The Best Coach Without A Title Debate Verdict

February 25, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

Right from the very beginning, Optimist Prime was well aware of the challenges he faced in this debate. He knew there are always long odds associated with pleading a case for any figure as the greatest in their respective field, let alone the greatest across all sports. Yet, he still made his case for Jerry Sloan as the greatest coach to never win a championship.

Ever the hopeless optimist, he made a valiant effort to support Sloan’s claim to the legacy of being the best coach without a ring. He cited a compelling case for the very best Utah Jazz teams that Sloan coached to Western Conference championships following the 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 regular seasons. He explained that these excellent Jazz teams were among the very best in basketball and only failed to win a championship because they faced the Jordan Era Chicago Bulls, perhaps the greatest team in NBA history.

At first appearance it seems that Optimist Prime basically made a case for Sloan on the premise that playing second fiddle to the greatest of all time should count for something. But I think his argument means slightly more than that. It means that had Sloan’s Jazz teams of the late ‘90s played in a different time, there may very well have been no debate at all as they would have in all likelihood come away with at least one championship.

While I was not quite ready to jump on the Sloan bandwagon just yet, I kept finding myself returning to one statistic that Optimist Prime pointed out in his argument – that Sloan is one of three coaches to have at least 15 consecutive winning seasons. The only other two coaches to accomplish that feat are Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, and those fellas know a thing or two about great coaching, as evidenced by their championship hardware. That is some pretty elite company to keep and comparatively that accomplishment helps Sloan’s success transcend the NBA.

After reading Optimist Prime’s words a second time through, I began to think that maybe – just maybe – Sloan could indeed be the greatest coach without a championship… that is until I read Bleacher Fan’s argument.

I don’t normally like to gush about one of Bleacher Fan’s arguments, as his ego is already Shaq-sized. But his argument was honestly an unstoppable freight train of correctness. His case against Sloan didn’t just poke holes in Optimist Prime’s argument – it made Swiss cheese of it. It is not that Optimist Prime did anything wrong, either. He played the hand he was dealt in this debate as well as anyone could, but Bleacher Fan brought the pain with one relentless point rebuttal after another, ultimately earning him today’s win.

His assertion that there is something inherently wrong about walking away from a team mid-season is dead on. It speaks more of Sloan’s cowardice and defeated attitude than it does of adding to the legacy of being one of the best ever. His point that coaches in other sports have better career regular season winning percentages than Sloan (to say nothing of bettering his pedestrian .485 winning percentage in the playoffs) was certainly not lost on me. He put the nail in the coffin when he proved that Sloan wasn’t even the greatest coach in his own league without a title. By point out the fact that Don Nelson has far more NBA coaching wins in the NBA than Sloan, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that Sloan really doesn’t even belong in the “greatest ever” conversation.

Here’s to you Bleacher Fan. You are the victor for writing one of the most compelling arguments I have ever judged here on The Sports Debates.

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The Best Coach Without A Title Debate

February 24, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

When Jerry Sloan walked away from basketball recently, he did so without basking in the glory of a championship. Rather, he did so in the shadow of frustration and dreams left unfulfilled.

Sloan, the coach of the Utah Jazz since 1988, has led a remarkable career. He retires with two Western Conference championships, 1,221 wins, and a .603 career winning percentage. But the fact that he has no NBA titles seems to overshadow much of Sloan’s accomplishments. He has, for years, been one of the greatest coaches in the NBA… but been vastly underappreciated. Now, in the wake of his retirement, reflecting on his career, we are pondering this question: Is Jerry Sloan the best coach across all sports to have never won a title?

Optimist Prime believes the answer to that question is a resounding YES! Bleacher Fan, on the other hand, believes that while Sloan is a great coach he is certainly not THE greatest coach of across all sports without a championship.

Admittedly, judging this debate will push me out of my comfort zone. I feel that losers have little to offer the world, yet I must declare at least one coach that has never won a championship… a winner. It will be an interesting debate to say the least.

Gentlemen, make the legacies of oft-overlooked coaches shine.

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The Best Coach Without A Title Debate… Sloan One Of the Best, Regardless of Ring

February 24, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

I think an “across all sports” debate like this is one difficult to write, and impossible to judge. It’s akin to asking someone if his or her apple pie or steak was better. The standards for comparison are completely different, and both can be equally enjoyable without diminishing the other one in any way.

Given that, I certainly understand if somebody doesn’t agree with me that Jerry Sloan was the best coach across all of sports to never win a title. However, it’s my job to win this debate, and win it is what I intend to do.

