Frank Layden on the state of the Jazz and other bits
On retired life
It’s wonderful. Barbara and I are blessed. Since retirement, we’ve had our health. We have the means to be able to travel a little bit. We have good friends around the country, and we’re having a ball. It couldn’t be better. …
People kinda looked at me as a one-dimensional person. They thought it was basketball, basketball, basketball. It was quite the opposite. Basketball’s third on a list of things I like to do. I enjoy baseball, more than I enjoy basketball. I was better at it; I like it; I come from Brooklyn, the Dodgers. However, our real love–and I’m talking about Barbara and I–is the theater.
So we decided to investigate and learn more about the theater than being just patrons…We took acting class at the university, but we traveled doing “Love Letters.” It’s a two-person play, and made some money for some very worthy causes.
What about the Jazz now? As someone that took the Jazz and nurtured and grew it, what’s it like to watch the program now?
You said it very well. “Nurtured.” We came here, we were a joke. We were, frankly, we were a joke among professional sports, not just the NBA. And to see it reach the point to where we were number one, [and] we were the most respected, we were way ahead of Moneyball.
And one time we had a couple years there where we won more games per dollar spent than any team in any sport. Teams called us, you know, asking how we did it, and a lot became models and used the Jazz as a model for the way an organization should be run.
So what does it feel like when you see the franchise now? Do you feel like they’ve taken good care of it?
They’re back at Day One. I don’t know. Something went wrong. I don’t know. I can’t really comment on it because I haven’t been there. I haven’t been in the meetings…I want them to succeed, because, after all, you know, I spent so many years there. So many years of building and working with that organization. And so, they’re in entirely different hands now.
And if you look at it, it’s very interesting. I used to say to Larry Miller, “Players are temporary. We’re permanent.” Okay? So we have to put a brand on ourselves that says, “This is how the Jazz do it. This is the Jazz way.” All right? And for years, that worked, all right? We hired from within. You know, when I quit, they hired Jerry [Sloan], and Jerry, and after Jerry, Ty Corbin, and e–all of a sudden, that stopped, and they went outside.
They passed over Scott Layden, [who had] many years of experience in this franchise. And they passed over, they let Ty Corbin go. The thing that was always, to me, the strength of the Jazz, was what the Yankees had, what the Dodgers had, what the Cowboys had, and I pick those teams because they, their longevity of success was so important. And they got away from that.
You know, suddenly it broke down. And they went away, and they started to look outside. So not only have they changed the team, which is natural–the players get older, there’s anything, they get hurt, they this that–but also in the front office. They’ve evolved, and they made some changes. And the future remains to be seen. Maybe it’s gonna be fine. Maybe it’s gonna be great. But, it was only a couple years ago that this team was playing for the world’s championship.
So I don’t know, you know? All I can say is, one thing about sports. The bottom line is how you finish, what your record is. And you can come out of it by, you can say, “Well, we have a very, very poor record,” all right? As, years ago, the Houston Rockets lost on purpose in order to get good players, and it worked out for them, if you go through the draft. Or you can go the old-fashioned way, and spend a lot of money like the Miami Heat have done, all right?
Or you can do it like the Jazz way, and that’s be patient, promote from within, and keep your ideals together, work hard, and listen to your fans once in awhile. They’re the pulse; they’re the bloodline for what’s going to be your future here. ‘Cause if they let you down, then you better start looking for a new place to live.
On not worrying about wins and losses
When people ask me, “Do you miss coaching?” I say, “No. I miss playing.” You know, that’s how coaching came about. I enjoyed playing. Coaching was a job, and I could turn it on and turn it off. And sometimes, I was criticized for it, because, I remember one time, Larry Miller, who was the owner of the Jazz, said to me, “Well, you don’t take losing serious enough.” I said, “If I did, it would kill me.”…
[Winning or losing] was one thing I never worried about…I never worried about being able to get a job. I think if the Jazz chose to fire me, somebody else in the NBA would hire me, or, you know, I certainly would, there’d be people waiting to hire me to do, you know, ESPN or whatever it is. You know, so I ne–that never bothered me, you know?
