The Layden Touch - Scott Layden
Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
Scott Layden does not do stand-up comedy like his dad, the wonderfully witty Frank Layden, but the son can tell a pretty good story.
A favorite unfolds in 1968, when Scott was 10, and his dad was coaching the University of Niagra basketball team against an overwhelming opponent. The Niagra gym, Scott recalls, was tiny, the seating capacity perhaps 2,500, tops, not nearly big enough to hold the crowd wanting to see visiting Syracuse.
Niagra stood no chance. But then little Calvin Murphy, all 5-feet-9, erupted for 68 points -- 24 field goals, 20 free throws -- and Syracuse fell, 118-110, in Frank's first season as a college coach.
"And those 68 points were scored without a three-point line," says Scott, the Spurs new assistant general manager. "To put it in perspective: When I was at St. Francis College in Pennsylvania, I scored 57 …
"In four years."
Nice touch. Self-deprecating humor runs in the Layden family. Before he lost more than 100 pounds, Frank Layden, the former Jazz coach, liked to say there wasn't a human scale that could hold a body like his -- 300 pounds-plus.
"So I used to take my car and go to a weigh station where they weigh trucks," he told one audience. "So if your car weighed 2,500 pounds, you know that everything else is you. The only other way is to go to a meat-packing company. But I was very shy about being hung upside-down, naked."
Frank was like that at the dinner table. Telling stories. Embellishing stories. Cracking everyone up. Scott relished being the son of a colorful coach, an Irish Catholic from Brooklyn who filled his home with laughter and reporter's notebooks with one-liners. "It was a wonderful time growing up," Scott says. "My dad is a great story teller. He's a great extemporaneous speaker. And he's noted for being a funny guy. He has a Henny Youngman act."
No one appreciated Frank more than those who covered his teams. One memorable gem: "I told him, 'Son, what is it with you. Is it ignorance or apathy? He said, 'Coach, I don't know and I don't care."
Frank cared about the Jazz. He coached, served as team president and general manager, worked as a broadcaster, delivered speeches, kept fans entertained and the media full of memorable quotes.
"My dad was the ultimate coach," Scott says. "He started in high school, then coached in college, then coached in the pros. When he coached in high school, he was the history teacher, he was the dean of discipline, he drove the bus, he was in charge of many things. I remember being under the bleachers, being in the gym constantly with him."
Father and son were closer than most. When Scott graduated from college, he went to work for Frank. They spent more than 20 years together: Frank the head coach, Scott the scout, then an assistant coach, director of player personnel and vice president of basketball operations.
In Utah, Frank was winning NBA Coach of the Year honors, claiming the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and making fun of his body. "It's hard to be fit as a fiddle," he once said, "when you're shaped like a cello."
Scott, meanwhile, was developing a remarkable eye for talent. He spotted an obscure point guard from Gonzaga in 1984 and John Stockton became a Hall of Famer. The next season, Scott found another future Hall of Famer in the draft, Karl Malone. The Jazz made 18 consecutive playoff appearances and reached the NBA Finals twice.
The son, of course, gives the credit to his father. Much of what Scott learned about basketball he learned from Frank. So when the Knicks hired Scott as general manager, he asked if he could hire his dad as a consultant. Permission granted. "It really is an amazing relationship," Scott says, "one I look back on and cherish."
The son speaks of his father, now 80, with admiration and awe. Frank travels, reads voraciously, performs in theater with his wife, sings at ballgames, takes Shakespeare classes, enjoys opera, retains a sharp sense of humor and remains a goodwill ambassador in Salt Lake City, where he continues to live. "He's a Renaissance man," Scott says. "An icon."
Frank and Scott play golf once or twice a year, almost always on Father's Day, the son relishing every moment. Scott: "We get up on No. 1 and all I have to do is say, 'Dad, how's it going today?' And for the next 18 holes, I don't say a word. He just tells stories. Growing up in Brooklyn. Funny tales. It's unbelievable."
Scott never tires of the tales, even those he lived through. Niagra vs. Syracuse? Yeah, Frank remembers the game. But his take on Calvin Murphy -- later, a great player for the Houston Rockets -- is uniquely Frank Layden. He once told a reporter: "I thought to myself, 'Wow, I've only coached Murphy for three games. And look how much he's improved.' And he was only starting to listen to me. If he was listening completely, he'd have scored 100."
No, Scott doesn't work a crowd like Frank. But for more than half a century, the son has had the best seat in the house -- and loved every minute of it.