Frank Layden, looking quite comfortable in his now-customary second row seat at the Salt Palace for Thursday's game against Charlotte, spoke about his successor as the Jazz's head coach, Jerry Sloan.

"I'll tell you what," said Frank, "He can laugh at a joke. That's more important than telling one."Not that Sloan is prone to laugh at all jokes. He did not, for example, have a good laugh after the Jazz scored 33 points in the second half Thursday to lose 89-88 and hand the expansionist Hornets their third road win ever.

The game also handed the Jazz just their third home loss this season - measured against 15 victories.

Of course, the occasion did provide for the new coach that unavoidable platform of character-building otherwise known as the postgame interview session with the press.

You can tell a lot about a coach by the way he publicly handles a midweek loss on his home floor to a stray dog of a team that is made up of players nobody else wanted.

The first thing Jerry Sloan said was, "I don't want to make any excuses."

Then, to the astonishment of many in the vicinity, he didn't.

He didn't talk about having to play the night before in San Antonio, and then travel all day and eat airline food just to get back to Salt Lake.

He did not go into Mark Eaton's injury in the second half, an unfortunate game-ending injury for Eaton that, in an ironic sort of way, paid the 7-foot-4 Eaton a large compliment. Not until he and his 290 pounds are out of the middle is it obvious that the Jazz without the big guy are like the Tibetan tourist industry without Mt. Everest.

He didn't get into the rotten luck aspect of Karl Malone choosing this evening to have probably the poorest shooting night of his career. This, despite the fact that the Hornets weren't throwing anything particularly icy, snowy or sleety at him.

He didn't even question the split-second referee's call at the buzzer that ruled Kurt Rambis's game-winning shot good and not too late.

Jerry Sloan doing an interview is like a witness under cross-examination. He tells the truth, the whole truth, so help him.

"I think they (Charlotte) wanted the game more than we did," he said. "They outplayed us. They banged us out of where we wanted to be. We had a nice lead, and then things started to shift."

"A loss is a loss," he said. "Once it's over there's nothing you can do about it. Same thing with a win. Just accept it and move on."

As you might have noted, none of the new coach's locker room delivery is going to make The Comedy Store. A Frank Layden clone he isn't.

Sloan did start off his Utah head coaching career with a memorable one-liner, when, after his debut loss to Dallas, he met the media and said, "Well, I guess the honeymoon's over." But in the 22 games since, he hasn't exactly been a quote machine, or a stand-up comic, either one.

As Layden said, Jerry Sloan is better at receiving a joke than giving one.

"Good sense of humor," said Layden. "He just doesn't tell a lot of jokes himself."

Layden said he personally envies Sloan's statesmanlike aura.

"Hey," said Frank, "Everybody thought I was funny, so I couldn't coach. Jerry isn't funny, so he's a great coach."

"Either way," said Layden, "You gotta be who you are."

Layden's surprise resignation came 17 games into the season, after a healthy 11-6 start. Since that time, Sloan has directed a 13-10 record. That's off Layden's early pace, but, significantly, Layden was 9-1 at home and 2-5 on the road while Sloan is 6-2 at home but a glossy 7-8 on the road.

At 24-16, the Jazz are still on pace for a 50-win season, providing they end the first half of the year with a 41st game victory in the Salt Palace tonight against the New York Knicks.

A 50-win season, by the way, was the prediction made last summer by the Jazz head coach.

Although not by the current Jazz head coach.

It might be a while before Jerry Sloan can laugh at that one.