During the long coaching tenure of Jerry Sloan, the Utah Jazz were structured almost to a fault. They were about precision, a tireless defence and a workmanlike offence. As reliable as a Swiss watch and as flashy as a Buick.
For 23 seasons Sloan's Jazz were never champions but always contenders as he swapped old parts for new.
Sloan, 68, was demanding and tough, and so were his teams. He was old-school before the school was old. He was about sets and patterns and playing through pain. His signature teams, who reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, were led by the rough-and-ready Karl Malone and John Stockton, the almost perfect duo for a muscular half-court offence.
Sloan never worried about coddling stars or entertaining fans. Winning was its own reward, and he won more games, 1,221, than all but two coaches in NBA history.
But everything changed last Thursday, Sloan announced his resignation in the middle of the season, stunning the NBA and the passionate fans of Salt Lake City.
The stoic, steely-eyed Sloan seemed to catch himself by surprise when he was almost overcome by emotion as he announced his retirement. "This is a little bit tougher than I thought it would be," he said.
Who ran the sheriff out of town? Sloan did not say, but a posse soon gathered around Deron Williams, the young and gifted point guard. He and Sloan had been involved in a terse discussion at half time of a game with Chicago on Wednesday. It was hardly their first disagreement but few suspected it would be their last.
Williams denied he issued a "him-or-me" ultimatum to management. "Maybe arguing was the last straw, so there I am, guilty of that,"' Williams said of the half-time clash. "But I think anybody who believes I could force coach Sloan to resign is crazy. He's stronger than that."
Williams can become a free agent after next season, so the Jazz are probably doing what they believe will make their best player happy. The Jazz are not on the cutting edge of American culture, but it seems even the Utah management finally discovered players sell tickets. Replacing a coach, even an NBA legend, is far easier than finding an elite point guard.
Without the certainty of Sloan, the Jazz are free to enter the unknown.