Frank Layden's stormy, successful and never-boring stay as the Utah Jazz's head coach ended Friday, by his choice. Assistant coach Jerry Sloan was named to replace him.
Saying he was tired of coaching, Layden, 56, will become the Jazz team president; five years remain on his contract. David Checketts will remain as general manager and run the day-to-day business and basketball operation, with Layden acting as a consultant. Scott Layden will continue as player personnel director and be the No. 1 assistant coach on an interim basis, while the search begins for another assistant.Jazz players were informed of Layden's decision when they reported for practice Friday morning; the official annoucement came only 15 minutes later, at a Salt Palace news conference. Sloan's first game as head coach will be Friday night in the Salt Palace against Dallas.
While the idea that Layden would step down after this season was fairly common knowledge, especially among Jazz insiders, the timing caught just about everyone by surprise. "As close as they are, Jerry (Sloan) had no idea," said Miller.
"It was a big shock, but that's Frank," said Jazz guard Bobby Hansen. "It's vintage Frank Layden; he never really does anything by the book."
Following a meeting last June when Layden was receiving inquiries from the expansion Miami Heat about becoming their coach, Layden was encouraged by Checketts and owner Larry Miller to keep coaching the Jazz one more season. When training camp started in October, though, Layden discovered that his enthusiasm was missing.
By late November, he told Checketts and Miller that he was considering stepping down. Tuesday, Layden called Checketts and told him he wanted to make the move immediately. "Why are we waiting?" he asked them. "The longer we wait, the tougher it gets."
Layden coached the Jazz in Wednesday's victory over Washington and officially made his decision after meeting with Miller and Checketts Thursday.
"Who would coach, if you don't have to?" said Layden, explaining his departure. "It's all in your blood and everything, but a lot of that is ego."
Layden cited the struggles of veteran professional football coaches Tom Landry of Dallas, Chuck Noll of Pitssburgh and Don Shula of Miami this season as making him question why he wanted to stay in the business. Although Layden is overweight, he said his current health was not a factor in his decision, but his thinking was affected by the recent heart attack suffered by Mike Ditka, the Chicago Bears' coach.
Layden joined the Jazz as general manager in 1979, when the franchise moved from New Orleans to Utah. He became head coach Dec. 10, 1981, when Tom Nissalke was fired and former owner Sam Battistone suggested that Layden take on the dual role to save the franchise money.
He stayed on a coach through the next season, when the Jazz showed enough improvement with a 30-52 record that Battistone awarded Layden a 10-year contract, with the provision that he could become strictly a general manager again when he chose. The contract was reworked in the summer of 1986 with seven years remaining, giving Layden more money but officially taking away the general manager option. In essence, though, Miller still gave him that choice, as proven by Friday's moves.
Sloan, 46, was a legendary defensive player with the Chicago Bulls and later became their head coach for 2 and one-half season befor being fired in the middle of the 1981-82 season. He joined the Jazz as the No. 1 assistant in November 1984 when Phil Johnson left to become the head coach of the Kansas City Kings.
Johnson was Sloan's assistant in Chicago and is the immediate logical choice to join Sloan again, although he may have commitments through this season with the Sacramento Kings.
Miller went on record last summer as saying Slaon would be the next Jazz coach, and told Sloan that directly, also. When the move actually came in the middle of the season, though, Sloan was caught off guard.
"I was really shocked by it," said Sloan. "I'm saddened in one respect by the fact I won't have the association with Frank. . . but I'm excited to have the (head coaching) opportunity again."
Like Johnson during his stay with the Jazz, Sloan has done considerably more actual coaching under Layden than the average NBA assistant. He's credited with improving the Jazz defense, especially, but has also directed most practice sessions, recommended substitutions and called offensive plays during games. Layden has always credited Sloan, although Sloan suggests that has resulted in Layden's worth to the team being underestimated.
"I can't evaluate his value," said Soan. "I know how important he is to this franchise."
Miller and Checketts shared that sentiment, describing the emotional nature of the day. Miller had to hold back tears at the news conference, even before making the announcement.
**** Layden's legacy
Year Won-lost Finish
1981-82 17-45 Sixth
1982-83 30-52 Fourth
1983-84- 45-37 First
1984-85 41-41 Fourth
1985-86 42-40 Fourth
1986-87 44-38 Second
1987-88 47-35 Third
1988- 11-6 First
Overall record: 277-294 (.485)
Layden's tenure had been the third-longest with an NBA team, behind only Denver's Doug Moe and the Los Angeles Laker's Pat Riley.