Staff Profile: John Loyer
Long-ago college ties led to NBA connection for Frank, Loyer
(Editor’s note: Pistons.com continues its series on the makeup of new head coach Lawrence Frank’s staff of assistants with a look at John Loyer. Next: Brian Hill.)
There are no secrets among the coaching fraternity. Even the least-tenured assistants charged to work with the second-rounders and D-Leaguers who make up the back end of an NBA roster quickly become known for the enthusiasm and teaching skills they bring – or don’t bring – to the table.
When Lawrence Frank was in the earliest stages of his coaching career, fresh out of Indiana and working under Kevin O’Neill at Marquette, he would occasionally get to observe practices at the University of Cincinnati, coached by a deeply respected peer of O’Neill’s, Bob Huggins. Frank couldn’t help but notice the work being put in by one of Huggins’ young assistant coaches, John Loyer, who had played for Huggins at Akron.
“John was unbelievable,” Frank recalls today. “I said, ‘Man, this guy can really coach.’ ”
And then Frank embarked on the rest of his coaching career, which took him to the NBA when O’Neill left Tennessee for Northwestern in 1997. Loyer left Cincinnati after 10 years at Huggins’ side to become head coach at Wabash Valley, an Illinois junior college. He stayed there only a year, but recruited a team that would go on to win the national title. He’d turned down a chance to work in the NBA once, but when a longtime friend made a second overture, Loyer made the leap. That friend was Mark Warkentein, then an assistant general manager who has since worked for Denver and most recently for the Knicks as a consultant.
Loyer spent a year as Portland’s video coordinator and two as the advance scout before becoming an assistant coach under Mo Cheeks. He followed Cheeks from Portland to Philadelphia in 2005 and spent four seasons with the 76ers. But when Cheeks was fired and Loyer found himself back on the market, the impression he’d made on Frank more than a decade earlier paid dividends. Frank hired Loyer to his staff before the 2009-10 season. They only got to coach 16 games together, though – and all of them losses with a badly overmatched Nets roster – before Frank was fired. Loyer finished out the season and then spent last year as a Nets assistant to Avery Johnson.
But when Frank got his second chance as a head coach over the summer with the Pistons, Loyer was eager to follow him to Detroit.
“First and foremost, because of Lawrence Frank,” said Loyer, an Ohio native for whom the move also brings him closer to home and family. “I really believe in his style. I know how much he puts into the game, how he gets players better and how he coaches in the NBA. I just think it’s the way to go. And then the history of Detroit – the championships, the aura, the respect Detroit gets around the league as being one of the elite franchises. Everybody has bumps in the road, but the tradition, the former players through the years – you think Detroit and you think great basketball.”
While holdover Brian Hill will be charged with focusing on the defensive end, Frank is giving Loyer the task of being his sounding board on the offensive end.
“I want him thinking like a head coach,” Frank said. “See the game offensively first, be in my ear as far as play selection – the after-timeout ideas, different little wrinkles, but stay in my ear offensively.”
As with all assistants on Frank’s staff, Loyer will have scouting responsibilities for upcoming opponents and will work in player development. Toward that end, his specialty will be wing players – some shooting guards, small forwards and “stretch fours,” or power forwards with shooting range to the 3-point arc.
Loyer was lauded for his results in both Portland and Philadelphia for his tireless work with those teams’ young players.
“John is a star,” Frank said, matter of factly. “He’s really good. Total anti-politician. Doesn’t play the game. He’s just into getting guys better, helping the team.”
“I’ve always enjoyed it,” Loyer said of throwing himself into player development – the before- and after-practice hours and time spent before NBA games working on repetitive drills with young players so technique becomes instinctive. “Probably from the college days. In college, you pretty much coached every aspect, but I’ve always enjoyed the player-development aspect. I’ve been fortunate to work with some good players and guys with great work ethics. I take a lot of pride – whether they’re on your team or somebody else’s team – just to help in some capacity, help them in their careers. Whether it was in college to help them get to the NBA or as young players once they get to the NBA, help them advance their careers. It’s something I really enjoy.”
The way Frank is structuring his staff, too, was appealing to Loyer.
“I’ve coached both sides of the ball,” Loyer said. “My background from the collegiate days was more on the defensive side, but since I’ve joined the NBA I’ve coached both sides for various coaches and feel very comfortable on the offensive side. It’s kind of the way the league has gone the last handful of years – kind of the football mode: have one set of eyes on one end and one set on the other. That was appealing to me, but at the end of the day, just like a head coach, you’re responsible for everything. It’s just that one thing is your specialty, so it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
Loyer worked with another of Frank’s assistants, Roy Rogers, in New Jersey during the 2009-10 season, and has had interaction with other members of the staff in various settings, all part of that small coaching fraternity. He even replaced Hill on Frank’s staff in New Jersey when Hill came to the Pistons under John Kuester.
“Even though I haven’t worked with (Hill), I’ve worked with quite a few people who have worked with him, so it feels like I know him,” Loyer said. “I took his spot (on the staff), his office, his locker – the whole thing. I’ve heard so many positive things about him from the rest of the staff. I knew Dee (Brown) as a player. Charles (Klask), too. It’s a pretty close-knit fraternity. Lawrence does such a good job of being very specific on your responsibilities. He has such an open mind to ideas on either side of the ball from anybody, so I think it really helps that you don’t feel like you’re stepping on anybody’s toes. I think it’s a group that’s going to work well together.”