When the Jazz hired consultant Korla Woods last year, they held a press conference and Coach Frank Layden proclaimed the move as the most significant in franchise history.
Considerably less publicity has accompanied the Jazz's not renewing Woods' contract. Some players are questioning that decision, though, and Woods plans to seek an explanation. "If I could do that, maybe I could live with the decision . . . if there was some way I knew I made a mistake," he said.Woods, the director of ethnic student affairs at the University of Utah and a speaker in athletic-academic forums, was charged with advising Jazz management on minority issues and providing counseling and other services to players. Jazz president-general manager David Checketts says Woods' work is no longer needed. "We just decided we'd like to try now to implement a lot of the directions he's made," Checketts said. "We need to move on and build our own relationship with the minority community."
Said Woods, "I had no idea they were looking at strictly a one-year deal . . . I was shocked to think the organization felt my duty was done in one year."
Scott Layden, the Jazz's player personnel director, will take over for Woods in meeting players' personal and career-planning needs by directing them to resource people. But veteran players wish they were consulted, as promised, about extending Woods' contract.
"It's definitely something that should be looked into. They didn't ask the players about it at all, and that was wrong," said Karl Malone.
"He wasn't really given a chance," said Thurl Bailey, who asked for a meeting with Checketts and Layden when he learned of the decision. "I don't think you can say you want to start this program and then terminate it."
By employing Woods, the Jazz hoped to avoid off-court troubles with players like Carey Scurry and Mel Turpin, since departed. "Both of those situations were haywire before I got there," contends Woods. "I'm not a miracle worker."
In any case, confusion existed all last season about Woods' role. He was an outside consultant, but listed as the Jazz's director of special programs. Some players viewed him suspiciously as an agent of management; others thought they had no obligation to work with him.
"To establish a good rapport with the players, it takes a while," noted Mark Eaton. "That's the one thing he was trying to work on."
Woods, who charted such things as the coach's substitution pattern, submitted an 80-page report reviewing his season with the team. "I tried to be what I thought the Jazz needed," he said.
Checketts points to the development of the team's minority internship program, from which a fulltime staff member was hired; a more thorough interviewing process for job openings; and the addition of first Ron Boone and now Zelmo Beaty as a TV broadcaster as evidence of improvements in this area. "We're implementing all those things," he said. But Woods' experience makes him wonder about the Jazz's commitment.
"What else am I think at this point, but than it was a token position?" he said.
Said Layden, who had so glowingly endorsed the idea, "I still think it's a valuable thing - it just didn't work out with Korla."