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Utah's Sloan nears milestone

December 03, 2006|From the Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Sloan doesn't like it much when somebody makes a fuss about him.

He has the longest tenure of any head coach in major pro sports, the fifth-highest win total in NBA history and is on the verge of another milestone.

Sloan is about to get his 1,000th victory as an NBA coach, yet takes little credit for any of them.

"That's not why I'm coaching and that's not why I played," grumbles Sloan, who had 997 victories through Friday.

Sloan says his longevity comes from a combination of luck, good players and good assistants. Others can call 1,000 a milestone. He will just think of it as another win, even though only four other coaches have reached that total.

Sloan needed 16 victories for his 1,000th entering this season, and got 12 in Utah's first 13 games. If the Jazz can put together a string like that in the playoffs, even the cantankerous Sloan will be happy. Until then, he's going to push his players the way he has through his first 18 seasons as Utah's coach.

"To me that's what it's all about -- trying to be as good as you can be every day. I know that's kind of corny, but that's all I know," Sloan said.

It's about as complex as Utah's pick-and-roll. Sloan just expects his players to work -- hard -- and his standard of what constitutes "work" probably is higher than most.

Raised on a farm in southern Illinois and the youngest of 10 children, Sloan never has lost his country mind-set.

"I think that's part of my job. Some players don't like that," Sloan said. "I think in order for them to get better, they need to be reminded that they need to work hard. They're getting paid a lot of money to be in this business."

Sloan, who had to stop wearing his John Deere cap at practice when the NBA adopted a new dress code last season, has taken his tough-love method a long way. He led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both times to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

The Jazz haven't reached the finals since, but Sloan is coaching much the same as he always has.

"He's intense," forward Matt Harpring said. "Even when we win, he's saying, 'Hey guys, we can still get better. Let's get to the best we can be.' That's why he's lasted here so long -- because he gets players better."

Sloan has adjusted slightly to having a younger team than he's used to. But he hasn't softened much. Jazz owner Larry Miller said he sees a little more understanding and patience from the coach.

"There's an element of him letting them see the compassionate side of him. Now that's a word people don't use with Jerry, but I think he's always had that but stopped people from seeing that," Miller said.

As hard as he is on them, Sloan also is intensely loyal to his players. He will bellow at officials until he gets a technical -- sometimes two -- and twice has gone too far. He was suspended for a game in 1993 for bumping an official, and for seven games when he shoved a referee in 2003.

Sloan apologized and never questioned the length of the suspension.

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