Utah “parted ways” with Larry Krystkowiak on Tuesday, joining a long list of schools making college basketball coaching changes in 2021.
In 31 years as Utah athletics director, Chris Hill hired four men’s basketball head coaches. He struck gold with his first hire (Rick Majerus), whiffed on his next two (Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen) and did okay on his fourth as Krystkowiak gave the Utes a few great years, a few mediocre years, and a few bad years. Krystkowiak led only two NCAA Tournament teams and finished one game above .500 in the Pac-12 but still had five straight 20-win seasons (2013-18) and brought some stability to a program middling in mediocrity since Majerus’ departure in 2004.
With Krystkowiak out, who might Utah target as head coach?
It’ll be the first high-profile hire for third-year athletics director Mark Harlan, who arrived long after both Krystkowiak and football coach Kyle Whittingham assumed their positions. For what it’s worth, he hired two basketball coaches during his four years at USF athletics director, neither of whom (Orlando Antiqua and Brian Gregory) had notable ties to the school and/or area.
Mark Pope is the overwhelmingly obvious candidate. The 48-year-old second-year BYU coach started his career in the southeast at Wake Forest and Georgia but has spent the last decade in Utah, including four years building Utah Valley into a 25-win program. He signed a contract extension last November and, if he’s interested in a bigger opportunity, could wait in a stable job without jumping at a mid-level Pac-12 opportunity.
Longtime Utah Jazz assistant Alex Jensen is from Utah, played for the Utes in the 1990s, and coached under Rick Majerus at Saint Louis from 2007-10. He hasn’t coached in college in 11 years but is widely lauded for player development and has been in consideration for NBA vacancies in recent years.
Three other in-state coaches to consider: Utah State’s Craig Smith, Pope’s replacement at Utah Valley, Mark Madsen, and Southern Utah head coach Todd Simon. Smith has won at three different programs and reportedly could be in the mix at Minnesota. Madsen is an inexperienced long shot but still worth mentioning, as is Simon given his recruiting ties across the west. In addition to Smith, four other Mountain West coaches could make a short list: Boise State’s Leon Rice, Colorado State’s Niko Medved, San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, and UNLV’s T.J. Otzelberger.
Could Harlan convince Tommy Lloyd to leave Mark Few’s staff after 20 years? Or Porter Moser as other high-major programs, most with more geographical compatibility than Utah, to leave Loyola? Would they roll the dice on Bryce Drew after one great year at Grand Canyon?
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM