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Tom Nissalke, former Jazz coach and NBA Coach of the Year, dies at age 87

Former NBA coach Tom Nissalke has died at the age of 87, the Utah Jazz announced Friday. The Jazz released the following statement regarding the news of Nissalke’s death: 

“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 was a coaching nomad during his career. He began as a high school coach at Wayland Academy before advancing into the college ranks at Wisconsin and later Tulane as an assistant coach. His work there got him into the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, again as an assistant, before landing his first head job in the professional game for the 1971-72 season. 

He would go on to coach six teams across the ABA and NBA in the next 13 seasons. That first job was with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals, but after a year, he jumped to the NBA to lead the Seattle Supersonics. He disappointed there, and ultimately returned to his original team, which had by then relocated to San Antonio and renamed itself the Spurs. After stints there, with the Utah Stars and coaching Puerto Rico in the 1976 Olympics, he landed the job in which he found the most success. 

Nissalke won the 1977 NBA Coach of the Year award for leading the Houston Rockets to 49 wins a year after they had missed the playoffs. Combined with his 1972 ABA Coach of the Year award, he is one of only four people to have earned that honor in both leagues along with Alex Hannum, Bill Sharman and Larry Brown. He parlayed that success into a job with the Jazz. He was their first coach in Utah, but last less than three full seasons with the Jazz. His final coaching stop came with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Nissalke had been retired from coaching since 1991, after short stints as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets