clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Layden re-energized with the new duties, tasks with Jazz

Jazz coaches Phil Johnson, left, and Scott Layden have a conversation during a summer practice.
Jazz coaches Phil Johnson, left, and Scott Layden have a conversation during a summer practice.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

One day, he is running one of the most storied franchises in professional sports, the New York Knicks.

Less than two years later, he sits as an assistant coach, third in current tenure among assistants on the staff of a team, the Jazz, about as far in distance and lore from the Big Apple as one can get.

How does he do it?

How does Scott Layden set aside the ego, roll up the shirt sleeves and dive headfirst into a pool of such relative anonymity?

How does he welcome the grunt work with open arms, and not think twice about bright lights and late nights calling all the shots?

It's simple, really.

"I don't think in those terms," said Layden, who tonight at the Delta Center coaches against New York for the first time since getting fired in December of 2003 from his high-pressure post as president and general manager of the Knicks. "I guess I wish I had an ego to worry about."

The truth is that if Layden does indeed have one, he keeps it about as hidden as his thoughts on history.

Buried, deep.

Instead, Layden is humble to an extreme, modestly happy to come full circle in his professional life and continue to follow in the footsteps of the man who got him into this wild, wacky business.

"My whole life has been spent in basketball," said Layden, son of popular former Jazz coach, general manager and president Frank Layden. "I can't remember how long ago I started hearing the ball bouncing.

"My father," Layden added, "has always been known as a . . . a great speaker, and a comedic gentleman. But I think he's a teacher No. 1. I just remember so many lessons, and they seem to come back to you in this setting."

That is precisely why he is cherishing every moment he has an assistant to Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan, whether it's breaking down film of an opponent, running players through pre-game drills or charting a statistic as obscure to the average fan as how many deflections are made in a game.

"I've been re-energized with the new duties and tasks. It's been fun," said Layden, who shares opponent prep duties with fellow assistant Tyrone Corbin. "I'm elated. I'm charged. I'm forever indebted to coach Sloan that I'm able to be his assistant."

Calling Sloan "very accommodating" for hiring him last summer to replace longtime Jazz assistant Gordie Chiesa, Layden said, "I just hope I do a good job."

Though it probably pales compared to running the Knicks or even the Jazz from the front office, the position does come with a certain degree of pressure.

"The pressure is just to do a good job, and to just get up every day and work hard for Coach," Layden said. "That's where the pressure lies.

"I'm 100 percent dedicated to coach Sloan and the Jazz, and making things work," he added. "I just hope at the end of the year he says, 'I want you back.' "

Layden's words are genuine, not just for show. A quick run of the resume proves it's so.

After starting his NBA career as an assistant on the Jazz staff of his father in 1981, the 47-year-old climbed the ladder to basketball's rooftop.

Named Jazz director of player personnel in 1988. Named Jazz director of basketball operations in 1992. Promoted to team vice president in 1996, as the Jazz were about to begin their run of consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

When he finally left Utah in 1999, it was only for a front-office dream job in New York.

Then it all came tumbling down.

Layden, whose family is still living in New York while he works here, prefers not to discuss the past.

He is reluctant to say if he regrets ever having left Utah and the Jazz.

He won't talk about what went right or wrong in New York.

And he definitely will not delve into that day he was canned by the Knicks, the second anniversary of which just happens to fall on the same day the Jazz get into New York for their Dec. 23 game at Madison Square Garden against the team that once was his to essentially call his own.

Instead, after a sabbatical that limited him to running basketball clinics overseas for a shoe company and making appearances on NBA TV in which he would discuss any team in the league except the Knicks, Frank Layden's son opts to savor the here-and-now.

Leaning against a wall at the United Center in Chicago, where the 4-3 Jazz closed a 2-2 road trip with Saturday's loss to the Bulls, Scott Layden also reminisces.

"When I was growing up, I had such a respect and an appreciation for my father's friends who were in the profession," he said. "To be able to get a job like this, as an assistant coach, I think is amazing. I really do, and I treasure it. I just hope I can do a good job."

Layden recalls when he was a kid and Frank's dear friend, longtime St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, was running a camp in which the counselors outnumbered him and his fellow campers by more than 2-to-1.

"I just remember saying, 'This is a wonderful environment to be in,' " he said.

Decades later the gyms are bigger and the stakes higher, yet Layden still lives for the environment.

"I'm really lucky," he said. "I really am. I say that sincerely."