Having outlasted every NBA coach except Doug Moe and Pat Riley, Frank Layden is coming back for more with the Utah Jazz.
He'll still decide his coaching future every June, he says, but Layden will coach the Jazz next season. That became official Friday, after Jazz owner Larry Miller denied the Miami Heat permission to talk with Layden about their coaching position."I would have said the same things about Frank before the playoffs started," said Miller, who met with Layden and president-general manager David Checketts Thursday. "If I have my druthers, Frank Layden will be the coach of this team for the remaining five years on his contract."
Said Layden, "I got the message that I was wanted here."
That became clear when Layden asked Miller what compensation the Jazz would have requested from the Heat to allow him to go. He'd have opened the bargaining by asking for, imagine this: a 1989 first-round draft choice, which would certainly be in the lottery, and $1 million. But if Layden were strongly interested in Miami and the Heat wanted him that much, Miller would have granted permission for an interview. "There was no question it was intriguing to him . . . (ut) if we wanted him here, he was staying," said Miller, who held back tears in an emotional, 30-minute speech at a Salt Palace news conference.
With Layden out of the picture, Miami will likely look toward Detroit assistant coach Ron Rothstein, once the Pistons' season ends. Miami part-owner Billy Cunningham told Layden he would also ask permission to interview Jazz assistant Jerry Sloan. Hiring a coach is Cunningham's last task with the Heat; because of a conflict of interest, CBS-TV is making him sell back his share of the team by July 1.
By coming back as coach, Layden will try to build on the Jazz's best season ever. They were 47-35 in the regular season and took the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the second round of the playoffs, the longest they've lasted in the postseason. Logically, this might have been just the time for him to do something else, but the 56-year-old Layden wants more.
"I'm kind of excited about the upcoming season," he said. "If we had continued losing and had a disappointing season, maybe we would have had to sit down and talk about alternatives."
That seemed possible in January, when the Jazz were 18-22 and coming off two years of first-round playoff exits and Layden was being criticized on radio call-in shows and booed in the Salt Palace. Layden even suggested that management consider buying out his contract and, while Miller was careful to make only statements in support of Layden, he said he wished Layden still had a contract provision that gave him the option of becoming the team's general manager, if that's what Layden wanted. Checketts even volunteered to give up that part of his title.
"It hurt us; there were scars left from that," Layden said of his family's response to the booing. "I also know that's part of professional sports today. It wouldn't be any different in Miami."
Layden also apparently misinterpreted Miller's statements that no decisions about the coaching situation would be made until after the season.
And even after the strong finish, Layden's feelings made Miller uncertain about his coach's plans, entering Thursday's meeting. "I got some mixed signals from him as to how he felt about things," Miller noted. "I didn't know whether it stuck with him enough that he was still bitter."
The Miami rumors started in February, when a New York Post columnist linked Layden to Heat managing partner Lewis Schaffel, who had tried to hire Layden at New Jersey in 1985. While Miller guesses that Miami did talk to Layden, Layden says the subject never came up in conversations with Cunningham in his broadcasting role. And although Cunningham didn't discourage reporters from speculating about Layden, the Heat never confirmed an interest in Layden or any coach.
In fact, Friday's announcements make Layden and Sloan the only two official candidates to emerge from the Heat's long search.
The Jazz players heard the rumors, too, but co-captain Mark Eaton said Friday, "Every summer, there's always some rumors about somebody going somewhere to do something. It's just part of the business. We usually don't get too excited until after something happens."
Added Eaton, "I'm happy to have Frank back. Most of the players got along with him pretty well."
Miller, who has retaliated to the alleged raiding of a player from the world-class fastpitch softball team he sponsors locally, fears that the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement could cause the Jazz to lose players in the future. And when the Layden-Miami situation arose - amid the rumors, Miller was still surprised when Miami part-owner Billy Cunningham called Checketts this week - Miller decided, "I'm going to do what I can to protect our interests."
Layden took Miller's reponse to Miami as a genuine vote of confidence, saying, "This was a commitment . . . the others were just words."
Oh, there still will be days when he wonders what coaching an expansion team with little pressure and living in the Miami sunshine would be like. "I'll always wonder what was there on the table," he said. "I'll probably look back sometimes, especially when we're on those long losing streaks . . ."
On those days, he may also wish he'd eased into a front-office job. But for now, he's where he's been since December 1981 when he moved from the front office to replace Tom Nissalke. Only Moe, who started with Denver during the previous season, and Riley, who took over the Lakers the previous month, have stayed with their NBA teams longer.
"I don't know if I can coach five more years or should coach five more years," mused Layden, but until next June or the next or the next, at least, he's the Jazz coach.
LAYDEN'S RECORD 82-83 30-52 .366
83-84 45-37 .549
84-85 41-41 .500
85-86 42-40 .512
86-87 44-38 .537
87-88 47-35 .573
Total 266-288 .480