The University of Utah is in the market for a new men’s basketball coach.
In a strongly worded statement late Tuesday afternoon, Utes athletic director Mark Harlan announced that Larry Krystkowiak has been fired after 10 seasons at the helm of one the region’s attractive Power Five coaching positions.
“Today, I informed head men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak that I am making a change in the leadership of our men’s basketball program,” Harlan’s statement read. “The decision comes after a thorough evaluation of the program — both on and off of the court — as I do with every head coach at the conclusion of their seasons. Ultimately, our program needs a new voice, a new vision and a new leader who can build upon Larry’s foundation and lead us to greater heights in the years ahead.”
Krystkowiak’s departure comes five days after Utah fell in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament to USC, 91-85. The loss finished Utah’s season at 12-13, its first losing campaign since 2013. That was Krystkowiak’s second season at the U., when his team finished 15-18 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-12.
In his postgame remarks following the USC game, Krystkowiak was near tears at the start, and eventually gave an impassioned defense of the state of the program in the middle of a handful of lean years without a postseason appearance.
“I have no questions in my mind, contrary to a lot of the noise, that this is a program that is on the rise,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got a number of young players playing games, we’ve got guys that want to get in the weightroom, got a lot of high-character people. I have no reason to believe otherwise.”
Krystkowiak did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him on Tuesday evening.
In his 10 seasons, Krystkowiak amassed a 183-139 record. Utah’s two NCAA Tournament appearances under Krystkowiak’s watch came in 2015 (Sweet 16) and 2016 (second round). Since those two March Madness trips, Utah has been to the NIT twice, including the 2018 championship game, but hasn’t made a postseason appearance since.
Krystkowiak has two years and roughly $7 million of total compensation left on his contract. In 2015, coming off the Sweet 16 season and with the program’s trajectory up, Krystkowiak signed an extension to keep him in Salt Lake City through the 2022-23 season. Krystkowiak will now receive the balance of what he is owed.
Per Harlan, “the costs associated with this termination and the hiring of a new head coach and staff will be fully funded from athletically generated resources. We will launch an immediate national search for a new head coach.”
What exactly “athletically-generated resources” means is unclear, but that may include the help of high-level donors and boosters in paying Krystkowiak’s buyout and/or paying a new head coach and his staff.
How much of the buyout will actually come from athletic department resources is also unclear. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan told The Salt Lake Tribune in January that the department was looking at a $35 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2021.
Harlan is not expected to use a search firm to identify his next head coach. Early names to keep an eye on as the coaching search unfolds are Utah State head coach Craig Smith, Colorado State head coach Niko Medved, and Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett.
One potential wildcard option to consider is Johnnie Bryant.
A former University of Utah standout over the final two seasons of Ray Giacoletti’s tenure, Bryant spent two seasons as a player development assistant with the Jazz, plus another six as an assistant coach under Quin Snyder. He is currently Tom Thibodeau’s associate head coach with the New York Knicks. Bryant, 35, knows the landscape and understands the expectations in Salt Lake City, but his lack of collegiate coaching experience is reason for pause.