Positive Force

Low-key Loyer brings consistency of work ethic, attitude to Pistons

John Loyer
John Loyer
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
It could have been his 100th game, or his 1,000th, as easily as his first, for all outward signs of anxiety John Loyer expressed during Monday’s win over San Antonio, his NBA debut coming on barely 24 hours notice.

His level of involvement, possession to possession, was apparent to anyone who diverted their gaze from the basketball long enough to check out the sideline, where Loyer orchestrated, finessed and exhorted as solid a 48-minute effort as the Pistons have registered in a while.

Asked after the 109-100 win if that was his style, Loyer deadpanned, “It was my first game. I have no style.”

And that’s a pretty good glimpse into who the new Pistons coach really is. He’s going to be low key and self deprecating. He doesn’t do anything to invite the spotlight – he’s as egoless as anyone you’ll ever come across in the business – but it has nothing to do with an aversion to heat. He’ll handle that part of it just fine.

After his first practice on Tuesday, I asked him if he was as composed as he appeared during Monday’s game, if there was any moment that caused his pulse to race.

“Nah,” he said. “I’ve done it before. I’ve been out there. Every game is going to be a little different. There are going to be games where they’re going to throw something at you that you haven’t seen or maybe you’re not as prepared for, but when you do this every day and prepare yourself, you go out and do the best you can do. As long as our 15 guys are ready, I’ll be ready.”

As an assistant here for 2½ seasons, players have come to know a coach who’s always at their beck and call. He’s worked most closely among current Pistons with Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Singler, working out Singler before practices and Stuckey after.

“Same guy, consistent guy, every day,” Stuckey said. “That’s who he is. Brings positive energy, just comes to work each and every day, happy. And he’s a teacher. He’s a really good teacher. We’re all excited to have him as our head coach.”

So when Loyer says what he said after Monday’s win about his style, “I just do what I think is best for the team,” players don’t doubt his sincerity.

“There are going to be nights you need to sit over there and let ’em play,” he said. “There’ll be nights when it’s an emotional night where your guys need you more. I just think a few of our guys need very positive reinforcement. That’s kind of who I am. That’s who I was as an assistant and I told them I’ll be the same guy as I was before. I’m not changing.”

To prove it, there he was after Tuesday’s practice, rebounding for Stuckey, putting him through his paces in situational shooting drills.

Loyer lauded the consistency of effort after the game in the locker room. Then he went home and did what he always does: watch tape and get ready for tomorrow. The tape told him a different story.

“I told our guys today after watching it, I even thought our effort was a little better on tape than watching it live. Sometimes it’s vice versa,” he said.

He also said he uses the tape to show players shortcomings of effort or execution, so don’t confuse Loyer for a cheerleader. But there is something about his demeanor, calm yet highly interactive, that clearly resonates with his players. You could see it in the way Andre Drummond wrapped his arm around Loyer after Monday’s buzzer as they shared a moment.

Loyer’s observation about certain players needing positive reinforcement reveals an awareness of the unique personalities that make up a locker room. After Drummond was whistled for an offensive foul, a moving screen, Loyer shouted words of encouragement to him when Drummond dropped his gaze for a moment. Stuckey nods his head at the mention of Loyer’s encouragement. It matters to players, he said.

“Absolutely. Positive energy. When you hear it, it spreads,” he said. “Once it’s instilled inside of you, you just wake up positive. Once it’s in somebody, you can share it with someone else. It’s all about sharing positive energy around here and all be on the same page.”

That would only go so far if the players weren’t as thoroughly convinced of Loyer’s mental acuity and preparedness as they are that he’s got their best interests at heart. One reason Loyer’s voice was heard so frequently during Monday’s win was he had knowledge to pass along, immediately familiar with the play calls coming from San Antonio’s side.

“He’s smart,” Stuckey said. “We’ve really got to focus and lock in and pay attention to what he’s doing in the huddles. A lot of information. A lot of plays are going to be drawn up that are different now.”

Loyer gets that the Xs and Os are a vital component of the requirements for success as an NBA head coach. The league has become increasingly sophisticated in that way. But he also knows that coaching, stripped down to its most basic fundamental, is about keeping the flame under your team lit at all times.

“The ability to get your guys to play harder than the opponent – to me, that’s a big part of coaching,” he said. “There’s a lot of nights you’re not going to make shots, a lot of nights the ball’s not going to go in, a lot of nights you’re going to throw it away. But the one thing you have control over is playing hard.”

If they match their new coach’s level of preparedness and immersion, they’ll be fine. They get Cleveland on Wednesday, when they’ll try to make it six straight home wins and four straight overall, and then comes the All-Star break. Their new head coach won’t be lounging on a beach somewhere warm and sunny, either. He’ll be up to his eyeballs in the tweaks at both ends of the floor he’ll want to implement for the stretch drive and a run at the playoffs.

“I don’t have any plans,” he said. “I’ve got kids at home.”

And videotape to review.