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Instead of wearing practice clothes, Frank Layden was dressed for a game in his familar light-blue jacket and George Bush tie pin when he reported to the Salt Palace for the Jazz's morning shootaround Friday. The players knew something was up. "This is the last time you guys have to see my ugly face," he told them.

The players had the idea that Layden would step down after this season, but the December departure surprised them. "Frank's always been a little on the unpredictable side," said Mark Eaton. "We've come to expect the unexpected."After his news conference, Layden joked that NBA commissioner David Stern was probably calling his staff together in the New York office to share the good news. Actually, the profit-minded NBA may miss Layden, who accounted for $16,000 in fines last season for media-related matters.

"Frank was certainly very outspoken, and got into some problems with some of the things he would say, especially about officiating," noted Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations, "but Frank certainly believed what he was saying. I don't think he was a problem."

Veteran Coach John MacLeod of Dallas both cringed and smiled when a broadcaster mentioned that Layden was lucky to leave coaching, but still have a job with the organization. MacLeod was fired by Phoenix during the 1986-87 season before landing in Dallas. "I'm going to miss Frank Layden," he said. "(The timing) indicates this is good for Frank; it's what he wants."

The Jazz players expect little change in the Sloan administration, especially after Layden clearly was preparing Sloan to replace him at the end of the season. "A lot of the philosophies we have now, Jerry brought here," said Eaton. "Obviously, Jerry's not going to totally revamp everything, because the things we've got are working - and most of the stuff is his, anyway."

Karl Malone was always the most outspoken player about Layden's effect on his career. "I'll tell you what, I'm still in shock," he said before Friday night's game. "I have to get over the fact that Frank's not here. The timing of the whole situation is off."

Actually, Jazz owner Larry Miller wanted Layden to stay through the nationally televised Christmas Day game against the Lakers for a big sendoff.

With a tough eastern trip ahead, Layden noted that teams usually respond well, at least immediately, to a coaching change - then again, that's usually after a firing.

"We're going to miss (Layden's) personality," noted one player. Will they miss everything about him - the locker-room tirades, and all that? Just the same, playing under Sloan's no-nonsense approach will be no picnic.

"If you know anything about Jerry, it's going to be anything but boring," said Marc Iavaroni. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, and you're going to know about it if you're not doing your job."