The last time Utah athletic director Chris Hill gave his men’s basketball coach another contract, he ended up having to correct the mistake two years later.
That historical backdrop won’t stop me from endorsing the new, five-year deal that Larry Krystkowiak is about to sign. And the revival of Ute basketball brings Hill to an interesting stage of his own career. If football coach Kyle Whittingham can succeed in earning a contract extension after the 2014 season, Hill will have his department’s flagship programs in healthy positions. If not, football will require some fixing.
Krystkowiak certainly has earned his second contract after three seasons, and everything about the way he has rebuilt the Utah’s program suggests he will have some staying power. Of course, I said basically the same thing in the middle of former coach Jim Boylen’s tenure. But Krystkowiak’s level of recruiting distinguishes him, and his steady approach to his job is another characteristic that makes me believe his program will only keep improving.
In Pac-12 play, the Utes have gone from 3-15 to 5-13 to 9-9 under Krystkowiak. The next phase should include a move into the top tier of the conference and some success in the NCAA Tournament. Those goals are attainable in the coming years, based on the foundation Krystkowiak and his staff have established and the way they’ve recruited.
Prior to Krystkowiak’s arrival, Ray Giacoletti temporarily succeeded with the players he inherited from Rick Majerus, and then Boylen did well with Giacoletti’s recruits. Each was fired after two poor seasons in a row, however. Krystkowiak had to start from the bottom and rebuild, and has made steady progress.
There’s much more to be done, but a 9-9 record in the Pac-12 should be just the starting point for Krystkowiak. The next step involves Utah thriving against a tougher nonconference schedule. Krystkowiak said in the middle of last season that he would have scheduled differently, if he’d known the Utes were going to be this good, this soon.
He’s not the only one who’s pleasantly surprised by his success so far. Where he takes the Utes from there will be an intriguing subject.
So will Whittingham, and Utah’s 2014 football season, after two 5-7 years. Whittingham will have two years remaining on his contract as of December, which pretty much will force Hill to make a decision about him. The nature of recruiting in the power conferences is such that it’s rare to have a coach with fewer than three years left on his contract.
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