I thought of a lot of different approaches that I could take in this debate. I could have argued statistics until I was blue in the face. For example, Sloan coached the Jazz to 15 consecutive playoff appearances. He is one of only three coaches in NBA history with 15 (or more) consecutive winning seasons (Pat Riley and Phil Jackson are the other two – solid company). He retired with a .603 winning percentage. Taking note of those statistics, however, I did not want to rely on those for my argument because it is far too easy to shoot holes in statistics or argue against them with other statistics that you believe to be superior.

I also thought of perusing the Internet to find people making this argument but, honestly, I am not sure why one guy on the Internet making this argument would make my article any more credible. That idea was quickly discarded.

I settled on what I believe to be the best argument for why Jerry Sloan was the best coach across all of sports to never win a title. At its core, the argument is very simple.

His two best teams, the 1996-97 and 1997-98 Utah Jazz, only lost championship series appearances to one of the greatest NBA teams of all time – the 1996-98 Chicago Bulls. More importantly, however, his best teams lost to a team led by arguably the greatest team sport athlete in history, Michael Jordan. Jordan’s name and on-court achievements generate respect from all corners of the sports world and even a few corners of the non-sports world (but who would want to live there?).

Sloan’s Jazz took the Bulls to the brink two years in a row (losing each series four games to two), so it seems obvious that the margin between one of the best teams in NBA history and Sloan’s best team is small, at best. In fact, if Michael Jordan doesn’t steal the ball and smoothly sink the game winning shot/push off (depending on your perspective, of course), it’s possible that the final Bulls championship team may have lost to the Jazz after all, given the fact that game seven of that series was going to be in Utah. Again, arguably the greatest team sport athlete in history, making the type of play expected from athletes of his caliber, is all that stood between Sloan and the immortality of being named a champion.

Sports are funny. Often the margin between hero and goat is miniscule. For players, however, there is no excuse – if you don’t score the goal or make the shot, the way you are remembered is directly a result of your actions.

For coaches, however, the standard is different. It is the coach’s job to put the player in the best possible position to execute the winning strategy. Jerry Sloan has his best player with the ball in his hands at the end of a crucial game. His best player lost the ball, and Sloan’s team lost the game. Should that affect the way Sloan is remembered? I say no. He is still one of the greatest coaches in sports ever, and definitely the best to be without a championship ring.

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The Best Coach Without A Title Debate… A Lifetime of Jazz, Concluded by the Blues

February 24, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

After 23 years, Jerry Sloan walked away from the Utah Jazz. Mid-season.

After 23 years, Sloan intimated that he just didn’t have the energy or the desire anymore, and that he knew “this was the time to move on.”

Translation – Jerry Sloan QUIT.

I don’t care that he coached the same team for 23 years, or that he won 1221 games. I also don’t care about his two Western Conference championships, or the Hall of Famers he’s coached, and I don’t care that he is one of only three coaches in the NBA with at least 15 consecutive winning seasons.

I don’t care about those things because none of them matter now. Why? Because Jerry Sloan is a quitter.

So tell me please, how can he be the greatest coach in sports without a title?

It is not like he left in the off-season, or even at the end of a contract because he was tired and ready for his golden years. There are no health issues that anyone is aware of, and no personal matters to attend to. He just decided at the end of a basketball game in the middle of the season that he was taking his things and going home.

He gave no warning, left his organization with no backup plan, and just walked away.

It may be harsh to call Sloan a quitter, but that’s exactly what I am doing, and I’ll say it again – Jerry Sloan cannot be the greatest head coach across sports without a title. Because he is a quitter.

Optimist Prime is going to portray Sloan as a legendary coach with a legendary tenure in the Jazz organization. But the only REAL accomplishment he ever showed was an ability to not get fired.

Owning the longest coaching tenure in sports with the same team does not make you great. In that “illustrious” tenure, which spanned 26 total seasons… the one that Optimist Prime will be raving about… how many times did he even SNIFF a shot at a championship? Twice, that’s it.

Think about the great AFC coaches of the NFL during the 1980s and 1990s. They were tasked with coaching in an inferior conference, loaded with inferior talent, against an NFC group that was better funded, and better skilled.

I’m talking about guys like Dan Reeves, and Marv Levy.

No matter how great of these coaches might have been, they simply did not have the weaponry to stack up against teams led by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, or Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

But these were great coaches, and they had more comparative success in their shortened tenures than Sloan did over a much longer career.

