The 2010-2011 season is far from its finale, but Coach Pop can add another accolade to his expansive resume that already includes:
NBA Title holder (X4);
NBA Coach of the Year (’02-’03);
NBA Coach of the Month Award (NBA-record 12X);
Head Coach of the Western Conference All-Stars (X2);
Winningest Head Coach in Spurs history;
Distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
With the February 10 resignation of Utah Jazz Head Coach Jerry Sloan, Coach Pop is now the longest-tenured active coach in the Association, and second in the four major professional sports (MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA). The only one excelling his seniority is St. Louis Cardinals’ skipper, Tony La Russa.
Sloan served the Jazz as head coach since December 9, 1988, when Benazir Bhutto was exactly one week into her duties as prime minister of Pakistan; Chicago’s “Look Away” was the No. 1 song in America; and Twins was the top grosser at the weekend box office.
The 68-year-old Sloan amassed 45 years as an employee of the NBA as a former player, scout, assistant coach, and finally Hall of Fame head coach. For an NBA-record 23 seasons, the scrappy kid from McLeansboro, Ill., never won an NBA Title with the Jazz, dismissed by the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals. However, Sloan led the Jazz to 1,127 wins, including 16 consecutive winning seasons. And he was the only coach to win 1,000 games with one team.
For perspective, consider that Coach Pop has yet to crack 800 wins.
“`That's` a long time to be in one organization. Again, I've been blessed,” a teary-eyed Sloan said at his resignation press conference. “Today is a new day. When I get this over with, I'll feel better. My time is up, and it's time to move on.”
Sloan’s departure is undoubtedly a significant loss within the ranks of NBA coaches. Of the 30 head coaches in the league, only five of them held their current post prior to 2006. They include: Coach Pop (1996), Doc Rivers of the Celtics (2004), Phil Jackson in his second stint with the Lakers (2005), George Karl of the Nuggets (2005), and Nate McMillan of the Portland Trail Blazers (2005). And more than a third of them have been hired since the end of last year’s regular season.
With a turnover rate likely higher than that of your local Olive Garden, the NBA coaching universe becomes even smaller filtered by active coaches with rings.
There are just three — Coach Pop, Doc Rivers, and, of course, Phil Jackson with a staggering 11 rings.
I never rooted for the Jazz for a laundry list of reasons: Utah; Karl Malone’s concussion-inducing elbow to David Robinson; and John Stockton’s penchant for flopping and showcasing his hairy white legs in shorts so short it’s a miracle Little John never made an appearance.
Nonetheless, Jerry Sloan has been the only Jazz coach I’ve ever known. I’ve respected his loyalty and the fact he consistently credited his team, rather than himself, for their victories.
Since 1988, when Sloan was named head coach of the Jazz 17 games into the season, several events, both direct and indirect, re-charted the Spurs’ course. In April of 1989, Spurs energy man DeJuan Blair was born. Five months later, the Category 5 Hurricane Hugo ravaged the Virgin Islands and forever changed the professional-sports aspirations of a then 13-year-old Tim Duncan. Two months after that, “The Admiral” David Robinson made his Spurs debut.
Finally, nearly eight years to the day after Sloan’s career with the Jazz began, Gregg Popovich (not yet “Coach Pop”) became head coach of the Spurs on December 10, 1996, 18 games into the season.
As we now know, the rest is history that Coach Pop continues to rewrite, one accolade at a time.
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