He made up for some of those lost moments. He took Scott to training camps, let him mingle with the teams and meet legends and get a behind-the-scenes look at the game. Scott wound up working alongside his father with the Jazz for a couple of decades, first as a scout, then as an assistant coach and finally as director of player personnel and vice president of basketball operations. Together they brought John Stockton and Karl Malone to Utah and built a team that was among the best in all of professional sports. Later, after Frank Layden had retired from the Jazz and Scott was general manager of the New York Knicks, he worked for his son as a consultant for the Knicks.
“To see him grow and get the respect, it was wonderful,” says Layden.
Layden’s retirement has enabled him to spend more time with family and friends, another reason he remained in Utah. He took his grandchildren to a movie the other day — he thinks there are 11 grandkids, but isn't certain. “I’ll have to ask Barb," he says. "There are a whole bunch of girls, I know that.”
He and Barb also have dinner with Sloan and his wife each month and maintain contact with a circle of friends from the Jazz years (he attends a few Jazz games each season, but don’t ask him for a scoop. “People think I have some inside connection,” he says. “The Jazz don’t ask me for advice and I don’t offer it. My knowledge of the Jazz comes from you. I read the papers. I listen to the radio.”)
Each year he travels to his alma mater, Niagara University, where he coached and played ball, to spend time with friends from the old days; each spring he meets another group of old pals at Cooperstown, New York, to wander the Baseball Hall of Fame and go to dinner and tell their old stories — or, as he puts it, "lies about how great we were."
“When I first moved out there, (former St. John’s coach) Lou Carnesecca told me, ‘Don’t forget your friends and where you came from,’ ” he says. “I’ve never forgotten that.”
He has another regret: He wishes he had pursued theater in high school and college. He played basketball and baseball for the school instead. He was middle age when the theater department at Niagara asked him to play a part in a stage production of “That Championship Season.” He was hooked. In retirement, he and Barb spent a month studying theater at the University of London, and Layden took an acting class at the U. The Laydens also had acting roles in a production of “Love Letters,” which played about 50 performances and raised money for charity. He has done several commercials and had bit parts in movies (he still carries a Screen Actors Guild card). What he lacked in formal training as an actor he picked up from teaching and coaching, he believes.
“When you’re teaching or coaching, you’re acting, you’re communicating, you’re motivating people,” he says. “Think about those halftime talks. There were times I showed anger and got after a team, but I wasn’t really angry. I was acting. I wanted to make a point.”
Looking back, he says: “I wish I had expanded myself and done other things like theater in college and high school. I never would have done it for a living. It’s too hard. It’s harder to be an actor than a basketball player. But I would’ve done it in college. I get a kick out of being on stage. That helped me later with interviews.”
When he quit coaching, Layden did color work for TV broadcasts of Ute games and halftime shows for the Jazz. He received inquiries for a national gig from ESPN, but it would have required a move to the East Coast. He did two years of radio work for NBA broadcasts, but grew weary of the travel.
The truth is life simply isn’t long enough for a renaissance man like Layden, a voracious reader and devotee of theater and the arts, a baseball aficionado, a world traveler, a family man. It is easy to forget that he began as a high school history teacher, performing all the mundane duties that come with it — homeroom duty, study hall, marking papers, bus and lunchroom duty, teaching six classes, coaching three sports.
“I realized the gymnasium was the most important classroom in the school because the kids came to you,” he says. “They’d do anything for sports.” He never could shake the role of teacher. Even when he was the Jazz coach, he started a team book club and urged his players to return to school. He would give them books to read and later, when their reading assignment was complete, they would discuss them.
Given Layden’s rich life, it isn’t surprising he has been approached about writing a biography. He had an agent, a ghost writer and a publisher, but after meeting with the latter, Layden got cold feet.
“They wanted the inside story,” he says. “Who’s a racist, who’s gay and so forth. I concluded that if I wrote a book, I’d hurt somebody. I don’t want to do that.”
When Layden formally retired, Barbara announced, “It’s time to pay back.” By then she had already gone back to school, eventually earning her second four-year degree, this time in counseling. She counsels the indigent with substance-abuse issues and refuses to accept a fee. For his part, Layden rarely declines invitations to speak, whether they are high school basketball awards banquets or charity functions.
“You do these things,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do. Every day, everybody you meet, you try to make them feel better."
As Layden looks back on his life — the family, the career, the travel, the many friends, the adoring public — he arrives at this conclusion: "I've been fortunate; I've been blessed."
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