Schayes: On NBA Coach of the Year, and Coaches in General

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220px-Erik_SpoelstraWith the NBA season winding down, award season is right around the corner. The Coach of the Year award this season is a very tight race.

I have a tremendous history with coaches. It started by growing up with an NBA Coach of the Year living across the hall from me for my entire childhood.

That helped me grow up to have an 18-year NBA career playing for 15 different coaches. And when you consider that I had one coach (Doug Moe) for eight of those years, that means that I went through 14 coaches in the other 10 years. I was not a coach-killer, but it does show the life expectancy of a coach is about the same as a fruit fly. 

The flip side is that I received an exceptional basketball education. Besides my dad, Dolph Schayes, I played for seven Coaches of the Year (Tom Nissalke, Phil Johnson, Frank Layden, Doug Moe, Del Harris, Mike Dunleavy, Pat Riley). In addition, at various times I played for Hall of Famers Chuck Daly, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino and Magic Johnson. (Yes, I had the great pleasure to play on the Magic Johnson-coached Lakers.)

My experience with coaches on all levels is pretty hard to duplicate.

So here are my Coach Awards.

Best Screamer: No question, the winner here is Doug Moe. I played almost eight years for Doug with the Denver Nuggets. He is the nicest guy in the world for 22 hours each day. The other two – game time – he was a berserker. He will be the first to admit it. He would tell us that you just had to put up with him for those two hours. Having an old school mentality, I learned that I needed to filter out the cursing and yelling to decipher the message and don’t take doug moeanything personally. Here’s a typical exchange:

Doug: What the f*** were you thinking! Get your head out of your a**!

Danny: Got it Doug, I’ll trap the pick-and-roll next time.

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Funniest: Frank Layden. Frank was a hit on the banquet circuit. One season when we were not very good, Frank felt his job was to keep the fans entertained. Luckily, he had Phil Johnson as an assistant to handle the actual X’s and O’s.

At the time Frank was somewhere between 400 and 800 pounds. It’s tough to tell at that size. He used to tell people that he had a terrific body, right underneath this one!

Frank had a million stories (that we heard a million times) and he was always captivating.

Early in my rookie year we were playing the Rockets with Moses Malone. As usual, Frank was working the crowd around the bench area. I had not yet cracked the starting lineup. Our starter,  Jeff Wilkins, got in early foul trouble and Frank put in Ben Poquette, our power forward. Ben got called for two quick ones as well. Moses was a handful. He got the ball every time and was always pounding into his defender, drawing a lot of fouls. At this point I was ready to go in when Frank put in James Hardy, a backup forward. He missed me completely!

My mind was racing. What did I do to get in the doghouse? I met with Frank the next day as I had no clue why I wasn’t put in against Moses. Frank didn’t know what I was talking about, even after I explained the sequence. He was having so much fun bantering with the fans, he forgot I was there and never thought to put me in! Well, at least I wasn’t in the doghouse.

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Worst Dressed: This is a tie between Moe and Layden, who had a lot of similarities. They were both New Yorkers, both funny, and both had little interest in being dapper. They were division rivals whose teams played against each other often. At one event where Doug was speaking, he said how mad he was at Frank. It was bad enough that Frank took the title as Funniest Coach, but then he took over as biggest slob. That really hurt!

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“Too Much is Never Enough” Award: Pat Riley. I played for Pat his first season in Miami. Pat is incredible at measuring and recording everything. He is constantly analyzing down to the tiniest detail. The practice after a game always started with 30-45 minutes reviewing statistics not in the boxscore.

200px-Pat_RileyBesides getting really stiff sitting on the gym floor, it made me wonder who was manually measuring all of this stuff. This was before digital, so someone was pulling all-nighters counting things like hands in face on shot, boxouts, sink-and-fills, closeouts and help-and-recovers. I remember that there was even a report on how many picks I set in a game. It was so exhaustive that some guys found themselves in the game doing things that were being measured instead of just playing. There was definitely a point of overkill, but he got an A for effort!

Best Dressed: Chuck Daly. I played for Chuck Daly for two years in Orlando, the final two in the league for both of us. Chuck retired from coaching in 1999 and I just finished my 18th season as a player. Chuck’s career included two NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal coaching the original Dream Team.

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