After Tom Kelly stepped down as manager of the Minnesota Twins in Major League Baseball in 2001, Sloan became the longest-tenured head coach in American major league sports with their current franchise. He resigned on February 10, 2011. On June 19, 2013, the Utah Jazz announced that Sloan was returning as an adviser and scouting consultant.
Born and raised in Gobbler's Knob, 15 miles south of McLeansboro, Illinois, Sloan was the youngest of 10 children and was raised by a single mother after his father died when Jerry was 4 years old. He would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to do farm chores and then walk almost two miles to get to school in time for 7 a.m. basketball practice. Sloan graduated an all-state player from McLeansboro High School in 1960.
Sloan was selected 19th in the 1964 NBA draft by the Baltimore Bullets, sitting out the season, then was selected fourth in the 1965 NBA draft by the Bullets, which traded him after one season to the new Chicago Bulls, where he became "the Original Bull", known for his tenacious defense, leading them to the playoffs in their first season, and to their first and only division title before the Michael Jordan era; after a series of knee injuries, he retired in 1976. His number "4" was subsequently retired by the Chicago Bulls in 1978, becoming the first retired jersey in franchise history.
While at Evansville, coach McCutchan suggested that Sloan coach at his alma mater. After retiring in 1976, Sloan took the Evansville job, but withdrew after five days. That same season, the Evansville basketball team and coaching staff were killed in a plane crash at Evansville Airport.
Two years later, Sloan was hired by the Bulls as a scout. After one season in this role, he became an assistant coach with the team. In 1979, Sloan was promoted to the position of head coach. He held the position for less than three seasons, winning 94 games and losing 121. He led the team to the playoffs in his second year, but was fired after a poor start during the following campaign.
After departing Chicago, Sloan became a scout for the Utah Jazz for one season. He then became coach of the Evansville Thunder of the Continental Basketball Association for the 1984 season before returning as assistant coach with the Jazz. After Frank Layden became team president in December 1988, the Jazz chose Sloan as the new head coach. Sloan enjoyed a successful run of 16 consecutive seasons of taking his team to the playoffs, during which time he coached Hall of Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton, along with other players including Jeff Hornacek, Antoine Carr, Tom Chambers, Mark Eaton, and Jeff Malone.
Sloan led the Jazz to six division championships and 10 seasons with greater than 50 wins. He also took the Jazz to the NBA Finals twice, losing in 1997 and 1998, both times to his old team, the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. By the end of this period, he had joined Pat Riley and Phil Jackson as the only coaches with 10 or more seasons winning 50 or more games. After the retirement of long-time Jazz players Malone and Stockton, Sloan coached a younger group of players, including Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, and later, Deron Williams.
After John Stockton retired and Karl Malone signed with the Lakers in the summer of 2003, the 2003-2004 Jazz were widely predicted to be the worst team in the NBA and some even predicted that Utah would set the all-time single season record for fewest wins in a season . Despite the very low expectations and despite second leading scorer Matt Harpring being sidelined for 51 games due to a knee injury, Sloan and his team were involved in a battle for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, which would have given Sloan his 17th straight trip to the playoffs. The Jazz were tied with the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and last spot of the playoffs with three games to go in the regular season. The Jazz lost the final two games, causing Sloan to miss the playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons as Jazz coach. After leading a young team in its first year without Stockton and Malone to an unexpected 42–40 record, he finished just behind Hubie Brown of the Memphis Grizzlies in voting for the 2004 NBA Coach of the Year Award.
Sloan collected his 1,000th career win against the Dallas Mavericks on December 11, 2006, in a 101–79 victory, which made him only the fifth coach in NBA history to reach the milestone. After disappointing seasons in 2004–05 and 2005–06, the strong play of the Jazz in the 2006–07 season had renewed speculation from some sportswriters that Sloan would be a strong candidate for Coach of the Year in 2007. However, Sloan lost the award to Toronto Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell, who led his team to a franchise record-tying 47 victories and their first Atlantic Division title. Sloan lost the vote 394–301.
The Jazz advanced to the Western Conference finals on May 15, 2007, with a 100–87 win over the Golden State Warriors. It was the sixth time in franchise history that Utah advanced to the conference finals, all coming under Sloan. However, they went on to lose 4–1 to the San Antonio Spurs.
