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Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

December 11, 2008

So number 223, as it turned out, was the Pesky Timberwolves’ Randy Wittman (I had to go look that up. I wanted to say his name was Sam Whittleman).

A lot’s been said about how Jerry is the longest tenured coach in North American professional sports. KK2 wasn’t even born yet when he took over, four presidents have been inaugurated, five teams have gone through double-digit coaching changes, five expansion teams have entered the league…

During the pre-game show, KFAN was playing songs from the year that Jerry took over the head coach position–gems like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Faith.” Did I feel old.

I’m having a little trouble with words, so I’m stealing BBJ’s:

The only coach you’ve ever known…I can’t even imagine being a fan of another team where they’ve probably had at least 3-4 coaches in that same time frame.

Jerry is one of the greastest all-time coaches, period, and I can’t even contemplate the day when someone else is walking the ESA sidelines and cursing the refs.

Unlike certain vain, egomaniacal “all-time” coaches named Jackson and Riley, Jerry didn’t quit/suddenly need surgery to preserve his winning percentage when his HOF stars retired from the NBA/retired from the Jazz. That he achieved a winning record the subsequent season with a team of AK + scrubs and only had one losing season in 20 years–and helped keep our rebuilding years to a minimum–speaks volume about his greatness. After all, there are teams that have been rebuilding since they were born (Hello, Minnie).

He has stuck with the team through thick and thin and through personal tragedy, has never cared about accolades, doesn’t want praise or fuss, doesn’t even really want to talk about his amazing and unheard-of achievements in a game where coaches are oh-so-expendable. Jerry maintains that it’s a players’ game and is unbelievably humble, throwing credit around and never taking any for himself. He’s totally honest and straightforward and tells it like it is. He doesn’t play mind games, get himself a throne to sit on at games, appear on “The Dog Whisperer,” or regard himself as a religious guru.

I didn’t realize this when I started typing, but I guess one of the things it comes down to is that if it we were celebrating Phil Jackson’s 20th anniversary as the Jazz head coach today, this post would be blank. Say what you want about Jerry, but you can’t not respect him, his fire, his intensity, his competitiveness. And the man that coaches the same way he played (click; it’s a great read)–which led to him having the sole jersey hanging in Chicago’s rafters until the Bulls retired MJ’s–does indeed have my complete respect.

How many players looked decent playing in Utah, went elsewhere because they thought they could play, and found out they couldn’t after all? (Hello Shandon Anderson). Jerry gets the most out of his players (Meech excepted), instills his work ethic and drive in ’em, and that is perhaps why the Jazz are still in Utah.

He showed it in the years after Karl and John retired, but this season more than any other, he’s shown that he’s flexible, current, and still relevant. The injury situation definitely has something to do with it, but Jerry has shown that he’s willing to shake up his rotation AND play rookie/young players. In regards to the latter, it’s pretty clear by now if you work hard and can follow instructions (stay within the offense), Jerry will play you. (see KK2, Sap (rookie year), Almond, CJ)

No, he doesn’t like 3s (except when they go in) or oops, but what’s wrong with good ol’ fashioned basketball the way it’s supposed to be played, playing inside-out, and layups and paint points being the first option? I’d spend a lot less time yelling at the TV if the Jazz followed this principle (most of the time; I like the highlights too of course).

And so…it comes down to this: Larry deserves much of the credit for creating the situation that Jazz fans celebrated today. A situation where the players know that if they don’t like Jerry’s way or system, they’re the ones going, not Jerry. And that’s a recipe for success that has worked for 20 years.

Linkage and Quotage:
Jerry: “I mean, anybody could have been in this position. I just think I just happened to be lucky, the guy that came along and the right place and they hired me as a head coach. I never think of myself as better than anybody else or anything like that. I just think I’ve been fortunate.”

–On the day that Layden made the announcement:

Sloan, who had been fired as Chicago Bulls coach in February 1982 after 2 1/2 seasons, circled around the locker room, shaking the hand of every player to express his gratitude. “He was bawling, crying, by the end of it. I’ll never forget it. By the time he got around to the last guy, there was not a dry eye in the house,” Iavaroni said, “because he was very, very emotional about getting into the seat and getting to coach again. It’s been an incredible ride.” (from both sltrib and desnews)

On Jerry and Phil’s interweaving coaching careers:

Sloan played under Johnson during his NBA playing days in Chicago in the early 1970s and then hired him as his sidekick for his first head coaching gig with the Bulls in the late 1970s-early 1980s. He knew exactly the type of basketball guru the former Weber State assistant and head coach and Utah State standout athlete was. Johnson, who’d also previously been one of Layden’s assistants [while Jerry was a Jazz scout; Sloan later replaced Johnson as Layden’s assistant after Johnson left to coach the Sacramento Kings], was coaching with the Sacramento Kings during the Layden-to-Sloan transition, so Utah’s new coach had to get permission to speak to him about rejoining the Jazz. Sloan first called then-Kings coach Jerry Reynolds, who hired Johnson after replacing him in Sacramento. (Yes, this does sound like an NBA coaching soap opera.) The Jazz and Kings worked contract stuff out, Johnson agreed to return to the Beehive State, flew back to California from an Eastern road trip with Sacramento, grabbed some clean clothes and hooked up with Utah just in time to head back East for a six-game trip after being rehired by the Jazz on Dec. 11, 1988.

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