Reeves coached for only 23 years, but won his conference four times. Levy managed to win four conference championships in only 17 seasons. Once again, Sloan boasts only two conference championships over a 26 year career.

While Sloan’s regular season W-L record is impressive, his playoff presence left much more to be desired. Over his career, he won only 98 playoff games, compared to 104 losses, for a playoff win percentage of .485 (that’s a losing record). Compare that to Reeves (.550), or Levy (.579).

If Sloan isn’t the greatest coach across sports without a title, is he at least the greatest coach in NBA history without a title? Once more, the answer is “no.”

That claim should belong to Don Nelson, who retired last season after 31 years in the NBA.

Nelson, a three-time NBA coach of the year, has won more games as an NBA coach than anyone else in league history. That puts him ahead of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, and every other “great” to have coached in the league as far as wins go. But for all those victories, Nelson does not have a championship to his credit.

In fact, Jerry Sloan was never even the greatest coach in the league for a single season during his tenure, having never been recognized as Coach of the Year. While guys like Nelson, or even Mike Fratello (also without a championship) have managed to at least garner honors as the top coach within a single season, Sloan falls short of the mark yet again.

Make no mistake, Jerry Sloan had an impressive coaching career. But his legacy, highlighted only by endurance, and marred greatly by the manner in which he left the game, falls far short of the standards set by so many other great coaches out there never fortunate enough to win a championship.

I’m sorry, Mr. Sloan, but this is one more title you have failed to clinch.

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The 2010 NBA Under The Radar Pick Up Debate… Bell Joins Jazz Ensemble

July 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The Utah Jazz took an early hit when the 2010 free agency period kicked off, immediately losing Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer.

After reaching the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, the losses of both Korver and Boozer to the Bulls presented a sudden and serious obstacle to the team’s chances of stretching that run into a fifth season.

In response to the loss of Boozer, the Jazz landed Al Jefferson, who brings him with the potential for even greater production that Boozer had while at a much cheaper price. But it is the new shooting guard who will have the most valuable impact on the Jazz roster – Raja Bell.

Already once a fan favorite in Salt Lake City, this signing serves as a bit of a homecoming for Bell who previously found success in Utah under head coach Jerry Sloan. The experience that Bell already has in playing for Sloan, combined with the support he will undoubtedly receive from the fans upon his return, should make for a very smooth transition as Bell returns to the Jazz once more.

But sentimentality is not the reason this is such a solid pickup for Utah.

What really makes this the prize under the radar pickup is the combination of solid offensive and defensive perimeter play that Bell brings with his game.

It was his defensive prowess that made Bell a standout during his first Utah Jazz campaign (as well as elsewhere around the league). A two-time winner of the NBA’s All Defensive honors (in 2007 and 2008), Bell has a very quick and aggressive style in moving to the ball, and he is able to apply constant pressure to opposing shooters on the outside. It is precisely that perimeter defense which will be invaluable to the Jazz, who ranked 16th in the league last season in allowing three-pointers.

As for his offensive credentials, Bell may not have earned All NBA honors but he IS one of the top three-point shooters in the league. Just four seasons ago Bell led the league in three-pointers made with 205 while he was playing with the Phoenix Suns. And, his CAREER three-point shooting percentage of .412 ranks as the 11th best mark ALL TIME.

The only knock against Bell is the fact that he basically missed the entire 2009-2010 season because of a wrist injury. Bell is confident that he has fully recovered from that injury, though, and will in all likelihood prove to be a solid upgrade on both sides of the ball from what Kyle Korver offered the Jazz last season.

Bell is one of the league’s all-time best from beyond the three-point arc, he plays some of the best defense in the league, and he is returning to a team and coach that he previously found success with, in front of fans who are ecstatic to see him back on their side of the ball.

That sounds like a successful, low-profile signing to me!

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The NBA Team Poised To Make a Run Debate – All That Jazz!

February 17, 2010

Read the arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

Two weeks ago, nobody outside of Salt Lake City was seriously paying attention the Utah Jazz.

In fact, after a January 8th loss in Memphis, the Jazz were sitting at 19-17, just barely hovering above the .500 mark… the mark that can be the difference between postseason life or death in the NBA Western Conference. People are noticing the Jazz, now.

Since that loss to Memphis, the Jazz have gone on to win 14 of their last 16 games, making them the hottest team in the league behind LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. During that run, they notched victories at Dallas, at San Antonio, at Portland, and at Houston, all of whom are legitimate playoff contenders in the West. They also won at home against Cleveland, Miami, Denver, and Phoenix. Those are big wins against big teams, including two of the best teams in the NBA (Cleveland and Denver).

