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Former Jazz Head Coach Tom Nissalke Dies At Age 87

Former Utah Jazz coach Tom Nissalke on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2014. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Former Utah Jazz head coach Tom Nissalke has died at age 87  in his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

Nissalke was the first head coach of the Jazz when they arrived from New Orleans.

He was a coach either in college or in the pros from 1962 to 1991, beginning as an assistant with Wisconsin.

The longtime basketball coach had stints with Wisconsin and Tulane in college as well as the Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets, while with the Bucks, Nissalke won an NBA championship.

He was the head coach of the Utah Stars in the ABA from 1974-76 when the league folded. Nissalke then spent a season as a head coach in Puerto Rico before coaching the Houston Rockets from 1976-79.

Nissalke then made the switch to being the head coach of the Utah Jazz from 1979-82 before Frank Layden took over.

As a head coach, he was named ABA Coach of the Year in 1972 with the Dallas Chaparrals and the NBA Coach of the Year in 1977 with the Houston Rockets, he is the only coach in history to win both ABA and NBA Coach of the Year.

In his first two seasons with the Jazz, Nissalke led the team to a 52-112 record. After 20 games and an 8-12 record in his third season, he was fired.

The Utah Jazz released a statement:

“Gail Miller and the Miller Family, along with the Jazz organization, are saddened to hear about the passing of former head coach Tom Nissalke. 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.”

The Madison, Wisconsin native lost his wife Nancy to cancer in January 2006.