A look at how Utah’s most prominent coaches fared in first year
Published: April 22, 2014 02:58PM
Updated: April 22, 2014 04:59PM
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Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Real Salt Lake assistant coach Jeff Cassar was named RSL’s third head coach in the franchise’s 10-year history, Thursday, December 19, 2013. Cassar becomes emotional, thanking former coach Jason Kreis for his mentoring for the past 7 years. The hiring comes less than two weeks after Kreis, Cassar’s close friend and confidant, left RSL to accept the coaching position at MLS expansion club New York City FC.

The Utah Jazz are looking for a new coach after they decided against bringing back Tyrone Corbin on Monday. The man (unless the Jazz really get creative) who becomes the next coach will have some company when it comes to first-year coaches in Utah.

The Utah Grizzlies and Real Salt Lake both have new leaders on the bench/sideline, and the Utah State football team is preparing for its second campaign under Matt Wells.

So what can fans expect from the new Jazz coach in his first season? To try to provide an answer, here’s a look at how the current coaches of the state’s most notable teams fared in their first year on the job, starting with the longest-tenured one.

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Utah State basketball

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Stew Morrill is the dean of coaches in Utah, having taken over at Utah State for the 1998-99 season after Larry Eustachy led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament. Morrill won his first five games in his first season at Utah State, but the team fell in the first round of the Big West tournament to finish the season 15-13. He’s done pretty well for himself, becoming the school’s winningest coach in 2008.

University of Utah football

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Kyle Whittingham followed the shooting star that was Urban Meyer. Not an easy task. Whittingham did a serviceable job, leading the Utes to a 7-5 record, including a win over BYU in overtime, during that 2005 season. He even guided the Utes to an Emerald Bowl win over Georgia Tech. The Utes were coming off their 12-0 season and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2004.

BYU football

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The new Jazz coach should be able to relate to Bronco Mendenhall because Mendenhall is the man who followed the man who followed The Man. Still with me? Mendenhall took over for Gary Crowton for the 2005 season. Crowton was the coach charged with replacing legend LaVell Edwards, much like Corbin followed hall of famer Jerry Sloan. Mendenhall’s first season wasn’t spectacular, but he did guide the Cougars to a tie for second place in the Mountain West. It was the first of nine consecutive trips to a bowl game for the Cougars under Mendenhall.

BYU basketball

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Dave Rose is the second winningest coach in BYU history, taking over the program for the 2005-06 season. He led the Cougars to victory in 10 of their last 11 regular-season games before falling to Utah to open the Mountain West tournament then a loss to Houston in the NIT opening round. It added up to a 20-9 season in Rose’s first year. That was quite an improvement over the previous year, when BYU finished 9-21 in Steve Cleveland’s final season.

Salt Lake Bees

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Keith Johnson took over in 2011 and guided the Bees to a fourth-place finish and 62-82 record. The franchise was coming off a 73-71 season under Bobby Mitchell. Johnson’s teams have improved each season under his guidance. The Bees went 78-66 to win their division title last season.

University of Utah basketball

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It didn’t get off to a good start for Larry Krystkowiak at Utah. The Utes struggled through a 6-25 season, which included 3-15 in the Pace-12, in 2011-12. The Utes failed to win a game on the road that season. The bright spot is that the Utes have improved each year under Krystkowiak, and they even qualified for the NIT this season. The Utes went 13-18 in Jim Boylen’s final season as coach.

Utah State football

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Matt Wells made the transition from Gary Andersen, who left for Wisconsin, look seamless in his inaugural season last fall. When the Aggies lost their standout quarterback to injury, Wells didn’t flinch. He keep chugging along and guided the Aggies to a 9-5 record and a victory over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Utah Grizzlies

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It’s been a pretty solid inaugural campaign for Tim Branham. The Wisconsin native led the Grizzlies to a playoff berth after going 38-24-3-6 during the regular season this year. The Grizzlies only earned one win in their first seven tries to open the season before finding their stride. The Grizzlies finished the 2012-13 season 29-30-4-9.

Real Salt Lake

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Now here’s a guy who can at least relate to what Corbin went through with the Jazz. Corbin was asked to follow Sloan, a hall of famer. Yikes. Well Jeff Cassar was asked to follow the man who coached the claret and cobalt into relevance. RSL still was dealing with losing the MLS Cup in the 11th round of PKs when Jason Kreis announced he was leaving RSL to coach the expansion New York City FC. The RSL management tabbed Cassar, a Kreis assistant, to take over. So far, so good for RSL under its new coach. The team has started the season 3-0-4. That’s right, Cassar hasn’t lost a game … yet.

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