Auburn Hills — When Bob Huggins was coaching at Cincinnati, he received a call the night before a game from a young assistant coach.
John Loyer had looked at film from a game two years prior against the upcoming opponent and saw the Bearcats scored twice off an inbounds play they hadn’t used in a while.
“So in the walkthrough we put it through, and I think we got two baskets off of it,” Huggins said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I watch a lot of tape, but I don’t watch two years ago, you know?”
That dedication is part of the reason Huggins, who coached Loyer at Akron before putting him on staff with the Zips (1987-89) and at Cincinnati (1989-99), thinks Loyer will be successful as the Pistons’ head coach, even if it’s on an interim basis.
“It’s long overdue,” said Huggins, who has coached at West Virginia since 2007. “He’s a heck of a coach.”
Loyer, 49, took over Sunday after the Pistons fired Maurice Cheeks — at the direction of owner Tom Gores — 50 games into Cheeks’ first season in Detroit. In Loyer’s first game, the Pistons dominated the reigning Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs, leading by as many as 23 before sealing a 109-100 victory.
The Pistons host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, and although Loyer is already head coach, he said most of his changes will be implemented after the All-Star break. Loyer will try to lead the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
While Loyer went to a Final Four and two other Elite Eights as an assistant at Cincinnati, this is only the second time he has been a head coach. The first was in 1999-2000 at Wabash Valley College, a community college in southeast Illinois. He’s been in the NBA ever since.
And even though Loyer’s title changed this week, he said the main differences in his role comes on game day. After shoot-around Wednesday, Loyer ran separate shooting drills for guard Rodney Stuckey and forward Kyle Singler, something he did before the promotion.
“You don’t necessarily see your head coaches working guys out, but it’s just great to see that he’s willing to dedicate his time to still help guys work out,” Singler said.
Loyer, who has three children with wife Katie, said he hasn’t given much thought to this new opportunity.
“You’re kind of thrust into a situation, you really don’t even have time to sit back and think about it,” he said. “Maybe you do that at some point, but my Tuesday is about like it’d be either way.”
Loyer’s first NBA job was as video coordinator for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000-01 under then-head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. He spent the following two seasons as an advance scout before becoming an assistant coach from 2003-05, all under Cheeks.
From there, Loyer went to the Philadelphia 76ers as an assistant coach from 2005-09, again under Cheeks, and was in the same role for the New Jersey Nets from 2009-11, the first season under Lawrence Frank. When Frank took over as Pistons coach in 2011, he brought Loyer with him, and even though Frank was fired after last season, the team kept him on staff, which pleased Singler.
“He’s helped me immensely,” Singler said. “He’s worked with me every day before and after practice. My development is pretty much because of him.”
In describing Loyer, Stuckey used the words “positive energy” several times and said he’s relaxed and level-headed, though Loyer yelled early and often in his debut Monday about what the Spurs were running.
“He’s smart, man,” Stuckey said. “We’ve really got to focus and lock in and really pay attention to what he’s doing in the huddles because it’s going to be different now. A lot of information, a lot of plays are going to be getting drawn up that are different now, so we all have to be locked in and just pay attention a lot more.”
Loyer said he’s drawn influence from all the coaches he’s worked with, but if he sees any team running something the Pistons can’t stop, he’ll surely use that, too.
When Huggins arrived at Akron in 1984, Loyer was already on the team, and the first thing Huggins noticed was “how skinny he was.” A point guard, Loyer lacked some quickness but was a good shooter and passer, and Huggins said he always handled the ball at the end of games because he could make free throws. Loyer’s dedication, though, is what helped him earn a job as a student assistant in 1987.
Many of Huggins’ former assistants have had successful careers. Frank Martin (Kansas State), Andy Kennedy (Mississippi) and Mick Cronin (Cincinnati) have all been head coaches since at least 2007, but Huggins said Loyer was “my guy” and the assistant he went to if he had a question about anything.
“I really depended on him,” Huggins said. “He’s as good as I’ve had, and I’m not just saying that. He’s as good an assistant as I’ve ever had. He’s terrific.”