During the 2008–09 season, Sloan reached 1,000 wins as coach of the Jazz on November 7 after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 104–97 in a Friday night game. He became the first coach in NBA history with 1,000 wins for one team. Sloan returned as head coach of the Jazz for the 2009–10 season, leading the team to a 53–29 record and the playoffs.
Mirroring his tenacity as a player, Sloan was just as fiery as a coach. He was suspended one game for pushing referee Bob Delaney in April 1993. A decade later, Sloan was served a seven-game suspension in 2003 for pushing referee Courtney Kirkland in Sacramento.
In April 2009, Sloan was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in the same class as his former longtime point guard John Stockton. Sloan chose class of 2006 Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to introduce him during his induction ceremony.
Sloan revealed on February 7, 2011, that he had earlier in the year signed a contract extension to coach the Jazz for the 2011–12 season, which would have been his 24th season as head coach with the Jazz. However, on February 10, 2011, Sloan and assistant Phil Johnson resigned their positions effective immediately. Sloan downplayed reports that conflicts with players prompted his departure. "I've had confrontations with players since I've been in the league", Sloan said. "There's only so much energy left and my energy has dropped." KSL-TV later asked Sloan whether reported conflicts with guard Deron Williams forced him to leave. "I forced myself out", Sloan responded. Williams acknowledged that he had a disagreement with Sloan during the previous night's game, but he added, "I would never force Coach Sloan out of Utah. He's meant more to this town, more to this organization than I have by far. I would have asked out of Utah first."
His last NBA game as Jazz head coach came against, coincidentally, the Chicago Bulls. The Jazz lost, 91–86, on February 9, in a game with various subplots such as former Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, then a Bull, revisiting his former club, and Sloan's long association with the Bulls as a player and coach. Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin was named as Sloan's replacement.
Phil Jackson's reaction to his resignation was typical of the response from around the league:
He was stubborn, you have to be as a coach. But he had a system and the system was effective. It's not easy to have a team in Utah. It's not the biggest draw in the country as far as free agents to go there. And they were able to have a really great home record, played the kind of basketball that was admirable. So we all had admiration for him as coaches around the league. So as a colleague, we’ll miss him.
Nearly two weeks later, Williams was involved in a trade on February 23, 2011, that sent him to the New Jersey Nets. Without the familiar sight of Sloan on the Jazz sideline and now without an all-star talent in Williams, longtime NBA writer Ian Thomsen wrote, "First Jerry Sloan leaves, now Williams is sent away. For two decades we knew who the Utah Jazz were and what they stood for as a franchise. Now we, and they, can have no idea."
A year later, Karl Malone, who played under Sloan for more than a decade, indicated that Sloan did not feel supported by Kevin O'Connor and Greg Miller.
On June 19, 2013, the Utah Jazz announced that Sloan was returning as an adviser and scouting consultant.
On January 31, 2014, the Jazz honored Sloan by raising a banner featuring the number "1223", which represents Sloan wins with the Jazz from 1988 to 2011.
Sloan married his high-school sweetheart, Bobbye. After a well-publicized six-year battle against breast cancer, she died of pancreatic cancer in 2004. They had three children and were married 41 years. One of his sons, Brian, also played basketball for McLeansboro High School and was a member of its undefeated 1984 state championship team, and also played five seasons under Coach Bob Knight at Indiana University, collecting an NCAA title in 1987. His grandson Grant is a member of the University of Virginia baseball team.
In 2006, Jerry Sloan married Tammy Jessop, in Salt Lake City. Sloan has a stepson, Rhett, as a result of this marriage.
Sloan is known to wear John Deere hats and to collect and restore tractors as a hobby. After amassing a collection of tractors that numbered 70, Sloan decided to sell all but two of them after a 35-year-old Allis-Chalmers tractor was stolen. After years of a self-confessed habit of drinking and smoking too much, he has since stopped both, although he has claimed that it never affected him or his coaching.
In April 2016, Sloan was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.
"These guys have been criticized the last few years for not getting to where we're going, but I've always said that the most important thing in sports is to keep trying. Let this be an example of what it means to say it's never over." –after the Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets in game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference finals.
"I don't care if he's 19 or 30. If he's going to be on the floor in the NBA, he's got to be able to step up and get after it. We can't put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next night. It's just the way it is." –on second year guard C. J. Miles, the youngest player on the 2006–07 Utah Jazz.
After Stockton had injured his finger during a game, Jerry was asked what finger Stockton injured. Jerry replied, "The one on his hand."
"Size doesn't make any difference; heart is what makes a difference."