By Chris Sheridan
While Chicago Bulls fans try to digest the totality and the implausibility of their blown 35-point lead in Monday night's loss to the Sacramento Kings, here is a tale to help kill the hours (and the accompanying pondering of whether this is Vinny Del Negro's last game) between now and tipoff of their road game tonight at New York.
Once upon a time -- long before the Christmas Eve firings of Tim Floyd and Scott Skiles -- the Bulls had a guy in their head coaching position who would go on to have quite a bit of success in that field: Jerry Sloan.
Yep, the same Sloan who has been in command in Utah for so long (since 1988) that there have been an astounding 235 head coaching changes (including interim coaches) around the NBA during Sloan’s 22-season tenure with the Jazz.
But once upon a time, Sloan got the axe in Chicago. (Rod Thorn was the executioner, and he went 15-15 as the interim head coach before Paul Westhead was hired for the 1982-83 season. Westhead lasted just one year, Kevin Loughery then had a two-year stint, Stan Albeck held the job for one year and Doug Collins for three before Phil Jackson came aboard and stayed nine years.)
And when Sloan got fired, he knew it was coming.
“Rod called me early in the morning, right before I was getting ready to get up. He just said ‘We’re going to make a change,’ and I said ‘That’s fine, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ I recall I may have said something crazy, too, I don’t know,” Sloan recounted in an interview with ESPN.com.
“The thing was, I knew I was going to get fired. Johnny Morris (a former football star for the Chicago Bears and a sportscaster for WBBM-TV) told me ‘You’re going to get fired tonight after the game,’ and he knew before the game. He came down at 6:30 and said ‘Have they fired you yet?’ and I said no, and so we did our usual pre-game interview both knowing that I was going to get fired.
“So I was aware of it, and after the game I went downtown, and then when I got home I was told Rod had called, and I told my wife ‘I know what that’s about.’ So she knew, too, and that’s how it went down,” Sloan said.
After cleaning out his office at the old Chicago Stadium and driving back to his home in Northbrook, Sloan made plans to head off to the pub with ex-Bull teammate Tom Boerwinkle and another neighbor.
But first, Sloan gathered his family around and told them this was going to be a life lesson.
“I sat my kids down, and I said this might help you one day, how you react to it. You have to learn the good comes with the bad, this is one of those times when things aren’t very good, but I will survive,” Sloan said.
And survive he did.
Just something for Del Negro to consider if he arrives home early Wednesday morning after the Bulls' charter flight back from New York and sees a voice mail awaiting him from John Paxson. If he follows Sloan's lead, he'll return the call after a night's sleep.