Frank Layden

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Niagara University and NBA Basketball Coach

A walking, talking testament to the power of a strong sense of humor, Frank Layden has spent a lifetime entertaining basketball fans with not only the excellence of his team, but his domineering wit and wisdom.

A Niagara University graduate (1955) and Taps Gallagher protege, Layden made a career of turning losing basketball programs around. The Seton Hall, Long Island High School was 0-16 when Frank took over as coach; three years later it won a County Championship. At Niagara, he inherited a team which had suffered six straight losing seasons and, with the help of Calvin Murphy, took his Purple Eagles to the National Collegiate Athletic Association regionals two years later, still the school’s only NCAA birth. Layden also led the Purple Eagles to the two National Invitational Tournament appearances, including the 1972 tournament finals. The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks lost 50 games before Layden signed on as assistant head coach in 1976; three years later, they won 50. Impressed with his resume, the New Orleans Jazz hired Layden as general manager in 1979; he stepped behind their bench in 1981 after the move west to Utah.

The Jazz, who prior to Layden’s arrival had never had a winning season, won a division title in 1983-84 as Layden copped Coach-of-the-Year honors from the Sporting News and Executive-of-the-Year honors from the NBA. Although Layden gave up coaching in 1988, he remained as GM through 1998, and the Jazz has remained in the upper echelon of the NBA. Layden the GM has been as successful as Layden the coach, as his astute draft selections (most notably, little-known mid-rounders Karl Malone and John Stockton) has helped the team average 50 wins per season since 1988 and reach the NBA finals twice. Today, Frank serves as a consultant for the New York Knicks, while son Scott handles general manager duties.

Layden’s long-time status as one of sport’s most colorful characters has often nearly overshadowed his coaching genius. His coaching ability ensured that fans would laugh only at him, and not at his team; but, oh the laughter Frank has wrought through the years. Layden has always been as sought-after for the banquet circuit for the antidote for a team in distress; in either role, he has never disappointed.

In 2000, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame honors a person who has enriched our enjoyment of sports in many ways, and will continue to do so through the rich memories he has left.