SALT LAKE CITY — The first man to lead the Utah Jazz has died.
Tom Nissalke, the first head coach for the Jazz following their move from New Orleans in 1979, died Thursday. He was 87.
In 1979, Nissalke, who had coached NBA teams in Seattle and Houston, was selected by the Jazz to lead the team into the Utah era. He went 60-124 in two-plus seasons before being replaced by Frank Layden 20 games into the 1981-82 season.
It was a hard task. The Jazz franchise struggled financially immediately following the move to Salt Lake, and Nissalke — who later became a sports radio personality and television broadcaster in Utah — helped lay a foundation for more successful years to come.
“The Miller Family, along with the Jazz organization, are saddened to hear about the passing of former head coach Tom Nissalke," team owner Gail Miller said in a statement. "As our first head coach when the team moved in 1979 from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, he was instrumental in helping the franchise transition to its new home. We express our appreciation for all he did as the Jazz coach and for introducing the NBA to our community. Our thoughts are with Coach Nissalke’s daughter, son, grandchildren and friends during this time.”
Nissalke won two Coach of the Year awards during his career, one in the NBA with the Houston Rockets in 1977 and one in the ABA with the Dallas Chaparrals in 1972.
His time with the Jazz wasn’t Nissalke’s first time in Utah. He coached the ABA’s Utah Stars from 1974-76. Nissalke also coached the San Antonio ABA franchise before joining the Jazz and later coached the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Nissalke’s long coaching career also included being the head coach of the Puerto Rican Olympic team in 1976 and working as an assistant in Milwaukee, helping the Bucks to an NBA title with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
Following his coaching career, Nissalke helped revamp the YMCA of Utah and served as chairman of the board and also CEO. He helped create after-school programs throughout Salt Lake and Weber counties.
Nissalke is survived by his daughter, Holly, his son, Thomas Jr., and two grandchildren.