Jim Boylen, Blaine Taylor or Jim Christian? How about Chris Lowery or Todd Lickliter? Hell, throw in Tommy Connor for good measure. A week ago news was buzzing about the possible new head coach of the Utes, yet 20 days after Giacoletti's dismissal, Utah is still searching for a coach. What we do know is that Hill has interviewed both Jim Boylen and Jim Christian, but it does not appear he's made either an offer. Or he has, but won't announce the hire until Monday. Or maybe he's holding out to interview both Chris Lowery and Todd Lickliter, both candidates that have guided their teams to the Sweet 16.
However currently no one knows what exactly is going on in Chris Hill's mind and whether he has a top candidate or not. And I'm guessing Tubby Smith leaving Kentucky for Minnesota doesn't help. Of course I don't think the Wildcats will go after a candidate for the Utah job, but their hire could ultimately indirectly effect Utah's choices. If Kentucky decides to hire Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillespie, the Aggies could turn around and hire Jim Boylen, a candidate for the job four years ago. If that were the case, Chris Hill's perceived top candidate would most likely be gone. Then there's the possibility of Kentucky hiring Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. Weber, who left Southern Illinois a few years back, could be replaced by Chris Lowery, currently the head coach at SIU.
While these above scenarios may not play out, it isn't unheard of. Back in 2003 Matt Painter was an assistant to Bruce Weber at Southern Illinois. Yet who would have guessed North Carolina's firing of Matt Doherty would give him his first career coaching job. Doherty was canned after going 19-16 in his third year with the Tar Heels and replaced by then Kansas head coach Roy Williams. Williams had actually turned down the North Carolina gig three years prior, but decided that it was too big to pass up a second time. That set in motion events that would send Illinois head coach Bill Self to Kansas and Bruce Weber to Illinois, after a 5 year stint with the Southern Illinois Salukis. Painter would succeed Weber and then quickly bolt for Purdue after one season.
The next coming days are going to be huge for Hill because I really think he needs his guy before Kentucky decides to make their hire. And since Kentucky will most likely go after a coach currently in the NCAA Tournament, that could be a couple weeks. Of course candidates might also decide to take a wait and see attitude with the Utah job, since it's quite possible the domino effect could open some prime jobs. If this is the case, Utah may be screwed or forced to hire one of their fall back candidates, which Kent State head coach Jim Christian seems to be. That didn't work out all too well for Utah in 2004 when they hired Ray Giacoletti.
That event occurred rather rapidly. It was pretty much known Trent Johnson, fresh off leading Nevada to the Sweet 16, was Hill's first choice. After the two met in Salt Lake on March 29th of 2004, it's said Johnson had accepted the Utah offer. Most media outlets had reported that if Johnson turned down Utah, Ray Giacoletti would be Hill's second option and he was expected to accept the job. Well Johnson arrived back in Reno, and for whatever reason, decided to not accept the Utah offer. Hill didn't wait long, as Giacoletti was named the head coach of the University of Utah a day later.
If Christian is Utah's fall back candidate, I think we're fairly well off. I'm not completely sold on Christian, but his resume is far better than that of Giacoletti's when he accepted the job. I think he could be a good coach, whether he can be great I can't say. However I don't want to automatically compare him to Giacoletti, though I think it would be impossible not to do so if he's named head coach. Only Hill knows whether he's a top candidate or not, but I'd like to hope we could get someone with far more success than what Christian has done.
This has been an exciting time for the us fans, but it's also been extremely difficult. When Giacoletti was hired, I think we just assumed he would be able to win and I don't think anyone could have ever imagined we would struggle like we have. So that makes this hire even more nerve-racking, because we've tasted what it's like to struggle and it's hard to shake the belief that we could still struggle.
At one time Houston was seen as one of the strongest basketball programs in the country. From 1961-1987 the Cougars made 15 NCAA Tournament appearances. Since then they've only been twice (1990 and 2002). A team that went to 5 Final Fours is now a mediocre program that isn't on anyone's radar. That occurred for a variety of reasons and I'll admit I'm not informed enough to say what they are. But I can't help but think some bad coaching hires played a major role in their decline and I guess I just don't want to see that happen with Utah.
This is an important step for Utah basketball and I hope Dr. Hill makes the right choice.