The rumors behind Jerry Sloan’s abrupt 2011 retirement have always run along these lines: Utah Jazz’s longtime head coach did not like having to fight constant pitched battles with star guard Deron Williams following Williams’ derivations from Sloan’s playbook, and on Feb. 9 2011, one of those fights pushed Sloan past his particular breaking point, leading him to quit the team the following day.
Nearly two and a half years later, with Sloan now back with the Jazz as an official consultant, we’ve found out that … yeah, that was pretty much how it went down.
Jazz owner Greg Miller gave local press an extended, good-natured interview recently that basically explained Sloan’s final night in coach right down to the quoted details. Jody Genessy of the Deseret News was kind enough to document the explanation:
During that fateful halftime break, Sloan "reprimanded Deron" for freelancing. According to Miller, who usually accompanies the team into the locker room, the Jazz coach told his star player something to the effect of, "Hey, if you're going to change the play, it would be nice if you'd let the rest of the team know so we have a chance to score."
Williams' response: "My bad."
Much to Miller's chagrin, the contentious moment, however, continued after that exchange.
"If (Williams) would've left it right there, Jerry might have never left," Miller said.
Miller went on to relay that Williams “continued to pop off,” and that Sloan immediately requested a meeting with the Jazz owner after the game. D-Will, upon hearing this, allegedly requested to be in the meeting as well. Sloan, perhaps mindful of his station in the star-driven NBA, fired back at Williams: “Do you want me to just quit right now?”
This stopped just about everybody in their tracks, as at the time Sloan was by far and away the longest-tenured coach in professional sports.
The Jazz owner tried to reestablish the rankings immediately after. From Genessy’s report:
"I want you to be very clear on one thing," Miller told Sloan. He continued, "If anything got to the point where we had to make a choice between a player and you as our head coach, we would side with you a hundred times out of a hundred."
"He said, 'Well, I don't know how much I have left in me,'" Miller said.
Greg Miller, in his second full season as Jazz boss following the 2009 passing of his father Larry, pointed out that he went out of his way to tell Sloan not to make any rash decisions in the heat of the moment, and that he would do anything possible to keep Sloan with the team despite the coach’s repeated insistence that he was “out of gas.” Miller’s motives were pure, but he did also point out to Sloan that quitting the team midseason was less than ideal, and that this was “not going to reflect well on the franchise.”
Sloan slept on it, but his mind was made up. The news broke the next day, taking Sloan away from a post he’d been at since 1988 and a franchise he’d been with for 26 years.
Williams, just as surprisingly, was traded two weeks after the incident. It’s true that Williams as a player has been overrated in some circles, but the payoff from that move has been less than ideal despite the impending cap flexibility some two years later. And the Jazz, despite squeezing into the playoffs in 2012, have not been the same since Sloan quit on the club.
News of this has leaked before, with Karl Malone relaying that he thought Sloan felt unsupported by Miller and Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor, but Miller and Malone have since made up, and it says quite a bit that Sloan is back with the team, working for the Jazz again. A cynic would argue that Miller agreed to the airing of the laundry as a way to help his own image in what has been a frustrating early start as boss of the team, but in reality nobody looks good in this – neither the owner, the front office personnel bosses, coach or player.
It was a relationship that had to end at some point. It just didn’t have to end like that.