Jim Boylen sat at the table in a small Salt Lake City cafÃ©, picking at his breakfast, talking about his players, talking about himself, spitting food and spilling optimism about what was on the horizon for Utah basketball.
Things were going to get better, he was certain.
They couldn't get much worse.
Ute players at that time were treating Boylen's program like an exploding oil tanker, a third of the team jumping ship for destinations from Lubbock to Las Cruces and â¦ well, dry land anywhere. Utah was coming off a 14-17 season in which it lost at home to college basketball powers such as Idaho and Seattle which wasn't as bad as losses in the previous season to Southwest Baptist and Idaho State and on the road to Weber State and Pepperdine. Just as bad, for the second time in Boylen's three seasons at the helm, the Utes won just seven Mountain West Conference games and lost nine.
"We need toughness," he said, as he swallowed his toast. "We need players."
What the Utes really needed was a better coach.
What Boylen needed was wins.
What he got was a bag full of bagels.
The Utes finished off their 2010-11 season Thursday night at the MWC tournament in Vegas with another loss, this time to San Diego State, 64-50. That left them a smoldering heap, again, at 13-18 overall, 6-10 in league.
Ray Giacoletti, who was sent packing in the middle of a seven-year contract before Boylen was brought in, compiled a record over his final two seasons of 25-34. Boylen's record, in the middle of a contract extension, over the past two years: 27-35.
If there was progress in that mix, it wasn't reflected much in the numbers, foremost among them attendance figures at the Huntsman Center, where you could have fired up a hot-air balloon in the middle of the second half at any game and not blocked anyone's view. The home-floor misery included a loss to Oral Roberts, to Air Force, to SDSU, to BYU, to Colorado State, and to UNLV. The Cougars won by 25 points, the Rebels by 20.
The road was equally bad, Utah losing to Hawaii and San Diego and Portland.
At one sad juncture, the Utes lost seven consecutive games; at another, they dropped five straight during league play.
It helped Boylen not at all that while his team struggled, rival BYU reached new heights.
There wasn't much good news in any direction, not much progression, even for those who looked deep inside defeat. Boylen thought he found a decent strategy late when he slowed the pace of games down, but that slapped him upside the head, too, in the final three losses.
The stability the Utes sought never arrived.
They were up, they were down, they were all around.
Boylen's emotions were a reflection of his uneven results or was it the other way around? and sometimes revealed his misplaced focus. Who can forget the coach's reaction a couple of seasons back when Wyoming scored on an alley-oop dunk in the final seconds of its eight-point win. Boylen went berserk right there on the court, confronting then-Cowboy coach Heath Schroyer, scorching into a profanity-filled tirade and still boiling days later.
He considered the dunk "classless," saying: "We'll see them again. â¦ That's what's great about league play. But, you know, we're going to run our program with class and we're going to do it right."
Nothing said class quite like an F-bomb-filled public outburst.
Meanwhile, the Utes were sagging in the conference. It seemed as though that's what Boylen should have been more concerned with, not the shenanigans of another coach, another outfit.
But that was often his way at Utah, to hit problems over the head with a blunt object, to bludgeon them into submission. Boylen is a nice man, a good guy, a decent human being, but, as a coach, even with his enthusiasm and after all those years as an assistant in the NBA and at Michigan State, he couldn't get past the sledgehammer approach. Maybe that was born out of his football background, a game he played in high school. Jim's father was a linebacker at MSU and also a boxer, a Golden Gloves state champion, so his approach to basketball came honestly.
Still, it wasn't always the most effective way, and that also was reflected in the win-loss record.
Oops. Are we talking in the past tense here?
So, we are.
Boylen's favorite movie of all-time is "A Few Good Men." In that film, Jack Nicholson's character, Colonel Jessep, has the following famous exchange with Lieutenant Kaffee:
Jessep: "You want answers?"
Kaffee: "I want the truth!"
Jessep: "You can't handle the truth!"
Well, here it is: Utah will fire Jim Boylen.
It will also have to pay out substantial cash left on his deal, the second time through Chris Hill's last two basketball hires in which the Utes must pay money for nothing. A lot of money. Hill hasn't come out and said that, but how could he not follow that path?
Utah is a proud basketball school with a rich tradition. It is headed straight into the new challenge of the Pac-12, asking all the while for more money from boosters and fans, boosters and fans who expect and enjoy championship-level basketball. If Boylen stays, it will cost Utah more dollars than biting the rag and buying him out.
A final bit of unvarnished truth: The horizon for the Utes has no more optimism on it now with its current coach than it did a year ago in that breakfast cafÃ©, when Boylen was full of it.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.