Layden did funny, unusual things, too. He once fined Adrian Dantley 30 pieces of silver (citing the biblical reference) for ignoring his contract and holding out for more money. During a losing effort against the Lakers, he left the bench, walked out the door of the Forum and, while his team was finishing the game, ate a BLT in a hotel coffee shop.
His most famous coaching ploy occurred after the Jazz were blown out by the Lakers in Game 1 of the 1988 conference semifinals. Layden told the media the Jazz didn't have a chance against the Lakers. Fans and reporters were outraged that he was throwing in the towel. What they didn't know was that Layden told the Jazz they could win the series. They almost did, falling in seven games.
In a fraternity of trim men in Armanis, Layden was the class clown suit rumpled, shirttail hanging out, tie askew, belly spilling over his belt. The problem was that Layden's clowning persona tended to obscure his talents as a fine basketball coach who possessed a keen eye for talent and a knack for working with and motivating players. He wanted to be known as a man of depth which he is not as a funny man.
"I never really looked at myself as a humorous person," he once observed. "But no one believes that. I walk into a room and people expect me to slip on a banana peel."
Layden's real secret to survival and personal success was that he didn't take basketball too seriously, and when he did he quit coaching twice. As the team improved, the self-imposed pressure mounted. He overate and overdrank. Even the officiating bothered him, and the angry outbursts and fines grew more frequent. He coached the Jazz a little more than seven seasons, then gave the job to Sloan and became team president in 1988. In the end, he hadn't liked what he had become as a coach.
"When I quit coaching, I was dying my hair," he once said. "I weighed 325 pounds. Right after I quit, I started letting the gray come in."
A few years later he did something about the weight. He dropped his weight from 335 pounds to 160 in 1996, and has remained slim since then.
A couple of years ago, Layden became head coach of Utah's WNBA team, but he quickly fell into the same trap, taking the game too seriously, and quit again after only 15 games on the job.
"I was getting angry," he says. "Life's too short for that."
Layden calls his coaching career "an accident." If he had to do it all over again, he would be a lawyer. His real passion lies in the arts and literature. He took passages from his reading and left them on his answering machine, a different one each week. For example: "F. Scott Fitzgerald said, 'Show me a hero, and I will write you a tragedy.' Now, what have you got to say for yourself."
Or: "I am ready to meet my Maker; whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter. Those are the words of Winston Churchill. Now, what have you got to say for yourself?"
On Tuesday, Layden left the final recording on the answering machine at his office. "The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes. Those are the words of Frank Lloyd Wright. Now I am waiting to see if Frank Lloyd Wright was right! Look forward to talking to you. Thanks for being our friend. We're retiring now. This is Frank Layden signing off."
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