They became NBA head coaches within three weeks of each other in November-December 1981. Pat Riley took over the Los Angeles Lakers after a game in Salt Lake City when Magic Johnson talked of wanting a trade. Frank Layden moved to the Jazz bench not long after the team scored five points in one quarter of a game against the Lakers.
Here they are, meeting for the first time in postseason play - Riley and Layden, having stayed with the same teams longer than anybody in the NBA except Denver's Doug Moe. As their Western Conference semifinal series continues Friday night in the Salt Palace, the coaches' comparison is inevitable.They're completely different, right? Here's Patrick J. Riley, a tanned and young-looking 43, the slick, well-dressed one. And Francis P. Layden, 56 and gray, ballooning close to his former weight and making the $10,000 the Jazz spent on his body overhaul seem about as well spent as the $10,000 for his complaints about NBA referees.
But really, they're just two guys looking for a little motivation.
Riley is, by all accounts, more calculating. Married to a former practicing psychologist, he carefully writes pregame speeches, is not above an occasional well-timed locker-room tirade and last June came up the ploy that may be remembered someday as the granddaddy of them all in coaching circles - guaranteeing his team would win another NBA championship this year.
The logic? Nothing to lose, because nobody else has repeated in the last two decades.
Which brings us to Layden, who caused shock waves along I-15 from Southern California all the way to Salt Lake City Sunday with his statements about how the Lakers would have little trouble in the series with the Jazz, following the Game 1 rout. The result was a classic study in fan reaction, as measured by the handy radio talk-show phenomenon.
According to the socially-concerned callers Monday, Layden was crazy, giving up on the series and shattering the fragile confidence of his poor kids. After Tuesday's victory in Game 2, he was a certified genius, in line for Psychology Today's Man of the Year award.
He's somewhere in between.
This sudden image of Layden having a refreshing perspective, always smiling and failing to become wrapped up in wins and losses, is amazing. Funny, but the same Frank Layden who's playing to rave reviews in postgame press conferences this series is the same guy, I assume, who holed up in his office or stormed out of the arena without comment after three of five playoff games last spring because he was so distraught by the officiating.
He started this season by refusing to talk after the first two games because he worried about not being able to control himself, and saying something that would cause him trouble.
Now he's a cool, detached observer, with this great scheme of "diverting pressure from his players."
I say the Jazz won Tuesday because they loosened up, shot better and played more aggressively, not because their cagey coach lulled the overconfident Lakers to sleep with his media tactics. Riley's prophet of doom warnings about Game 1 being misleading were almost as overwhelming as Layden's commentary.
In fact, maybe the Jazz responded so well in Game 2 because they'd heard enough of Layden's no-chance cries, who knows?
This much we do know: Layden relishes being an underdog. He loves coaching overachievers, and had his most fun in three years in the Portland series when the Jazz became the only NBA team to win a first-round series without the homecourt advantage. Now, they're 1-1 with the defending champs and, through at least the weekend, can inspire talk of winning the series.
All the while, he'll be in his element.
And now, it's Riley's turn. After a team meeting Wednesday, he told reporters he'd watched the Game 2 videotape and stopped counting after 21 alleged Jazz illegal-defense violations. "The guidelines right now are definitely being abused," he said of Mark Eaton's roaming.
Curiously, Layden had said after the game, "Their illegal defense was very effective."
You have to figure, this stuff will keep going on all series long. Riley and Layden will toy with the other team almost as much as their own. One of these days, the players themselves might actually decide a game.