IT'S BEEN A WEEK NOW since Frank Layden stepped down as head coach of the Utah Jazz, and it's beginning to sink in that there is no punch line. Layden isn't coming back. As with Reagan, eight seasons was enough.
Jerry Sloan, Layden's successor, may turn out to produce an even superior record to his predecessor. Certainly he was left with a full cupboard. But it isn't likely that Sloan, or any other successor the Jazz could have named, can produce the adventures that Frank Layden did during his tenure as Jazz coach.
It isn't going to be as lively around here.
This is the coach who got emotionally involved in contractual holdouts; who insulted players who weighed too much; who kept going on diets; who never used two lines when he could get by with one; who would say things like, "This isn't a job. A guy going out the door at 6 a.m. with a lunch pail and a hard hat, that's a job."
There's a withdrawal process with Layden now gone. To ease the transitional period, from Layden to Sloan, here are a few Frank Layden Flashbacks:
- Upon returning home from Italy one summer after a session of clinics with Italian coaches and players, Layden, 15 pounds heavier, summed up his most pleasant memory of the trip: "Food is important to them, and once they start eating they never let up. It was great."
- After receiving delivery of a new 380E Mercedes Benz at the conclusion of the 1984 Midwest Division Championship season: "If my friends in Brooklyn could see me now - they wouldn't speak to me."
- After hearing that a veteran player wanted $1 million the first year of his contract, and $1.2 million the second year: "I asked him what was he thinking, that he was still in college?"
- The sum total of his pregame pep talk to the Western Conference All-Stars in 1984, when Layden was the head coach of the squad: "We gotta win, I need the money."
- His assessment of the Jazz in the early B.M. (Before Miller, or Before Money) days: "The Jazz are America's Team . . . the Americans just don't know it yet."
- His reasoning for leaving a Jazz-Lakers game in the Forum in 1986 early in the fourth quarter as the Jazz were being soundly beaten: "The restaurant in the hotel doesn't stay open after the game."
- His opening line to NBA dignitaries at the Salt Lake luncheon in 1984 where he was presented Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year honors: "I won't keep you long, because, I don't know about you, but I'm going to go out and get something to eat."
- His comment on Adrian Dantley's contract renegotiation dispute/training camp boycott in 1985: "He's the Ayatollah Khomeini. He's holding us hostage."
- His reasons for a sedentary lifestyle that doesn't include jogging: "I don't want to be sick when I die."
- His chief duties during the Phoenix portion of the playoffs in `84: "To scout out the good restaurants . . . my assistants do the coaching."
This was the coach who once fined Dantley 30 dimes (for 30 pieces of silver) for what he saw as insubordination, and who fined Karl Malone 25 cents for adding his "two bits worth." This is the coach who sent Dantley home during the middle of a road trip.
If it wasn't one thing it was another. During his tenure as Jazz coach Layden earned honorary degrees at Niagara and Westminster College; he led the Salt Lake Philaharmonic Orchestra, he directed the St. Patrick's Day parade in Salt Lake City, he became the first non-player in NBA history to win the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award, and for 29 days in October of 1986 he stayed, at team expense, at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica to lose a grand total of 30 pounds. Which he gained back within nine months.
Layden was a constant story.
He wasn't good copy, he was great copy.
Jerry Sloan now knows how it felt to follow Stengel, or how it's going to feel to the man who follows Lasorda.
Frank Layden was a big act, all around.
Or, as he'd put it, "My players are in such good shape because I make them do laps - around me." Or, "In India, they'd worship this body." Or, "There's nothing wrong with this body. It's just that it's inside this other body."
He had a million of them.