To play in the NBA is to join a fraternity. The Association currently lists 497 players on it’s website although not all of them are active. Given that there’s more than 300 million people in the United States, that’s a pretty small group. Even smaller and perhaps more tight-knit, given the longevity and the fact that there’s a lot fewer spots, is the coaching fraternity.
Today the state of Utah is celebrating one of the greatest coaches ever to pace the NBA’s sidelines. Jerry Sloan led the Jazz for nearly a quarter of a century winning 62 percent of his games. While his coaching deserves all the credit it gets and then some, he did have a decent baller or two come through while he was in charge.
The question we wanted to consider today is, how much of Sloan’s coaching ability rubbed off on his players?
Four of his players are current NBA head coaches and several others are coaching in the league or in college.
Tyrone Corbin – Utah Jazz Head Coach (2011-present)
Corbin played for Sloan and the Jazz from 1991-94. During his stint in Utah the Jazz were competitive and just about to hit the height of the franchises success. Corbin also had the chance to coach under Sloan before taking over the reins three years ago.
“Anytime you replace a legend like him, there’s going to be some comparisons,” Corbin said. “There are going to be some talk about how he would have done it. But [Sloan] wanted to make sure I didn’t feel any undue pressure and he didn’t put any undue pressure on me.”
Back with the franchise as an advisor, Corbin has access to Sloan and he’s not above looking to the old master for a little advice now and then.
“I love hearing his input and I ask him about certain situations,” said Corbin. “He’s an honest guy and I appreciate that about him. He won’t sugarcoat things when they shouldn’t be sugarcoated. He’ll tell you what he thinks and I appreciate that about him.”
Corbin too seems like a straight shooter and that isn’t the only attribute he’s hoped to have gained from his old boss.
“I’m about consistency and working hard, just like Coach Sloan,” Corbin said. “He’s one of the best to ever do it and I was fortunate to learn from him.”
Corbin as a head coach: 103-118
Jeff Hornacek – Phoenix Suns Head Coach (2013-present)
Always about consistency and hard work Sloan must have loved coaching a guy like Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek, it seems, never missed a free throw and always put in an effort on par with anyone in the league and was a major part of the Jazz run to the Finals. Hornacek hasn’t surprised anyone with his coaching success proving he’s a good coach in his first year at the helm in Phoenix.
“Jerry Sloan just instructed us night in and night out – never take a play off. It didn’t matter if it was the beginning of the game or the end of the game. It didn’t matter what the lead was,” reflected Hornacek. “He told us, ‘If you can walk into the locker room after the game and look in the mirror and say that you laid it all out there on every play tonight and we still lost, then so be it, but at least you can still look yourself in the mirror and know you put out full effort.’ These are some of the things that I’ve learned from Coach Sloan, that I will continue to use as a coach.”
Hornacek as head coach: 27-18
Jacque Vaughn – Orlando Magic Head Coach (2012-present)
A former Jazzman that seemed to go quickly from player to coach is Jacque Vaughn. He’s heading the Orlando Magic for a second season and still looks back to his days in Utah as a time that he became a pro and sends a lot of credit for that back to Sloan.
“The reason I do a lot of things I do today is because of [Sloan]. Credit that organization for teaching me how to be a professional,” Vaughn said. “I had great teammates. I saw how he led us as a coach. His demeanor every day. His want every day. His drive. His loyalty. I’ll never forget it.”
Vaughn as head coach: 32-97
Mark Jackson – Golden State Warriors Head Coach (2011-present)
The last current head coach in the NBA to come from the Sloan tree is Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors. While his first year as head coach the Warriors struggled greatly they flourished last year and look poised to be contenders in the West this season. He played one season in Utah near the end of his career.
Jackson as head coach: 97-97
Earning an honorable mention on the list of head coaches that sprouted from the Jerry Sloan era in Utah is Marc Iavaroni. He led the Memphis Grizzlies from 2007-09 with a win percentage of less than 27 percent.
One of the more memorable Jazzman to move into coaching recently is Howard Eisley. A fan favorite while in Utah, he was with the Jazz from 1995-2000 and again in 2004. He’s been working with the Clippers since 2010 as an assistant in player development. He loved the emphasis Sloan and the Jazz put on respect.
“I feel very fortunate to have played for Coach Sloan and his staff,” he said. “What I learned from the Jazz organization is if you show up and put in the work, then you will see results and you will get better. They developed me as a player and a man. Things I talk about today to young players are the same things they taught me. They preached to always play hard and respect the game. Respect everything about it.”
Former Jazzman Greg Foster recently jumped into coaching at the college level, he’s an assistant at UTEP. Foster spent four seasons playing under Sloan and he hasn’t forgotten Sloan’s coaching style.
“He demanded that you executed and were consistent at every aspect of the game and it showed on the court,” Foster said. “He would definitely ride you but he got the most out of us.”
When asked if he had a little of Sloan in his own coaching style he let out a big laugh with a resounding nod.
“Oh you bet I do,” he said. “I’ll get after a guy and have no problem with it. I learned playing for Jerry that it’s not personal and we’re just trying to make the player better. It’s all about winning and nothing else really matters.”
Another connection, this one has returned to Salt Lake City, is Larry Krystkowiak. He only spent one year with the Jazz but it was enough to develop an appreciation for the Jazz. He had a stint as Bucks head coach (31-69) and now heads the University of Utah.
“Jerry would never know it, but I loved his demeanor,” Krystkowiak said. “He doesn’t wear anybody out with a lot of words, but when he opens his mouth, what he says is valid and you’d better be listening to what he is saying. I like his hard-driving style and having played under a number of different coaches, I enjoyed being underneath him.”
Many of the players that played for Sloan are still in the league or recently retired so it won’t be a surprise to see more and more get into the coaching ranks. It’s clear how much of an impact Sloan had on the NBA and on his players. They all show so much respect for that man that helped turned them into men and it’s great to see the next generation of basketball players get a bit of Jerry Sloan education.