If luck is the residue of design, it follows that bad luck is the residue of bad design. At least that's the working theory on the Timberwolves.

Tuesday, a day after firing Randy Wittman and presenting the reluctant Kevin McHale as the coach of his home state's inept NBA franchise, who should appear on the Wolves' schedule? Jerry Sloan.

That's not fair. Sloan is synonymous with stability; the Wolves are waiting for Obama to bail them out, or at least offer a stimulus package.

Sloan celebrated the 20th anniversary of his head coaching debut with the Utah Jazz at Target Center last night. This is like holding the presidential inauguration at a Chuck E. Cheese.

Sloan is the longest-tenured coach in pro sports. During his tenure, other NBA teams have made 223 coaching changes. Only half of those involved the Wolves.

On this night in Minneapolis, Sloan could not have coached with more passion had this been the seventh game of the NBA finals. After the late turnover that could have cost his team the game, he rushed onto the court to encourage his players. After Mehmet Okur's game-winning shot, Sloan screamed for his players to get back on defense.

After his team's 99-96 victory, Sloan breathed deeply outside his team's lockeroom, and someone asked if he had another 20 in him. "You mean 20 more years, or minutes?" he said, smiling. "That's what I've always done, take it a little at a time."

That's how McHale plans to take it with the Wolves, and, believe it or not, that's a shame.

McHale coached 31 games after firing Flip Saunders a few years ago, and needed to be talked into this second stint. Tuesday, he repeated his complaints about NBA travel.

So on one bench last night there was Sloan, a good NBA player born to be a coach who has never wavered in his commitment to his vocation, and on the other bench there was McHale, a great NBA player who considers coaching a hobby that impinges on his lifestyle.

The shame of this is that McHale, given the right attitude, would make a wonderful coach. As many shots as he deserves for his construction of the Wolves, McHale did good work the last time he paced the sideline, when he took a team rife with resentments and contract disputes that had tuned out Flip Saunders and went 19-12.

When McHale coached that team, you could see design on offense and effort on defense. Following the ineffectual Wittman, McHale immediately improved what has been a listless squad, at least for one night.

I asked McHale if he ever regretted leaving the bench to return to the front office. "Nah, not really," he said. "At that time our kids were a lot younger. I've only got one at home right now. Tommy's 15. At that time we had three at home.

"Everybody who knows me, who talks to me -- the coaching and the players and practices, home games, are gtreat. I've got not interest in getting into Denver at 2:30 in the morning and having a 50-minute bus ride from an airport that is closer to Montana than Denver. That whole thing is just a drag."

As coaches say, you've got to want it, and Sloan, the NBA bruiser turned coach, has wanted this life his entire life.

"I still think I have pretty good energy for my age, I don't think that's waned too much," Sloan said. "I'm not quite as lively as I used to be, but I still like to win, and get the players to play hard, and we don't always get what we want, but that's our goal, same as when we first started -- to get the guys to play hard and play with some sort of organization."

Yes, you've got to want it, and so Sloan is grinding through his 20th season with the Jazz, and McHale is insisting he doesn't want this life, not if the NBA is going to insist on those inconvenient road games.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •  jsouhan@startribune.com