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When high school principal Lory Curtis began his search for a commencement speaker, a colleague suggested former Utah Jazz coach, general manager and team president Frank Layden.

Curtis loved the idea, but he wondered if Layden was "too big" to consider the job of addressing the 378 students who made up his Class of 2011.

After all, Curtis doesn't run a typical football-on-Friday-night school.

His recent graduates are also inmates at Utah State Prison who use the educational opportunities provided by Canyon School District as preparation for their futures.

Finally convincing himself there was nothing to lose, Curtis called the Jazz and left a message for Layden, who returned it almost immediately.

"He said he would love to do it," Curtis recalled this week. "Then he gave a fantastic speech. The people around here are still beaming about it.

"I didn't expect he'd come. I thought he might be busy or out of town, and maybe he was. But he made time for us."

So what else is new?

Speeding toward his 77th birthday, Layden is more active than most men half his age.

His post-basketball life revolves around his wife, their three children and 11 grandchildren, who range in age from 5 to 25.

"Ten girls," says his wife, Barbara, "and one boy."

Beyond family, the fame Frank Layden gained while running the Jazz through their formative years in the 1980s continues to make him one of Utah's most recognizable faces.

Unlike many others, however, Layden embraces nearly every opportunity to lend his name and support to any charitable or public-service effort that comes along.

For 20 years, he has served as honorary chairman of the Rotary Club of Sugar House's Chili Open.

The wintertime golf tournament has raised $3.5 million for local charities.

But Layden's philanthropy runs the entire spectrum.

Cancer awareness and crime prevention.

Child abuse and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

When called, Layden answers.

"It's a unique thing — a sincere thing," said Scott Layden, his oldest son and an assistant coach with the Jazz. "He touches the community more than anybody I know. It's been a great thing to see."

Said Barbara Layden: "I try to tell him not to get overwhelmed and he says, 'Yes, that's right.' Then the phone rings."

Frank Layden credits his wife for his unfailing willingness to help others.

He was always generous with his time. A Sports Illustrated story from 1985 reported that there wasn't a charity along the Wasatch Front that hadn't enlisted Layden's help.

But Barbara Layden's decision a few years ago to return to college and eventually become a counselor to those recovering from substance abuse triggered a recommitment.

"We've been so fortunate, with really good kids and grandkids," she said. "Consequently, I talked to him about going back [to school] and doing something to help people."

Frank Layden shrugs and says the volunteer work "keeps us going. It gives us something to do — keeps us busy."

The Laydens came to Utah in 1979, when the New Orleans Jazz moved into the old Salt Palace and Frank was hired as general manager.

The franchise struggled in those early days, but Layden kept it afloat with his acumen, determination and well-known sense of humor.

Director of scouting David Fredman, the only employee who has been with the team from the beginning, credits Layden for the Jazz's survival in Utah.

"He wore a lot of hats," Fredman said, "and was able to turn things around on a very low budget. … Because of Frank, we turned the corner."

During a 20-year span, Layden was the Jazz general manager, coach and president.

As much as John Stockton or Karl Malone, he became the face of the franchise before retiring in 1999.

Laughing, Scott Layden said, "I don't even like to use the word 'retirement' because it doesn't fit. This thing now is just another phase of his career."

Two years ago, Frank Layden survived "the only serious health issue I've had."

After a trip to San Francisco included a chilly, wet round of golf, Layden developed pneumonia.

A month later, he experienced a sharp pain in his chest.

Barbara Layden hurried her husband to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his left lung and was immediately admitted to the intensive-care unit.

Layden heard from hundreds of friends and former players during his three-day stay in the ICU and his recovery.

Today, he says, "My health is good."

Frank and Barbara Layden are financially secure enough to live anywhere, including New York, where hotel bellhops still recognize him on return trips.

"It blows my mind how many people know him," Barbara said.

Instead, the Laydens stayed in Utah to be close to their family and good friends.

"It seemed like I was always helping raise other people's children," said Layden, a high school and college coach for 20 years before moving to the pros.

"Now we get to do all the birthday and graduation stuff with the grandkids."

From the patio of the immaculate, elegantly furnished, 12th-floor condo on the edge of downtown Salt Lake City, the Laydens have owned a panoramic view of the Utah Capitol and the rolling foothills of the Wasatch Mountains for the past 15 years.

The TV room, featuring his and hers recliners, is filled with enough memorabilia from Layden's career to make a collector drool.

One wall is devoted to items from his years at Niagara University.

A diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan while growing up, Layden's collection also includes a replica Jackie Robinson jersey and a street sign pointing the way to Ebbetts Field.

Miniatures of the John Stockton and Karl Malone statues that stand outside EnergySolutions Arena hold a place of honor, as do his 1984 Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year trophies.

One truly unique item: a piece of the court from Madison Square Garden, autographed and given to Layden by longtime friend Red Holzman after he coached the Knicks to the 1970 NBA championship.

This is the room where Frank and Barbara Layden collapse after their hectic days of grandparenting, social work and charity.

"So many people come up to Frank and say, 'Thank you so much for all you do for Salt Lake City,' " Barbara Layden said. "But Frank says, 'I've gotten much more back than I have given.' And it's true."

Frank Layden looked around his TV room, smiled and said, "Life has been good."

Twitter: @sluhm —

Frank Layden file

Birthday • Oct. 29, 1934

Hometown • Brooklyn, N.Y.

College • Niagara University (1955)

Wife • Barbara

Children • Scott, Mike, Katie

Career highlights

• Taught and coached high school basketball until 1966.

• Coached at Adelphi Suffolk (now Dowling College) for two seasons.

• Head coach at Niagara for eight years, starting in 1968.

• Assistant coach for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks from 1976-79.

• Hired as general manager of the Utah Jazz on May 9, 1979. Became head coach on Dec. 10, 1981. Guided Jazz to their first winning season and division title in 1984. Named the Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year and was the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner.

• Stepped down as coach on Dec. 9, 1988, and was named team president.

• Stepped down as Jazz team president on Dec. 29, 1999.