Giacoletti steps down day before rivalry game with BYU

Published March 3, 2007 3:10 am
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RAY GIACOLETTI Saying "the timing is never right" but accepting responsibility for not winning enough games, Ray Giacoletti resigned as the coach of the Utah Utes on Friday - a day before they conclude one of the worst regular seasons in school history with a game at rival BYU.

"Not pointing any fingers at anybody, I'm ultimately responsible," he said. "I'm the bottom line."

Giacoletti and athletic director Chris Hill insisted the coach made the decision to step down - he will coach the rest of the season - but it's clear Giacoletti was effectively fired. The Utes agreed to pay him the $700,000 buyout he would have been due had he been terminated, and Giacoletti stumbled enough around questions about the decision to strongly suggest he was pressured into it.

"I'm not sure" why he resigned now, instead of at the end of the season next week, he said. "But like I said, whatever is going to be best for the university and the program. I'm a team player, when it comes to that."

The Utes had faced mounting pressure to get rid of Giacoletti, in the midst of an 11-17 season that will rank as the worst since 1983-84. Attendance plummeted at the Huntsman Center, and many fans and boosters had been pushing hard for a change - just two years after Giacoletti led the Utes into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

"Bottom line is, in this business . . . it's about winning," he said.

And of that, Giacoletti did not do enough.

"It's something that if I could have fixed along the way, I would have. I'm not going to point fingers. I was given a great opportunity. I'll never forget it, and I had a job to do. That's kind of where it's at."RAY GIACOLETTI

Though he was 29-6 in that first year with All-American Andrew Bogut, the Utes are just 25-32 since then. They rank among the worst defensive teams in the Mountain West Conference, have endured three losing streaks of four games or more in the last two seasons - the six-game slide earlier this year was their longest since 1950 - and suffered six blowout losses of at least 20 points.

"This is not the way I would have anticipated, three years ago, what our vision was, but I understand where we're at," Giacoletti said. "I'm a big boy. I had a job to do, and we fell short."

Giacoletti declined to discuss in detail what he felt had gone wrong over the past two seasons, but did say his team's failure to improve on defense was especially vexing. Similarly, Hill characteristically refused to discuss the reasoning behind the departure or its timing, or guess at what went wrong the most.

"I can't pin anything on one factor or another factor," he said.

The assistant coaches and players were informed of the decision in a series of mid-day meetings, before the official announcement. The coaches seemed to take the news in stride - they knew the potential consequences of their poor season - but the players insisted they were surprised both by the decision and its timing.

"We were just all shocked," forward Shaun Green said.

Most of the players said they figured if Giacoletti was going to step down, he would have done it after the season - and Green said he still believed the Utes could save the coach's job, if they beat the Cougars and made a strong run in the conference tournament with their young roster that includes 10 freshmen and sophomores.

But by the time the Utes finish their season next week, Hill will be away tending to his duties on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, which probably is part of the reason for the timing of the announcement.

"It's shocking," guard Johnnie Bryant said. "You hear speculation, but you never think it's going to happen. . . . It's sad to see somebody go like that, to see somebody put all that hard work and dedication into it. It's sad, but it's life and you have to move on."

Giacoletti is the second coach in the Mountain West to lose his job this season, following New Mexico's Ritchie McKay. Several others - including Wyoming's Steve McClain, Colorado State's Dale Layer and TCU's Neil Dougherty - are considered candidates to resign or be fired.

"It's something that if I could have fixed along the way, I would have," Giacoletti said. "I'm not going to point fingers. I was given a great opportunity. I'll never forget it, and I had a job to do. That's kind of where it's at."


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