I think I came to a point where I was just worn down. But I think rest and patience would have taken care of that. —Frank Layden
SALT LAKE CITY — On a winter night in 1988, as he drove down the hill from his home to the Salt Palace, Frank Layden quit.
“By the way,” he told his wife Barbara, “this is my last game.”
The head coach of the Utah Jazz was resigning midseason.
“You pay a big price,” Layden told UPI. “The sleepless nights, the pressure. It eats you alive.”
He, more than most, can sympathize with Gary Andersen’s resignation as coach of Oregon State’s football team. But Andersen’s story is a step removed from Layden’s, if for no other reason than he walked away from $12.6 million.
Andersen told the Oregonian’s John Canzano, via text, he had problems with his assistant coaches. He wanted to pay more to some, but regretted hiring others. Conversely, Layden highly recommended Jerry Sloan as his successor.
If he had waited until the end of that strange season to evaluate, Layden says he might have still come to the same decision, “but I was tired, and I don’t think you can make good decisions when you’re tired.”
All things might not look better in the morning, but they can look pretty good after a four-month break. Former Jazz general manager Dave Checketts tried talking Layden into a sabbatical through the remainder of the season, then re-evaluate. But he, like Andersen, had made his call.
He wasn’t interested in a break from coaching; he wanted a clean break.
Nowadays, he has softened his stance, saying patience is a virtue. But coaching is a soul-sucking business of unrealistic expectations and ridiculous rewards, now more than ever.
Does Layden think most coaches consider quitting?
“Sure they do,” he says. “If you’re competitive you do.”
Football coaches work every day for 11 months and buy homes in protected communities and build protective walls around themselves. They leave early and stay late and smile during social events, even as they’re thinking about the next week’s opponent.
That’s life in a bottom-line business.
Layden had noticed the stress on legendary coaches such as Chuck Noll, Tom Landry and Don Shula, and decided life was too short. Aside from being coach and general manager, he was giving 100 or more speeches a year. It was hard to see beyond the bickering with the refs and the fending off critics.
“I think I came to a point where I was just worn down,” Layden says. “But I think rest and patience would have taken care of that.”
Andersen left a lucrative and prestigious job at Wisconsin to coach at Oregon State. But things quickly deteriorated. His teams were 7-23 in 2½ seasons, 1-5 this year. His departure was surprising and it wasn’t.
Few coaches follow Layden’s lead and quit midstream. But Andersen’s obsessiveness was apparent to all. He blacked out at his home in 2010, cracking two vertebrae in his neck. He said he had been pushing too hard and was going to get his priorities straight and make sure his health was on track.
In resigning, Layden did complete some items on his to-do list, even though he continued for several years in Jazz management and coaching the Utah Starzz of the WNBA. He and Barbara traveled the world. He acted, did radio and continued a relentless schedule of public speaking. Yet he admits to having possibly moved too quickly on that December night.
“The timing was very bad,” he says.
It’s not like he left the team stranded. The Jazz already had Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Karl Malone and John Stockton, and had won 47 games the previous year. That 1988-89 team went on to win the Midwest Division, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“In a couple of years, coaches started making big money — really big money,” he says.
But the era of the cash grab hadn't yet arrived.
“Not knowing the circumstance,” Layden says, “maybe (Andersen) got to the point where he said enough is enough. Knowing it only from my standpoint, and knowing there’s not an opportunity to get a do-over, I would have finished the year, then stepped back and given it more thought and rest.”
Nearly 30 years after walking away, Layden has the same trademark humor that made him a star. Asked if there’s a point where money doesn’t matter, he says, “It doesn’t matter if you have it.”
In both cases, the coach apparently did.