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Gordon Monson: Larry Krystkowiak is terminated at Utah, mediocrity shoving him out the door

After missing the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight season, AD Mark Harlan had to make the move. Even if it means paying him not to coach.

(AP Photo/John Locher) | Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Southern California in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Las Vegas. It turned out to be his final game as the Utes' coach.

Whispers had been flying around for weeks now that Larry Krystkowiak would be done at Utah after this season ended.

It ended.

And he was.

Things initially appeared headed toward an amicable parting of the ways, with the two sides reaching a settlement — Krystkowiak was owed some $7 million in the two years remaining on his contract — and the coach stepping down. The news release from the school on Tuesday evening used the word “termination.” It appears the situation fractured, and Utah will be looking immediately for a new head basketball coach.

It’s for the best.

There’s also a curious aspect to this. The school’s release noted that the expenses for the move and for the hiring of a new head coach would be absorbed by Utah’s athletic funds: “The costs associated with this termination and the hiring of a new head coach and staff will be fully funded from athletically-generated resources,” it said.

Not sure, to be truthful, what that means. Does that exclude booster money or just resources from the school’s general funds?

But in a year when Utah is already some $30 million in the hole on account of the ravages of a pandemic, available money is strained in a big, big way.

While some will blanch at the idea of Utah spending that kind of cash on paying off a coach and hiring a new one, what with others associated with the school having lost jobs and income, it is the right move.

The reason is easy to understand: Utah basketball was lurching under Krystkowiak, in a manner that even before so many seats went empty at the Huntsman Center because of COVID, the place had already been vacant and downright ghostly in the seasons prior to. Large numbers of fans didn’t want to use their money and take the time to watch firsthand a mediocre program.

And that’s exactly what Utah hoops had turned into — the recurrent slapping of thousands of foreheads due to a ho-hum endeavor, stirring the interest and imagination of a relative few. Leading into this most recent season, you could have hung a 747 from the rafters of the building and blocked nobody’s view. Attendance, no matter what the official numbers said, was sparse the way vegetation in the Sahara is sparse. Nobody was switched on by the possibilities for winning and winning big at Utah, and, as it does, that fell onto the noggin and into the lap of the now former head coach.

Krystkowiak wasn’t coming close to earning his lofty paycheck — nearly $4 million per year — not measured by the results on the court. Yes, he lifted Utah basketball out of the mess it had become under Jim Boylen. Yes, he took the Utes to the Sweet 16 one subsequent year and the second round in another. Yes, he coached three players who went on to become first-round NBA draft picks. Yes there were some moderately nice winning records in the early years.

But no, that was not easily remembered, considering the facts that Krystkowiak’s teams had been invited into postseason play five times in his decade here, but only twice to the NCAA Tournament. Under Krystkowiak, the Utes never won a Pac-12 title. Over the past few seasons, they went 17-15, 16-15 and, worst of all, this year, 12-13, 8-11 in Pac-12 play. When you examine what Utah did most recently, alternately winning games in which it looked darn-near unstoppable and losing games in which it embarrassed a proud tradition, it was surprising to no one that those whispers were floating waywardly in the air, just like too many of the Utes’ shots.

In college ball, when that happens, it’s not so much the players’ fault. They cannot consistently be better than they are. They are what they are, bringing the skills they have, the skills the coach saw that they had before landing them, the skills that would be dependent on the coach to help develop, to draw out, to coordinate into cohesive play on the floor.

That was not happening at Utah, not to the standard of a school that in better times had come to expect better.

Even Krystkowiak, in his most honest moments, would admit to that. Add in the ridiculous contract former Utah athletic director Chris Hill had given Krystkowiak, and the conclusion was pretty well set. No responsible head of an athletic department wants to spend stacks of green on a coach that LK was getting for the results Utah was getting in return.

Buying him out is expensive. Who wants millions wasted on a man sitting in a lounger on a beach? But standing pat, continuing to pay Krystkowiak and watch Utah basketball continue to wither from now until the dismal end, would have been frustrating and costlier still.

At least now the Utes and those who still care about the Utes can look forward to something better in the seasons ahead. All of that, of course, is dependent on who it is that Utah hires.

It’s up to Mark Harlan to get it right. The only thing worse than paying one guy not to coach your basketball team is paying two guys not to coach it.

Either way, Utah’s Krystkowiak Krisis is over, even if paying for it isn’t.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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