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Former Utah Jazz head coach Tom Nissalke dies at age 87

He was a head coach in four NBA cities and three NBA cities, winning Coach of the Year in both leagues.

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Former Utah Jazz coach Tom Nissalke on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2014.

Former Utah Jazz coach Tom Nissalke on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Tom Nissalke, the Jazz’s first head coach after the team moved from New Orleans to Utah, died Thursday at his home in Salt Lake City.

The 87-year-old Madison, Wis., native was a rarity, having won Coach of the Year awards in both the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association.

In 1979, the struggling Jazz franchise relocated to Salt Lake and selected Nissalke, who had already been a head coach in two NBA cities (Seattle, Houston) and three ABA cities (including Salt Lake) to guide the team. His teams went 60-124 in two-plus seasons in Utah, but set a foundation for the franchise to remain.   

He later became head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers for two seasons. 

Nissalke coached the Utah Stars of the ABA in 1974-76. His Coach of the Year awards came with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals (1971-72) and the NBA’s Houston Rockets (1976-77). He also coached San Antonio when it was still an ABA franchise. 

As an assistant coach in Milwaukee in 1970-71, he helped guide the Bucks to the NBA title, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

“Gail Miller and the Miller Family, along with the Jazz organization, are saddened to hear about the passing of former head coach Tom Nissalke. As our first head coach when the team moved in 1979 from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, he was instrumental in helping the franchise transition to its new home. We express our appreciation for all he did as the Jazz coach and for introducing the NBA to our community. Our thoughts are with Coach Nissalke’s daughter, son, grandchildren and friends during this time,” the Utah Jazz said in a statement.

Nissalke was honored by the Salt Lake YMCA for decades of work in raising funds to support the organization. He served as chairman and CEO of the Salt Lake Chapter. Nissalke was instrumental in creating after-school programs in Salt Lake and Weber counties. 

In recent years, the longtime coach and former sports radio analyst, faced a series of health related problems. 

Nissalke, whose wife Nancy passed away in 2006, is survived by daughter Holly, son Thomas Jr. and two grandchildren.