It's no secret that Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak wasn't a fan-favorite during the last couple of seasons at the helm.
In fact the Utes failed to make any postseason tournament over the previous three seasons, going 45-42 overall and 26-29 in Pac-12 play. The issue was compounded due to the fact that players have been consistently transferring out of the program over the past few years, leading to very little consistency.
Due to this and a myriad of other factors, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan announced that Krystkowiak would no longer be the man leading the Utes into the future.
“Today, I informed Head Men’s Basketball Coach Larry Krystkowiak that I am making a change in the leadership of our men’s basketball program," Harlan said in a statement. "The decision comes after a thorough evaluation of the program — both on and off of the court — as I do with every head coach at the conclusion of their seasons. Ultimately, our program needs a new voice, a new vision and a new leader who can build upon Larry’s foundation and lead us to greater heights in the years ahead."
Larry has always been dedicated to our student-athletes, to our University and to the Salt Lake City community, and I am grateful for his decade of service to the University of Utah. In addition, he and his wife Jan have been incredibly generous in supporting University and community initiatives. I want to wish Larry, Jan and their family the very best."
Now with Krystkowiak out, the question immediately turns to who will be targeted as his replacement? Who can lead the Utes into the upper echelon of the Pac-12 conference? Who can take advantage of Utah's pristine facilities and turn them into a perennial NCAA tournament team?
According to Harlan, the national search will begin immediately.
“Ultimately, our program needs a new voice, a new vision and a new leader who can build upon Larry’s foundation and lead us to greater heights in the years ahead,” Harlan said.
Who SHOULD Utah target...
1.) Tommy Connor: The most obvious choice about who Utah should target is also the easiest. Connor was one of Krystkowiak's first hires when he took over in 2011, and has an extensive background at Utah. He played under the legendary Rick Majerus from 1986-88 and 1990, and then returned as an assistant coach under Majerus from 1994-97.
He's already extremely familiar with the current players and staff and could help build off the success Krystkowiak has had. But what could be a downfall for Connor is that Harlan could be looking for a clean break from Krystkowiak and hiring Connor would not achieve that.
2.) Alex Jensen: Arguably the most obvious choice is Harlan is looking at clear cut from Krystkowiak, Jensen is everything about Utah basketball.
A former high school star who was 1994's Mr. Utah Basketball. He was a starter in Utah's 1998 national championship loss to Kentucky alongside Andre Miller and Michael Doleac. he then played professionally overseas before beginning his coaching career at St. Louis under Majerus, his former college coach. He now serves as an assistant to Quinn Snyder and the Utah Jazz.
While the job would probably be his to lose if he wanted it, there have been rumblings that Jensen could be next in line for a head coaching gig in the NBA, so making the jump back to college might not be as appealing as it sounds for him.
3.) Johnnie Bryant: Much like Jensen, Bryant is a former star for the Utes during college who has now parlayed that into a successful coaching career in the NBA, now serving as the associate head coach of the New York Knicks.
He played more recently than Jensen, starring for the Utes in the mid-2000's with his best season coming as a junior for the 2006-07 season. He averaged 34.5 minutes and 15.1 points while starting in all 30 games and earned honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference honors.
He understands the recruiting aspect much more than Jensen and would be considered another slam dunk hire. The issue is that he too is in line for a potential head coaching gig in the league so a jump back down to college might not be ideal.
Who COULD Utah target...
1.) Mark Pope: There will be a lot of Utah fans who won't like this nominee but if they're honest with themselves, this would be a tremendous hire.
Pope has been extremely successful at his two spots, returning Utah Valley to respectability before leading BYU to the NCAA tournament in his two seasons at the helm. He understands the recruiting landscape and could be enamored with what a Power 5 job could bring later on his career.
While I think Utah might put out feelers regarding Pope, I don't think he would jump ship for the Utes. BYU and Pope might never be the top team or the top coach with Mark Few and Gonzaga around, but it might still be better than a mediocre Utah gig that is no better than a top-4 job in the Pac-12.
2.) Niko Medved: While it wouldn't necessarily be a sexy hire, Medved is a rising star and could pan out to be a monster hire.
He took a Furman squad that was 9-21 his first season and transformed them into a 23-11 team four years later. Colorado State was 12-20 in his first season, 20-12 last year and 18-6 this past season, narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament and now playing in the NIT.
Medved understands recruiting in the Mountain West and already has ties to the area. He's young and energetic, and could very well bring a sense of revitalization to a Utah program that's in desperate need of a shot in the arm.
3.) Damon Stoudamire: Out of any candidate, Stoudamire has the best mixture of college and professional coaching experience. He also won a national title with Arizona and had a long and successful career in the NBA.
His college coaching hasn't panned out in a massively successful way, but thats difficult when playing Gonzaga and BYU four times a seasons. Still, Stoudamire will be moving up the ranks at some point and one would wonder if a Pac-12 job could be enticing to him.