sloan. He was qualified, he was smart, and they trusted him. For Jazz fans that trust paid dividends. How did second round picks turn into all stars? How did a small market team consistently make the playoffs and contend against giants? It was because of the consistency of Jerry Sloan, and the understanding that he would be here longer than any one player. There was accountability, opportunity, and expectations. All because of coach Sloan. He was a symbol of the way things were done in Utah, and nothing could change that… until last Wednesday.

Nobody knows exactly what went down in Kevin O’Conner’s office after that Bulls game, but it could not have ended worse for Jazz fans. Yes the team lost a great coach, but what we truly lost was our ability to implicitly trust an organization that was supposed to be THE organization. It doesn’t matter why Sloan left, what matters is that someone thought it was time for him to go… someone thought it was best for a Hall of Fame coach to leave his team in the middle of the season while his floundering squad was in desperate need of leadership. That tells me one thing: Coach Sloan’s word was no longer the most important word in the Jazz gym, and the Jazz’ model of consistency broke down. Something went seriously wrong, and suddenly the Jazz are just like nearly every other organization in the league. Maybe I’m an elitist, or maybe I just expect more out of a team that taught me expect more out of a sports franchise. I would never want Jerry Sloan to feel like he’s trapped on a failing team, but this is not the way you send off a Hall of Fame coach. This event, and the way it played out has created a crisis of confidence in Jazz land. We lost a superb coach on Thursday but with him also went many of the foundational principles that made this team unique.

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16 Comments

  1. Kevin Malphurs says:

    Great post. I am hoping the Jazz can rebound from this and show that they haven’t changed too much as an organization. However, it is hard to be too hopeful about the team and the organization after this.

  2. bruceww says:

    as a long-time sonic fan, i have great memories of the intense jazz playoff series of the 90′s in the kemp/peyton/malone/stockton era. we always had great respect for the jazz and for coach sloan. i’m afraid the great days of the nba are behind it.

  3. Sam says:

    Great post, Jeff. I think you captured exactly what losing Sloan in the middle of the season really means for this franchise.

    Sadly, this is just another example of the inmates running the asylum.

  4. Brian says:

    I had a strange and intense feeling while watching the Utah Jazz self-destruct against the Suns on Friday (the fourth quarter was a terrible sequence of individual guys “jackpotting around”). It occurred to me that there is no particular reason for me to like the Utah Jazz anymore. I’ve been a Jazz fan for the last 20 years,but this team no longer has anything in common with the one I grew up rooting for.

    I can handle it if all the individual players and personnel come and go, but if the team isn’t even going to try to play the same way (the “right” way), then what am I rooting for?

    Again, a sad sad time for the Utah Jazz.

    • Dustin says:

      I’m fighting the same feelings as you are having. When Stockton and Malone left, Sloan and Miller were there like a rock to hold on to in turbulent times. Miller is gone, Sloan is gone, and I see rough waters ahead. Who do I hold on to now? Deron Williams? I’m having trouble trusting his character, even though I don’t believe he is the main reason for Sloan leaving.

      Regardless of my current feelings, I will be a Jazz fan forever. Heck, I have not stopped rooting for my 49ers and they have sucked for years.

      Part of being a Jazz fan is loyalty. Stockton, Miller, and Sloan all gave us a great example of loyalty, and it is time for us to follow.

  5. Andrew says:

    Hey you can always root for us , we expect and go about our business in the same fashion… GO SPURS GO!

    Good luck Sloan.

  6. Carl says:

    I think Derek deserves another Tattoo!

  7. emmadoodle says:

    Very well written … your analysis seems dead on to me. What a down day for longtime Jazz fans. :(

  8. Blaine says:

    Wow, thanks for the best stream of consciousness about this whole mess. Jeff, you’re spot-on, and like you I’ve been searching for an explanation, something, anything. I became a Jazz fan in the early 80s and have stayed with them even though I left Utah after college in 89. Having been in the Bay Area for the last 17 years, I’ve had a front row seat to the dysfunction of the Warriors, and I always smugly felt superior as a Jazz fan. You’re right, whatever happened happened, but it’s a very different world we wake up to these days as Jazz fans. I’d been growing weary of watching other teams that seemed to know every pass the Jazz were going to make of late, and perhaps ultimately it was going to be time for a change…but what a foul stench the act of this change has left behind. Best of luck to Ty, hope he can get the wheels back on the wagon.

  9. lilmorg says:

    I knew this day would eventually come…I moved away from Utah 15 years ago and I still live and die with the Jazz. Those days may now be numbered! :(

  10. lilmorg says:

    D-Will can’t lead, Jefferson can’t pass, Raja can’t shoot, Memo can’t stay healthy, and Andre has no desire; the rest of the roster’s not very talented or consistent. Can you say “blow it up and start over?” I sure can!!

  11. D-WillDoIT says:

    Everybody loved coach Sloan and he will be greatly missed but there is talent on this team and we are in a playoff race so lets focus on that… in a few seasons we will if the jazz organization is really run well or if a winning coach has made them look respectable the past 23 seasons

  12. Ashly Mae says:

    I want to meet you, Jeff. Because this post of yours is exactly what I feel, no ifs ands or buts. I was only a Jazz fan for 4 short years…and I wasn’t a fan because I lived here, or because I needed a team to cheer for…I was only a fan because the organization struck me as different in the ways you articulated, and better. Now that is gone and I feel like my arm has been cut off. Still no desire to watch the Jazz play tonight. It’s just not the same. Hoping it’s just a period of mourning and the bug will catch me again…but for now, meh.

  13. Joe says:

    I want to meet you, too, Jeff! ;)

  14. Jean says:

    Jeff,
    Well said and well done. I grew up as a Clippers fan ( which really means were Lakers fans that don’t like Lakers “fans”) and contrasting the Utah Jazz to the Clippers is night and day in every aspect from ownership, philosophy, management etc. Jazz fans have been spoiled with top to bottom continuity from their teams management, coaching and ownership. As such you nailed it when you mentioned that some dischord has now entered the equation for the Jazz . Has the NBA player changed since Jerry Sloan began coaching ? Of course they have, and some might say the game has passed Sloan by to which I couldn’t disagree with more. Sloan is everything that is good about NBA legacy coaching, and now he’s gone. My only wish is that the Utah Jazz management would’ve spent the money a long time ago on a legit 7 ft. Center/ Big Man, had they done that I’m positive that Utah would have no less than 3-5 championships in their trophy case. It always puzzled me that eventhough it’s so apparent that you must have a legit big man to win titles (Duncan, Gasol, Garnett, as recent examples) that the Jazz never went out and got a big man small market team budget or not. Which is why I think the Jazz did a deservice to Jerry Sloan a long time ago. As much as I hate the Jazz, it’s bad for everyone to see the Jazz flounder. Which unfortunately I think they will do for a long time to come.

  15. J says:

    Is anyone else wondering how Larry H. would have dealt with this debacle? Greg does not exude confidence. Every time he talks during a press conference he seems to loose credibility. Has anyone seen his resume? Just a little curious about what his employment history looks like. Although he wore his emotions on his sleeve, Larry always seem to give his all to this organization. I just can’t see Greg going to work with the same zeal.

    How do you replace a Hall of Fame coach? I’m sorry Ty, but you have some very large shoes to fill. I think it would be a hardy task for anyone to accomplish, experienced or not. Maybe with this experience you’ll be able to find a head coaching position. Unfortunately, you don’t have the experience or the leadership that is crucial for us to succeed. I wish you the best, but I’m really hoping that Nate McMillan (contract is up) might be convinced to start something special in Utah.

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