Jim Boylen is out and _____ is in.
So who will that be?
Right now, we can only speculate as to who will take over the struggling Utah basketball program. This time, unlike four years ago, it's very likely though Chris Hill goes after a proven winner - most likely one from a Power Conference. That last part is important because the Utes will be making a move the Pac-12 later this summer and I'm sure Hill would like a coach who's at least familiar not only with the conference, but the pressures of coaching at that level.
Of course, head coaching experience should be the most important factor in Hill's choice. Boylen, who was a successful assistant at both the professional and collegiate level, obviously had difficulty running his program.
Hill probably will go after a proven winner that hasn't spent his entire career coaching unknown schools located in unknown conferences (see Ray Giacoletti). Which means the list this go around should be more impressive than the last two hires we eventually ended up with.
Who's on that list?
Nothing is definitive. There are a lot of rumors and names floating around - though with a few constants among the ones mentioned. They include Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried, St. Mary's head coach Randy Bennett, LSU head coach Trent Johnson and Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor.
We'll look at each candidate and what they have to offer after the jump...
Tony Bennett is a familiar face in the Pac-10, having coached at Washington State for three seasons a few years ago. He resurrected the program and put them on the map before moving on to Virginia. So why would he come to Utah? Well, as I mentioned, he's coached before in the Pac-10 and there are rumors he's looking to get back out west after a couple of ho-hum seasons with the Cavaliers.
Positives: He won impressively at Washington State. In his second season there, he guided the Cougars' basketball team to the Sweet Sixteen - their first trip there since the 1941 season. Prior to taking over from his father, Washington State had not been to the NCAA Tournament in over a decade. Under his leadership, they went twice. In his final season, considered a rebuild, the Cougars managed to qualify for the NIT - making Bennett the only coach in school history to guide his team to the postseason in every year he coached there.
Negatives: His stint at Virginia hasn't been stellar. While he took over a struggling program (they won only 10 games the year before he arrived), they've struggled establishing themselves in the always tough ACC. This season, the Cavaliers finished 7th in the conference - though it's important to note they lost their leading scorer, Mike Scott, for the season back in December.
Verdict: This would be about as close to a home run hire as Hill could get. Bennett has ties to the west coast, has coached in the Pac-10 and has proven successful, even when you factor in his stint at Virginia.
Utah has also taken a look at former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried. Gottried coached the Tide for 11 seasons before resigning halfway through the 2009 season. He's currently a college basketball analyse for ESPN. So why would he come to Utah? Well he's looking to get back into the game and appears to be interested in the job. He was an assistant under Jim Harrick at UCLA from 1987-1995, so he's certainly familiar with the conference.
Positives: He took the Alabama basketball program to new heights. Gottfried recorded an overall record of 210-132 with the Tide and guided them to five NCAA Tournaments - including the 2004 Elite Eight. At Murray State, his stop prior to Alabama, Gottfried went to consecutive tournaments and produced a 29-4 season in his final year there. All told, he's had seven 20-plus win seasons and 11 postseason berths. He's only managed one losing season in his career (his second at Alabama).
Negatives: He was essentially forced out of the program after the departure of Ronald Steele and a regression on the floor. In his final two seasons, the Tide finished with back-to-back losing conference records and failed to qualify for the NCAA or NIT in his final full season there. He also spent the last 13 years of his coaching career in the south, so he's regionally not as connected as other potential hires - even with his experience as an assistant at UCLA.
Verdict: Even with his downturn toward the end of his career at Alabama, you can't dismiss the job he did with the Tide. They're a football school and weren't really known for their hoops program prior to his arrival. However, over the ten years he coached there, he certainly elevated the program's stature and made them a far more consist force in the SEC.
If there is a coach who's primed to move up, it's Randy Bennett. He built the St. Mary's program into what is today and is one of the most successful mid-major coaches out there. But why would he come to Utah? Well he's spent nearly a decade there and it's possible he feels it's time to jump ship. Sometimes coaches stay too long at a school and miss their opportunity and watch their legacy crumble (Sonny Lubick comes to mind) and with Utah moving to the Pac-12, he may see the job as too hard to pass up.
Positives: As I mentioned, Bennett built the St. Mary's program from scratch and turned it into the second most successful and sustainable program in the WCC. That's impressive and shows he's capable of doing something similar at Utah. Last year he guided them to the Sweet Sixteen and has spent most his coaching career out west. He's only recorded one losing season there, despite taking over a depleted program. He's currently 203-107 all-time at St. Mary's.
Negatives: He's spent his entire head coaching career in the West Coast Conference, a big step down from the Pac-12. Could he manage the transition better than Ray Giacoletti did when he accepted the Utah job back in 2004? He also has no coaching experience whatsoever at the Power level - as he was an assistant only on mid-major programs like Idaho, San Diego, Pepperdine and St. Louis.
Verdict: He's a successful coach. He's built a program from the ground up and has been able to sustain the success. Utah could do a lot worse than Bennett. Overall, he wouldn't be my top choice, but he's certainly one I could fully embrace if he were named Utah's head coach.
Blaine Taylor was a candidate for the Utah job in 2007 and it appeared as if he would have accepted the job had the Utes offered. However, as we now know, Hill decided to go with Jim Boylen and the rest is history. Since he showed interest in the job the last time around, it's not hard to see him accepting it if Hill were to offer.
Positives: Taylor was an assistant at Stanford from 1998-2001, so he's familiar with the conference. He also was the head coach at Montana from 1991-1998, guiding the Grizzlies to two NCAA Tournament appearances. His current position, as head coach of Old Dominion, has proven successful. Last season, his Monarchs managed to advance to the second round of the tournament.
Negatives: He's been coaching out east for a while now and may not be as familiar with the west as he once was. His tournament record is abysmal, as he's only 1-5.
Verdict: Taylor wouldn't be a bad hire, but he's not as sexy as those listed above. He's produced well enough as a head coach, but certainly hasn't done anything to turn heads. Even so, his experience and success makes him a viable candidate for the job and it's hard to not see him winning at Utah.
We're all familiar with Trent Johnson, as he was an assistant at Utah in the 80s and turned around and spurned the program after they offered him the head coaching job in 2004. But things have changed and after back-to-back losing seasons, Johnson very well could be looking for a change of location.
Positives: He's the only coach mentioned who is extremely familiar with Utah. He coached and recruited for the program in the 80s, so he knows the inner-workings here - as he recruited Josh Grant. Johnson also made Nevada into what they are today. His short stint there saw a surprise run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004 and he was able to parlay that success into a gig with the Stanford Cardinal. At Stanford, he continued his winning ways, making the NCAA Tournament three years out of four (the lone time they didn't make the tournament, they qualified for the NIT). In his final season there, he led the Cardinal to the Sweet Sixteen and then left for LSU.
Negatives: While he saw initial success with the Tigers, he's produced consecutive 20-loss seasons and finds himself on the hot seat there. He hasn't stayed at a program more than four years and though he saw moderate success at Stanford, his teams certainly didn't come close to recapturing the glory years they experienced under the man he replaced, Mike Montgomery. Oh yeah, and he turned down the Utes once already. Fool me once...
Verdict: I still think Trent Johnson can coach. He's had too much success at his first two stops to write him off. I also like his connection to the program. With that said, this wouldn't be a buzz hire. Fans would have to be sold on the idea after his struggles with the LSU Tigers.
So who should it be? Who do you want?