The only thing more impressive than the list of names the Jazz have notched on their bedpost in the last month-and-a-half is the manner in which they have beaten those teams. During that same 16 game run, the Jazz are averaging more than 108 points per game, while allowing only 98 points per game on defense. They have outscored their opponents by more than 10 points per game on average! They are not just squeaking by with close calls and last-second lucky breaks. They are shutting down some of the top teams in the league in very impressive fashion.

Their recent performance has definitely caught the attention of the NBA, and they have given no indication of letting up any time soon.

Leading the pack for the Jazz is power forward, Carlos Boozer, who is fresh off the receiving end of an all-star snub, despite his 19.2 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game averages that are comparable to several of this year’s all-star selections, including Chris Kaman (19.6ppg and 8.9rpg) and Pau Gasol (17.1ppg and 11.2rpg). Along with Boozer comes a genuine all-star this year in point guard Deron Williams, who is among the best assist-men in the country behind only Steve Nash and Chris Paul with 9.9 assists per game.

It is the team that surrounds Boozer and Williams that makes the Jazz one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Because Williams is so successful in dishing off the ball to his teammates, he can find excellent scoring opportunities for anyone on the floor, and it does not matter which player in Utah is catching the ball, they ALL know how to take advantage of those opportunities.

While no one on the Jazz is averaging more than 20 points per game, their starting five still manages to combine for more than 70 points every night on the court. After Boozer and Williams, you have center Mehmet Okur and forward Andrei Kirilenko combining for 20-25 points per game. Rounding out the starting five is guard Ronnie Brewer with another nearly 10 points every night, and backup forward Paul Millsap tacks on another 11.4, just for a little icing on the cake.

Simply put, the Jazz have an answer for every defense that is thrown at them. As soon as a team focuses on one player, two more step up and take the reins in his place.

Utah has caught fire recently, steamrolling through the last five weeks of the season. Do not expect that to end anytime soon.

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The NBA “Too Soon To Sign” Debate – It’s the NBA, Man… Coaches Aren’t Important!

July 8, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument here.

NBA coaches are as useless as a snooze button on a smoke alarm, right? That’s what some NBA writers would have you believe. No other media covering any other professional league treats coaches with the disrespect NBA media dish out to coaches. You’d think that coaches are a dime a dozen. After all, the NBA is a player’s league, right? That’s why Detroit Pistons General Manager Joe Dumars can sign two free agent players, guard Ben Gordon and power forward Charlie Villanueva, to five year contracts each without having a coach in place. But, Dumars has made a sad, stupid mistake that is going to put the city of Detroit through ever more tough times.

Long-tenured, successful NBA coaches are able to adjust their system and style – slightly – to the talent they have around them. This is due, in large part, to coaches having a close relationship with the General Manager so that the right talent is brought in to fit the coach’s system. That’s why you see coaches like the Utah Jazz’s Jerry Sloan, the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, and the Los Angeles Lakers Phil Jackson become legendary coaches. They are able to influence the personnel decisions and construction of a team so only players suited to their style of coaching become members of their teams.

Dumars has set up his new coach, former Cleveland Cavs assistant John Kuester, for failure. How can Kuester be expected to come into Detroit with no say over the draft or the free agency period? Did Dumars deliberately seek out a coach who was able to manage these two types of players? Was he forced to because he signed them so quickly?

While Dumars has gaffed here, it’s also fair to question the rationale of the players involved. Why would Gordon and Villanueva sign a contract without knowing they’re going to like the man they’ll be playing for in 2009-2010? It’s simple – money. And, that reason isn’t good, it’s dumb. The investment Dumars has made in these two players is considerable compared to the investment in the coach. Which do YOU think is expendable? Yup, it’s the coach, putting the players in a tough spot of coaching change, and further away from what SHOULD be their goal as professional athlete – a championship.

So, why does Dumars not get his coaching situation squared away earlier in the off-season? I have no idea. Do players who are serial money-chasers ever win several championships? Nope (though Latrell Sprewell was able to feed his children). Kind of makes you wonder whether the motivation for Gordon and Villanueva is money, or jewelry. My gut tells me it’s money, which will buy them all the jewelry they want, expect for one ring.

Bottom line, is it easier to find a coach than a player? No. It is MUCH easier to find a player to fit a coach’s system than a coach who can fit a player… let alone TWO players (two players not know for their defense). The timing of Dumars’ coaching hire is as dumb as the player’s decision to sign with a coachless team.