The second, and possibly more feasible idea for the University of Utah in its search for a new head coach, is to go where every other college basketball program is going, and that’s for the fences.
With Ray Giacoletti and with Jim Boylen, the Utes went with a coach who was largely unproven and in both cases, unheard of.
Word out of the school through various sources is that the Utes are going after a big name, like Rick Majerus was, in order to satisfy the people the school needs to fill seats, and that’s the fans.
Without fans, the school doesn’t have a basketball program, and the last time anyone checked, the Huntsman Center seats about 15,000 comfortably.
Bringing in any Joe Shmoe will not increase the program’s visibility, nor will it give Ute fans any reason to come back.
The Mtn. made it easy for these fair-weather fans to stay away, albeit in conditions that made most games on TV look somewhat fuzzy to not only the naked eye, but every pupil in sight.
Speaking of snagging somebody from TV Land, St. John’s hired Steve Lavin, who had been out of work for awhile doing color commentary for ESPN.
All Lavin did was lead the Johnnies to an NCAA Tournament berth, a 21-11 record and bring back top talent to Queens.
Conversely, all that’s on the head of the new Ute basketball coach is that he had better be an A1 recruiter, he had better have an impeccable pedigree, and he had better win more than 20 games a season.
“The Chris Hill Way” has not worked to date. It’s time to expand the search and really go national. That means, no supposed coach with potential; he already needs to have won at least 200 games.
Hill took Gonzaga head coach Mark Few’s advice the first time. After Few spurned the Utes’ offer, and hired Giacoletti up the road from Eastern Washington.
Then, after Giacoletti couldn’t do jack at Utah and was fired, Hill again took advice from another person, namely Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, and hired Boylen.
At the rate Hill is hiring, he will next talk to BYU head coach Dave Rose about joining forces with the Utes, only to have Rose recommend his assistant, Dave Rice. Think it can’t happen? Several newspapers are already reporting it’s a possibility.
Finally, we come to the last possibility, the proven head coach who was fired at another program. Reports are already circulating that the Utes are talking to former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried.
Gottfried is a bit like Majerus, in that: he quit coaching the Tide mid-season amid reports of discontent among certain players, and, he is a winner.
That said, the ranks are littered with former coaches who either walked out on their programs or just flat out quit.
Is it a good route for Utah to go, especially when the program is already in a shambles after two bad hires?
Also, what current head coach would want to come to a program that is in such disarray? Names like LSU’s Trent Johnson litter the newspapers like yesterday’s kitty litter disposal, but, Johnson is the same guy who pulled his name from contention and instead took a job at Stanford. He lasted four years there, and has not had even a sliver of that same success at LSU.
Here are seven national candidates, in order of importance, in the Utes’ coaching search:
7. Dave Rice – It’s time to throw this one out of the way, because Rice is not coming to Salt Lake City. The former UNLV player and current BYU assistant is more of the same when it comes down to it; he’s never coached Division I basketball at the top level, he’s never won 200 games, and, he’ll likely go where Dave Rose goes, if and a big if, Rose leaves BYU.
6. Bruce Pearl – He will obviously be a big name coach that all the schools will look at, but most won’t even take a gander at him until his current controversy at Tennessee boils over. Of course, UT fired him, even after he had several chances, reportedly, to right the ship (he went 145-61 overall there). Pearl is no stranger to recruiting violations, having committed several at Illinois, when he was an assistant there. With his latest tiff at Tennessee, does anybody actually think he’ll be welcome in Salt Lake City? He definitely fulfills all of the other Ute needs, such as having a winning pedigree, but at what cost?
5. Tim Floyd – Speaking of costs, UTEP head coach Tim Floyd is another in a long line of highly qualified, but very controversial coaches who have what it takes in terms of winning. The funny thing about Floyd, who began his coaching career as Don Haskins’ assistant at UTEP, never really received violations of any sort before he was hired as USC head coach in 2004. At previous stops like Idaho, New Orleans and even at Iowa State, Floyd won and won big. But, with the mounting recruiting violations he reportedly committed at USC, is he worth Utah, and Hill, taking a chance?
4. Mark Gottfried – Having less scrutiny than Floyd and perhaps being the right kind of person Hill might want to take the Utes to the top is Gottfried, who coached at Alabama for 12 years before stepping down in 2009. He has already expressed interest in the job, he is Christian and a longtime member of Athletes in Action, and he has won almost 300 games at the Division I level if you include his stop at Murray State. He does have ties to the state, in that he was an assistant to former UCLA coach Jim Harrick for eight years (Harrick had several stops in Utah along the way) and Gottfried is familiar with the program. His only drawback, really, is that he quit coaching Alabama mid-season, which is Majerus-like.
3. Dave Rose – His is the biggest name attached to the current Utah coaching search, but there is no indication that the BYU coach is leaving. In some ways, Hill bringing in Rose represents more of the same; he hasn’t reached 200 wins as a head coach, BYU is his first Division I head coaching stop, and there is no guarantee he’d be the Utes’ answer. That said, Rose has only lost 44 games in six years, he runs a squeaky clean program where academics are as important as athletics, a top Hill priority, and his teams run and gun like the old Runnin’ Utes did. He’s also LDS, and so this makes him attractive to Hill in terms of landing the state’s big prospects. If Rose came to Utah, and it’s a huge if, it would be a step up in terms of pay and the talent pool would rival that of Majerus.
2. Trent Johnson – The Utes have had Johnson on their radar since he led Nevada, and former Jazz guard Kirk Snyder, to those glorious NCAA Tournament runs. Then, Johnson did even better at Stanford, before inexplicably leaving the Cardinal for LSU, where his Tiger teams have languished at the bottom of the SEC for two years. Why have certain coaches struggled at programs in the South, and East? It’s hard to say, but one thing you must know for sure, is that Johnson is a West Coast guy. He grew up in the Bay Area, played at Boise State and rose up through the coaching ranks at West Coast schools. One other notable item of interest: Johnson was an assistant under Majerus for several years at Utah. If there was ever a person who had all the tools Hill could want, it’s Johnson. And, it would give the former Nevada coach an opportunity to coach again in the Pac-12.
1. Mark Few – The Gonzaga head coach has been the Utes’ main target since he led Gonzaga to all their glory, but there is no reason to believe he’s leaving Spokane. Few first heard from the Utes back when Majerus stepped down, but instead recommended Ray Giacoletti, and you all know how that panned out. Few has had a remarkable run at Gonzaga, he’s won over 300 games and made the NCAA Tournament field every season he’s been a head coach. He is from Oregon, he attended Linfield College in the state, and he is a Northwest guy through and through. In fact, the only school Few has ever been at, in terms of his coaching career, is Gonzaga. That makes it highly unlikely that Few would ever entertain the notion that Utah would be the place for him and his family.
Of course, other names have been mentioned in connection with the Utah job, such as Randy Bennett of St. Mary’s, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, former Virginia head man Pete Gillen and others. But, if you look at the national coaching search, the names that are coming up in connection with the Utah job are consistent. Rose, Johnson and Few have basically been there from the outset, and make perfect sense, even if only in your dreams…