Whenever a coach is on the hot seat, you know he's done something wrong. Either his off the court behavior has become an embarrassment to the program or the wins on the court just aren't manifesting. Regardless, it's a tricky situation for any athletic director because it often means throwing away money that could be suited for something far more important.
In the case of Jim Boylen and Chris Hill, it's not the off the court issues that have created a disconnect between the fans and the coaching staff - something familiar to the Utah program back during the Rick Majerus days. Instead, it's been the lack of success on the court that has led most fans (70% according to a Block U poll) to call for his firing.
Yet it's not that easy.
Why it isn't that easy after the jump...
Bring Boylen Back
For starters, Utah can't afford the $2 million buyout of Jim Boylen's contract. Especially when they have to turn around and pay the salary of another head coach. That alone makes bringing him back for a year or two economically sensible. If Boylen can't turn things around, at least the program can cut its ties at a reasonable price.
Of course, Boylen also has had two extremely difficult rebuilding years. There was such a high turnover from last year's team that its final record is understandable. When you're inexperienced, regardless how well coached you are, you're going to play like you lack experience. It's why, in 1994, Rick Majerus' Runnin' Utes managed to finish 14-14 - their worst overall record during his tenure here.
Boylen had to essentially rebuild the program after last season. This might technically be year four, but it played out, and looked much like, a first year. The team was gutted and restructured and we should give him a chance to see out his creation.
Especially when Utah returns a great deal of talent next year.
More importantly, Boylen has proven he can win when the talent is at its best. In 2009, a team that was picked to finish fourth, won a share of the conference title and managed to sweep on through to a conference tournament championship. Yes, they flopped in the NCAA Tournament, but lets not forget this was a team that, two years prior to their tournament run, managed only 11 wins. What Boylen did was a minor miracle, especially when you consider in his first season, he improved the win total by seven and had them playing far more competitive than Ray Giacoletti did in his final two seasons.
Who's to say he can't get the team back to that level again? Sure, the last two seasons have been a struggle, but it's entirely possible the ship will be righted next year and he'll be able to finally lay a foundation to build a solid program.
Unfortunately, the high turnover the last few years has impeded on that goal.
Sure, buying out Boylen's contract is going to be a pain. Certainly, though, the two parties will come to a deal that probably is less than the reported two-million. But even if it isn't, the Utah program can't be held hostage by finances. It's too important of an issue and the sustainability and future of the program is on the line.
Bringing back Boylen does nothing to advance this program. If you bring him back next year, you must commit to the idea of bringing him back for a sixth year because a lame duck head coach in such a vital season for recruiting is poison to a program.
No recruit is going to sign with the Utes next year if they feel the guy recruiting them is not going to be their head coach. That type of cloud can't hang over the program. Not in its inaugural Pac-12 season.
So Hill will either have to openly support Boylen getting a sixth year, regardless of what happens on the court, or put the program in the position where it's making a change and asking the next coach to essentially start from scratch.
No one is going to want to take the job. They'll look at Utah, which very well could be coming off three consecutive losing seasons, and wonder if it's a lost program and if the next potential coach glances over the roster and sees it's filled with absolutely nothing, what incentive is there?
Of course, assuring a sixth year doesn't really put the program in that much better position than it is today. In fact, it could be worse - a lot worse! If Boylen fails these next two seasons, the Utes could be looking at four consecutive losing seasons. At that point, how good of a candidate do you honestly think Utah could get?
If Hill is just going to bring Boylen back for the sake of bringing him back, essentially kicking the can down the road, we're going to be faced with far bigger problems a year or two from now.
If Hill does believe in Boylen and believes he'll turn around Utah basketball, then he should bring him back. However, it does seem to be a gamble.
Yes, Boylen has had to replace a lot of talent over the last season. But we can't act like this isn't, in part, his own doing. The way he coached last year, often allowing players like Marshall Henderson to do whatever he wanted, led the program down its current path. Last year's coaching job by Boylen was an absolute failure. Not just on the court, mind you, but overall. He failed at running a disciplined program and it led to the departures we saw last March.
For all the tough talk we heard from Boylen about holding players accountable when he arrived at Utah, it was something he continually did not do last season.
So even if you concede he had to face long rebuilding prospects, he put himself in that spot. He did it by recruiting those players and then solidified the player mutiny through his failure of commanding respect.
Boylen then was faced with a complete overhaul and a larger project than he probably anticipated at the start of the 2009-10 season.
But even then, Boylen wasn't doomed. Rebuilding is part of this game. Every team has to go through it. Where Boylen struggled was finding the consistency not against the good teams to succeed, but against the average-to-bad ones.
Losses at home to Oral Roberts, Air Force and Colorado State were three potential wins that very well could have saved Boylen's job. Add the debacle to San Diego in Hawaii and you're getting a far uglier picture than I'm sure anyone in the athletic department intended when the season started.
Ultimately, Boylen kind of hanged himself. Expectations for Utah basketball were not all that high entering this season. We expected competitive ball, progress and more importantly, .500 play.
We got none of that.
Because of this, bringing Boylen back should not be an option.