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When To Call it Quits

February 16, 2011 - Al Stephenson
Jerry Sloan walked away from the longest tenured coaching job in professional sports last week. He did so in the middle of the season, prompting many to wonder why. After much speculation from the media, Sloan said simply, "it's time." That may be true, but the "timing" was unusual to say the least.

Sloan was an old time basketballer, both as a player and a coach. He played the game hard and he expected his players to do the same. He exuded class, giving the players credit when things went well and accepting the blame when it didn't. His former players seem to revere him as a person as well as a coach. His current players - well, I'm not so sure.

Reports surfaced that he had some problems with his star point guard Deron Williams. In a game against the Chicago Bulls, just days before his resignation, Williams ran a different play than Sloan called just before halftime. There was an exchange of words at the half, and many seem to think that Sloan made his decision to quit at that moment. If players are going to refuse to listen to you, it probably is time to hang up the whistle. You simply walk away from the money, the fame and the joy of doing what you love.

When coaches stay around a long period of time - at any level - they are going to run into situations that are no fun. Dealing with disgruntled players is certainly one of those situations, and you can't avoit it. It is impossible to make every player on every team happy 100% of the time. Not going to happen. Won't work. Period. How a coach copes with those situations will help determine his longevity on the sidelines.

In today's professional sports arena there is a new twist. Players make an ungodly amount of money. There is no longer the fear that if you don't obey the coach you might find yourself out of work. With this knowledge comes power. A player weighs the consequences and frequently thinks he can do what he wants. The club won't cut him. They would lose too much money (don't you just love guaranteed contracts!).

Now I am not saying that Deron Williams forced Jerry Sloan to retire, but look at some other high profile players. Brett Favre not a Packer for life? Nope. LeBron would seriously consider leaving Cleveland? You bet. Mello going to stay a Nugget? C.C a Yankee? There is absolutely no way that Albert Pujols would ever leave St. Louis. Is there???????

Athletes are different today, if for no other reason than the fact that they are richer. The athletes that Jerry Sloan was coaching years ago are not like today's athletes. Coaching them the same way you did twenty years ago might not work. When push comes to shove a coach needs to know when to call it quits.

The view from my seat suggests that Jerry Sloan decided he was too outdated to coach anymore. He wasn't willing to change his ideals to hang on for a few more years. Heck he couldn't even stay on a few more games to finish the season.

I think that's sad. Not surprising, but sad.


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