I really want Jim Boylen to be the guy for Utah basketball. It's hard not to like his energy, charisma and attitude toward the basketball program. He is extremely personable and I'd hate to see him fail.
Unfortunately, those traits don't mean much without wins and right now, that's something the Utes have had little of the last two years. For a guy who said, upon taking over the job at Utah, that if he didn't win 20 conference championships in 20 years here, he was not doing his job, those struggles are even more disappointing. Of course, no one expected Boylen to win a conference championship in every year he coached at Utah - but this team is dangerously close to finishing with a losing conference record for the third time in four seasons. Conference championships aside, ignoring 2008-'09, Boylen is only 17-22 in Mountain West play. Overall, he's just 3 games above .500 in conference.
That type of conference record is not going to cut it at a program like Utah and though there is still time to turn things around this season, the Utes still sit at 3-4 in the Mountain West - which puts them toward the bottom of the conference.
This latter point is hard for me to reconcile as a Ute fan because we've rarely been this bad for this long. Utah is an afterthought in conference play. They've been that way for all but one of Boylen's seasons here. It's hard to find optimism in the potential success of this program when you realize, since he took over, the Utes have not been all that competitive with the elites of the conference.
Worse, they've only managed one win over BYU since the start of the 2007 season and that was all the way back in early 2009 - which feels like a lifetime ago.
Unless a miracle happens, Boylen will end his Mountain West career 1-7 against the hated Cougars.
Is that tolerable?
I don't think Boylen is a bad coach. I'm just unsure if he's a good coach. His teams, over the last four seasons, have been wildly inconsistent and because of that, they've lost games they probably should not have lost and it's kept them from being truly competitive at the top.
Saturday's loss to Colorado State fits this point perfectly. Utah entered the game riding a three game winning streak and were facing an improved, but hardly unbeatable, Rams team. The result? The Utes trailed for most of the contest and CSU won for the second straight time in Salt Lake City.
Once again, an inexcusable loss hurts them in the standings. Now, for the Utes to finish above .500 in Mountain West play, they're going to have to win out at home and find a win on the road against UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico and BYU. Doable, obviously, but not something any of us would expect.
Ultimately, that seems to sum up Boylen's coaching ability. When he has the talent, specifically experienced talent, as was the case in '09, they can overcome their inconsistencies. When the team is young and inexperienced, as has been the case the last two seasons and his first, they're not going to be consistent enough to produce respectable rebuilding seasons.
That might work for a program like Colorado State, but it certainly isn't what we expected when Boylen was hired in 2007. At least I didn't. I expected a sustainable team that got through the pains of rebuilding in fairly decent fashion.
I expected better than this. I expected rebuilding seasons similar to what they're experiencing in Albuquerque. This is a Lobo team that only has one senior, eight freshman or sophomores and yet, Steve Alford has them on the bubble.
I know what you're thinking - but they lost to Utah! You're right. And that furthers my point. Here is a New Mexico team that lost, on the road, to the Utes and still has a chance at the NCAA Tournament because they won, at home, against an elite BYU team and cleaned up in preseason play. They are, right now, tied with Utah in the Mountain West standings, but are in a far better position than the Utes because they have been more consistent overall.
That shows you just how small of margin there is between a team like Utah and New Mexico. The Lobos have a couple bad losses - but they've neutralized them to a point where they aren't nearly as big of a liability.
Which is why they can lose to Utah in Salt Lake City, lose to Wyoming in Laramie, and still find their way on to the NCAA bubble - even if it's unlikely they make it.
But they're in position to do so and that's what some of us were hoping to see from this year's Utes.
That's not going to happen and even the NIT right now seems pretty doubtful as well.
So is Boylen the right guy for Utah basketball? I'm leaning toward no. I hate saying that because I like him and want him to succeed. But everything I've seen from him the last four seasons indicates that he's just not going to be consistently good enough to make the Ute program into a consistent tournament contender.
Does he deserve to be fired at year's end? Well that's an even trickier question and I'm not so sure I have the answer.
But what I do know is that at the moment, I don't approve of the job he's doing. Hopefully, at season's end, I do.