Some time in the last week or so, Starzz general manager Tim Howells and VP of basketball operations Scott Layden were having what Howells calls "a brain-storming session" regarding the state of the team's coaching.
Media and fans were growing restless with a team that kept making the same mistakes, kept getting within five minutes of winning only to fall apart.With a number of the Starzz' top players' first WNBA contracts up at the end of this season - veterans Elena Baranova, Wendy Palmer, Tammi Reiss, Kim Williams, Chantel Tremitiere and Dena Head - there was real concern they might want to move on to a winning program.
The Jazz/Starzz organization has always been patient. The last time it fired a coach was 1981. But Howells and Layden could see the need. Layden reports that while brain-storming, Layden said, "Let's talk to Frank."
Frank, of course, is Scott's father and the president of the Jazz/Starzz, and the Jazz's former coach, the 1984 NBA Coach of the Year.
Whilst they talked about replacements for Denise Taylor, said Howells, "Frank said, `You know, I wouldn't be opposed to coming back.'
"It just evolved," says Howells.
When the subject of coaching was broached, said Frank Layden, he asked the same question he asked in December 1981, when he stepped out of his Jazz general manager's position and replaced Tom Nissalke as Jazz coach: "Is the change inevitable?"
"I don't want (to take) somebody else's job," said Layden, but, as long as the inevitability answer was yes, "It might as well be me," he said of his feelings both times.
He said he began studying WNBA rules and his players' biographies Sunday night.
Taylor was informed of her firing Monday morning by Scott Layden, who said she took it "very professionally."
Her hand-picked assistant, Fred Williams, was retained by the Starzz. He met with Scott Layden following Taylor's dismissal. "It's shocking," he said, "but it's never an easy time for anything (like this) to happen." Williams said Taylor reached him later. "She's giving me her blessing, if I wanted to stay aboard. She spoke very highly of the Starzz organization," he said, characterizing Taylor's attitude as "professional."
Williams said he's pleased to work for "a living legend," Frank Layden.
Frank Layden said he enjoyed the time he spent with his wife and family once he retired as Jazz coach following the 1988-89 season out of concerns for his health at some 325 pounds, his fear of losing and his tendency to rail at officials.
But several times on Monday, Layden mentioned, "There has been somewhat a void in my life, because coaching is what I have done since high school."
Layden has recently lost half of himself by adopting a healthy-veggie lifestyle that's brought renewed vigor to himself and wife Barbara, who now looks like a college coed, and he thinks his attitudes about officials and losing have matured.
"I belong in coaching. It's what I should do for a living," Layden said following his Monday-night Delta-Center/Starzz coaching debut 90-80 win over the Phoenix Mercury.
At the noon Monday press conference to announce him as the Starzz' new coach, Layden emphasized "that this is not an interim position. I may make it an interim position," he joked, "but right now, this is a position I (want to) hold for a long time. We are going to find the right people to make the Starzz successful."
Layden said he wished Taylor the best. "It was a difficult job that she took over, and for whatever reason, it didn't work out. I hope she can grow from the experience," said the new coach.
"I believe basketball is a game of fundamentals and is a simple game. If it wasn't, I couldn't coach it," Layden said with that familiar self-deprecating charm. "It's a game of who can make the fewest mistakes, and I think it should be a game that you have fun."
Layden didn't predict any victories, saying mainly that he'd like to set a winning tone to end the season with momentum and hope for the future to make players want to be back - similar to recent Jazz seasons that have left everyone wanting more of the same.
"I want this to happen for everyone else. I want the league to succeed," he said.
But he couldn't resist planting a seed.
"I'd like to win a (championship) ring before (Jazz coach) Jerry Sloan," Layden said with that New York growl so familiar to Jazz fans. "I wonder if he'd make a bet . . . "