Jerry Sloan, the longest-tenured professional coach in US sports, stepped down as coach of the NBA’s Utah Jazz on Thursday having never guided the club to an NBA crown in 23 seasons.
Sloan, who turns 69 next month, ranks as the third most successful coach in NBA history with a 1,221-803 record, including a stint as coach of the Chicago Bulls.
He took over as Jazz coach in 1988 and suffered only one losing season.
“My time is up,” Sloan said. “It’s time to move on.”
Sloan, who played 11 NBA seasons with the Bulls and Baltimore Bullets, has guided Utah to a 31-23 record this season. The Jazz stand three-and-a-half games behind Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference.
Despite Sloan’s lengthy time on the bench, he never won an NBA title, coming closest when the Jazz lost to the Bulls in 1997 and 1998, but never letting his failure to claim the ultimate prize diminish his love of the quest.
“I’ve been blessed to be here the number of years I’ve been here as head coach,” said Sloan, who began with the Jazz as a scout in 1983. “Twenty-six years is a long time to be with one organization. Today is a new day.”
During Sloan’s time with Jazz, there were 245 coaching changes among other NBA clubs.
When Sloan’s tenure began, NBA franchises in Memphis, Toronto, Orlando, Minnesota and Charlotte had not yet been created and 40 current NBA players had not yet even been born.
Sloan, who was an assistant from 1984 until moving into the top coaching job when Frank Layden resigned in December 1988, appeared under a strain as he began to speak at a news conference.
“This will be tougher than I thought it would be,” he said at the start, later adding, “When I get this over with I know I’m going to feel much better.”
Sloan’s years in the same job rank fourth on the all-time US sport list among managers and coaches of pro teams, trailing Connie Mack’s 50 in baseball and 29-year NFL stints by Curly Lambeau in Green Bay and Tom Landry in Dallas.
“He taught his players that nothing was more important than the team,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “His most impressive qualities were his leadership and his extraordinary ability to encourage his players to subjugate their individual games for the benefit of the whole.”
“Two trips to the finals and over 1,200 regular-season victories more than validate his philosophy. Jerry moves on having established himself as one of the greatest and most respected coaches in NBA history,” Stern added.
Only Don Nelson with 1,335 wins and Lenny Wilkens with 1,332 rank above Sloan on the all-time NBA victory list.
The move came one day after Sloan met with Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor after a 91-86 home loss to Chicago, the 10th defeat for Utah in the past 14 games after the club began the season 15-5.
Utah assistant coach Phil Johnson also resigned after serving as Sloan’s top aide through much of his tenure.
“I’ve been fortunate to have terrific people to work with,” Sloan said. “The fans and this organization have been second to none. I’ve been fortunate to have great players to coach.”