I mean, I wasn’t a person who was limited to how I got there. After all, you know, my father didn’t own the team. That’s not how I got the job, you know? I got the job because I worked hard and had a lot of success along the way.
On expectations of players and his coaching philosophy
I enjoyed getting up and going to practice. I enjoyed the players. I have had disappointments in that area. You know, I had a player who I loved, John Drew, who I loved him. I had him with the Atlanta Hawks. I traded to get him here. And he chose cocaine over the Jazz…He’s a recovered drug addict, but he’s back on his feet and driving a cab in Houston when he could’ve been in the Hall of Fame. And that sometimes disappoints you.
Other humans sometimes disappoint you, but you know what, you have to move on. I tried, when I was coaching, I used to say, we’re not running Boys Town here. I want to be sure that I take care of the good players and the good people, and, as well as those who are choosing to go in another direction. I didn’t, I tried not to let players with character faults influence what we were trying to achieve.
I, it wasn’t my job to try to save everybody. I wasn’t Father Flanagan, you know, so, but the idea of being, after a season, I used to say to the players, “It’s important. We don’t have many rules. We want you to play hard. We want you to play smart. And we want you to be on time, because you can’t do the other two unless you’re here, all right? And the fourth thing is, have fun, because life is too short, and you’ll burn out if it isn’t, if you don’t enjoy playing basketball and you don’t enjoy practicing–”
You know, people used to say, “What’s the greatest asset that Karl Malone and John Stockton had?”–and you can throw in Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton with that group; Bobby Hansen, whatever it might be, you know, Darrell Griffith–is that they loved to come to practice. They loved basketball, and that’s why they were so good.
Did you ever fail at anything?
All the time. Let me tell you something, how my life started. My mother died in my childbirth. In my childbirth. So I never had a mother, okay? I was brought up by the neighborhood. My father worked on the docks six and a half days, and you know, we, and so, you know, right off the bat, you had a reason to fail, you know?
We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were never poor. And I was very fortunate. I had good coaches, good tutors, good mentors to follow. It just was my nature not to be knocked down, and not be able to get up. Maybe it’s my Brooklyn background or something, you know, but I never felt hurt by anything…
Now, I’m trying to outlive the system. And I hope I live to 150, and Barbara lives to 151, and then we’ll have it licked.
On his wife, Barbara
We have just celebrated on June 1 our 58th wedding anniversary. It was a match made in heaven. We were introduced by Al McGuire, the great basketball player and coach. Both of us are from Brooklyn. She could walk to Ebbets Field; I had to take the bus, but that, I lived in a little nicer neighborhood than she did. But anyway, we get along. We like each other and what each other does. We like our sports. We like to do things together…We like the same things, and we get along. We respect each other. …
I got into the Utah [Sports] Hall of Fame, and they give you a ring when you get in…I found out where they got the rings made, and I had one made for Barbara. And I called her up and I said, “Barbara, come on up here. And I got a ring for you because if I get a ring, you should get a ring ’cause I couldn’t get this ring without you.” …
Well, that was fine. And the women cried, and everybody was happy. They thought it was a great, you know, they said, “Boy, that gray-head guy, he’s a romantic sort of guy to do that.” You know, the women became envious and they were, you could see they were looking at their husbands.
And we were, when I sat down, the two [other inductees], one Todd [Christensen], big football player on one side, and Bruce Hurst, big baseball player on the other side, and they looked at me and they said, “Thanks a lot. How are we gonna go home now?” You know, “We’re gonna have to sleep on the couch. How did you ever think to do that?”
You know, so, but Barbara deserves that. She really does. We’re a partnership, and I really mean this: I’d never have gotten to where I did…without Barbara. (KUTV)