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Former Denver Nuggets Head Coach Dan Issel Tried To Emulate Jerry Sloan’s Coaching Style

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Former Denver Nuggets head coach Dan Issel had many battles as division rivals with Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz.

While the Nuggets and Jazz were battling for division titles every season, Issel was trying to emulate his coaching to match Sloans’ Jazz teams.

Utah Jazz legend Jerry Sloan passed away at the age of 78 on Friday morning due to complications with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

“When I was coaching I was trying to emulate Jerry (Sloan),” Issel told KSL Sports’ Sam Farnsworth. “He was going to do everything in his fiber to win the basketball game. That was the way he was as a player and that was the way he was as a coach. I am sure there was a lighter side to Jerry but I never saw it in games, he was always 100 percent focused on the task at hand, because of that he was very successful.”

Issel was the head coach of the Nuggets from 1992-95 before returning to the helm from 1999-02.

1994 Playoff Series

During Issel’s two stints in Denver, Sloan and the Jazz held a 19-8 record. Issel finished his coaching career with a 180-208 record in 6 seasons while reaching the postseason once. In that lone postseason appearance, Issel and the Nuggets faced the Jazz in the second round where Utah won the series in seven games after starting with a 3-0 series lead, the Nuggets won three straight to force Game 7.

“We didn’t have much success against that team,” Issel laughed. “We had not won in Utah in forever until that series. We were just coming off of upsetting the Supersonics who had the best record in the league that year. Of course we got down 0-3 to Utah, won a game back in Denver, came in and won Game 5 in Utah then won Game 6. At least Jerry might have been worried about us a little bit given what we had just done to the Supersonics. In the end as he usually did, he prevailed.”

Sloan’s Legacy

When Issel was asked about what will be the defining legacy of Jerry Sloan and what he did for basketball, the answer was simple.

“I think his longevity,” Issel said. “You will never see an NBA coach be in one place that long. The fans loved him and the players loved him. The fact he was able to build and be responsible as anybody for the success of professional basketball in Salt Lake City for as long as we was.”

Issel grew up just outside of Chicago and remembers watching Sloan as a player with the Chicago Bulls. He had a lot of respect for him.

“I am old enough to remember Jerry playing for the Bulls,” Issel said. “I grew up right outside of Chicago and I always admired Jerry by the way he was able to every ounce out of the ability that he had. Very hard-nosed is the phrase that comes to mind. Very physical player, great work ethic and of course he wouldn’t back down from anybody. He was as tough as they come.”

Having seen Sloan as both a player and a coach, Issel said that Sloan put a lot of his traits as a player into his players as a coach.

“When Jerry was in Utah, he had a really good bunch of guys for the majority of the time he was there,” Issel stated. “He had the same persona as a coach that he did as a player. He stood up for his players. Because of the talent he had and his work ethic, he was as successful as a coach as he was as a player.”

For more on the life and legacy of former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan visit