When we left Frank Layden as last season was ending, he was Mr. Jazz again. The team owner was delivering him a new Cadillac, the talk-show callers were labeling him a master psychologist and all the around the country, Layden and his merry band of overachievers were the toast of the NBA.
All of which was a little different from the picture in January, when the underachieving Jazz were struggling like crazy. Players were unhappy, the Salt Palace regulars were booing and Layden was wondering out loud if team management should buy out his contract, with five years left.Nothing like life with Frank. One team official says of a post-Layden era, "It'll be a boring existence."
He's back again, the chubby (again), 56-year-old coach who's never avoiding attention - ripping players, making the NBA office cringe and, all the while, making himself the subject of more divergent opinion than anybody in Utah.
Nobody chooses "undecided" in a Frank Layden poll.
And as Layden and the Jazz enter their 10th season in Utah, we still wonder: Who is this guy? Is he really a motivating genius or a locker-room madman? A brilliant delegator or just a figurehead? A clever handler of players or a tyrant?
Somewhere in between, probably.
This much is clear: Jazz owner Larry Miller and president-general manager David Checketts are convinced that Francis P. Layden, the whole package, is the best Jazz coach right now. Says Miller, "I'd like to see Frank have a real shot at winning a championship before he goes."
According to sources, this is Layden's last season, by his own choice. He says only, "I still have a plan in my mind to myself personally, and I'm going to stick by it."
Until then, Miller will take Frank and all of his personalities. "A whole combination of things over the years . . . have made it easier to accept all of it as a package with Frank, and to take the good with the bad," he says.
I. Frank, the overseer
Titles aside, Jerry Sloan coaches the Jazz. In the classic LaVell Edwards style, Layden usually watches practice from the sidelines and talks with visitors. During games, Sloan handles much of timeout instructions and decision-making.
That's accepted practice in football, but not in the NBA. In that way, Layden seems progressive. "I think they're afraid to turn anything over," he says of other coaches. "Why should I teach defense when I have Jerry Sloan?"
Says Sloan, "He's not threatened by anything or anybody. He's unusual in that he's not afraid to use people."
II. Frank, the psychologist
We take you to the visiting locker room of the Forum, where the Jazz have lost Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals by 20 points to the Lakers. Layden is telling wave after wave of reporters that the Jazz have no business playing with the champs, that they're in for a four-game sweep.
At home, Layden is later ripped on the call-in shows for destroying his poor kids' confidence.
After the Jazz win Game 2, the same callers hail him as a master of psychology.
Which left only one question: Does Layden do these things on purpose?
"It was very much calculated," he says.
"I think very few of those things are calculated, but a lot of his off-the-cuff strategies pay off," notes Checketts.
"I still wonder if that was really his philosophy, or if he just got lucky," says Miller.
Marc Iavaroni, the Jazz's resident psychology student, well remembers his first taste of Layden. His first Jazz game after coming in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs was at Detroit in February 1986, when Layden delivered a 15-minute outburst in the locker room afterward. "I'm not going to say he calculates everything," Iavaroni says, "but in the long run, he does."
And Layden can still come through with tirades on demand. When the Jazz reserves lost a lead at the end of regulation in a preseason game at Golden State last week, veteran Darrell Griffith advised the youngsters to be ready for some of the Best of Layden. "He's not going to let that slide by," says Griffith.
III. Frank, the personnel man
Checketts is the general manager and Scott Layden is the director of player personnel, but the Jazz are Frank Layden's team. Or are Adrian Dantley, Carey Scurry, Kelly Tripucka, Rickey Green and Mel Turpin still here?
"There was some sympathy in the organization for (Tripucka)," Layden says, "but you can't argue with success. When we stopped playing those guys, they started winning."
Says Checketts of the personnel moves, "I arrived at my own conclusions."
No doubt, though, this summer's transactions had a distinct Layden flavor. "If you're going to coach in this league, you'd better have the guys you want," he says. And he'll open the season Friday with, partly because of injuries, three rookies and Bart Kofoed among the top 10 players.
IV. Frank, the media man
"Frank is part showman, part coach," says Iavaroni. CBS loves Layden. Out-of-town sports writers love Layden. For a writer working on a story angle, Layden is always accommodating.
"Sometimes, I get carried away," muses Layden. "They come to me and try to get me to say something outrageous or clever."
The NBA office considers only the printed product, and fined the Jazz (Miller, actually) $16,000 for Layden's actions, including $1,000 for the night in the Forum where he closed the locker-room door to the media.
Layden also tries to broadcast messages to his players, which reporters and players have to sort through. "You have to remember where he's coming from," says one player. "I think we know Frank too well to believe all that stuff."
V. Frank, the statue (?)
When Layden retires or moves into the Jazz front office, Checketts says, "It'll be a boring existence."
Checketts predicts a statue of Layden will be placed in front of the Jazz's new arena, just like the prominent Red Auerbach statue in Boston. Which means Jazz followers would still have an outlet for their opinions.