Frank Layden has a tough act to follow these days. His own.
Since retiring as coach two years ago, the man who built the Utah Jazz into a title contender has worked the banquet circuit as the franchise's figurehead leader.Next month, Layden will start traversing the country as an NBA color commentator on the league's radio network.
At every stop, Layden still injects the humor and hijinks that made him one of the NBA's most revered and irreverent coaches.
But to many, Layden is just a memory, a blast from the past who disappeared from public consciousness when he resigned as coach, citing abuse from fans and saying, "I think America takes all sports too seriously. There is no dignity."
"It's like I've been on a desert island," said Layden, 58, who still serves as president of the Jazz. "When I quit coaching, almost immediately everyone said, 'You're going to be on TV, you're going to be the next John Madden.' Well, a very interesting thing happened: It never happened. I never heard from anyone.
"CBS had me on several times at halftime. And I did some specials for them. They said, 'If you ever quit coaching, you're going to be with us.' Last spring, they were cutting back and they were doing their last playoff and I never got a call. It was the first time.
"And then in the USA Today TV section, my name was the first mentioned. It said, 'Look for NBC to grab Frank Layden.' Well, I never heard from them.
"Maybe I'm controversial . . . Maybe I'm too flippant. I don't know.
"Another thing, if you saw Frank Layden, it was because he was always slipping on a banana . . . getting hit with the pie . . . falling down when Morganna kissed me. Almost a comic Gleason type. Maybe they said, `This guy is slap-happy.'
"In fact, going back on my career, if I could have changed anything, it would be that image, because I think I was a very good coach. Without a doubt it obscured what I did very well. I overdid the humor.
"People recognize me now more for the bloopers tape rather than for coaching. But I got honored recently by the New York Athletic Club. Hey, somebody out there remembers."
Layden, who signed a 10-year contract with the Jazz in 1983, led Utah to five straight winning seasons, five straight playoff berths, and a Midwest Division Championship in the 1983-84 season, when he was named NBA coach and executive of the year.
In his last full season, in 1987-88, the Jazz won 47 games, breaking the team record. Utah then took the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games before losing in the Western Conference semifinals.
Layden also played a pivotal role in the acquisition of all-stars Karl Malone, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton.
All the while, he mugged for audiences, cameras and the press. After a fan at McNichols Sports Arena made a long shot during a halftime promotion contest, Layden pulled him aside and had him sit with the Jazz, who had been throwing up airballs.
Layden doesn't rule out another stint as coach or GM, except for the Jazz. He says the team is in fine shape.
In fact, while discussing Don Nelson's role as coach-general manager at Golden State, Layden said, "I'm going to make a very bold statement. We have 14 teams in this league with losing records. Give me any one of those teams and within three years I'll have them in the playoffs and in four or five years I'll have them be a contender. But I have to be GM and coach. I have to have total authority.
"And I won't take any money but I want bonuses."
For now, Layden is concentrating on his new role as a radio commentator.
"I feel good about it," he said. "There is no pressure."