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AUSTIN FACER: Krystkowiak is a good guy, but it was time to move on

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah athletics department decided that it was finally time for a change. The department announced on Tuesday afternoon that it would be parting ways with men’s basketball head coach Larry Krystkowiak in a statement made by athletic director Mark Harlan.

“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. 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,” the statement read.

Harlan also stated his appreciation for Krystkowiak’s dedication to the University and the local community before finishing off the release by answering the big question: how the athletic department would finance the now former coach’s expensive buyout.

“The costs associated with this termination and the hiring of a new head coach and staff will be fully funded from athletically-generated resources. We will launch an immediate national search for a new head coach,” concluded the press release.

Now, I have to tread carefully here, because my old man and Coach K have always had a good relationship. Every time I’ve been to a Utah basketball press conference, Krystkowiak has answered at least one of his questions by starting with, “Well, it’s just like I’ve been telling Dirk for quite a while now…” or something to that effect.

I think Krystkowiak is a good guy and clearly Harlan does too, judging by his remarks. However, sports are a performance-based business, and Krystkowiak was not producing enough results. It was time to see other people.

The state of the Runnin’ Utes basketball program is simply not where it should be at this point in time. That program has been to too lofty of heights before and has had too much money invested in it to fall short of the postseason yet again.

Have you seen the facility built for the basketball program on campus, right next to the Huntsman Center? It’s extremely nice. A lot of NBA teams would be jealous of such swanky digs, and many have said glowing things about the building when they use it for practices and stuff when visiting to play the Jazz. The inside of that facility has some pretty impressive achievements celebrated on its walls including several All-American selections, NCAA Tournament bids and extended runs, and even a national championship from back in 1944. More recently, Utah finished as national runners up after dropping the championship game to Kentucky in 1998. The program has sent more players to the NBA than any local college, by a large margin.

Nowadays, it’s hard to say that Utes have any sort of relevancy at the national level. That prestige is even fading at the state level.

Simply put, Utah should be not perennially missing the NCAA Tournament or having to retool the basketball program year after year. Unfortunately, that had been consistently the case for the last five years. The Utes last appeared in the Big Dance back in 2016 with a roster that included three NBA first round draft picks in Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma.

Sure, they went to the championship game of the 2018 National Invitational Tournament and had some other memorable moments during the Krystkowiak era — that game-winning 3-pointer by friend of the site, Parker Van Dyke, comes to mind — but since that nice tourney run in ’16, the Utes haven’t done a whole lot.

The accolades inside that beautiful facility on campus became more and more a thing of the past.

Clearly, the team’s performance on the court didn’t justify the immense resources it was provided off the court.

The same could be said about Krystkowiak’s contract, which was in the top 15 of most expensive in the country, with a large buyout clause that made it difficult to make a switch. Everyone knew it, which is why Harlan addressed the finances of the deal in Tuesday’s press release. Not only is the athletic program going to have eat the remainder of Krystkowiak’s deal — a reported $6.7 million — it’ll have to entice a new coach with a lucrative deal.

Harlan is going to have to crush this hire, his best chance will be finding an energetic up-and-comer hungry for a chance to redeem a once-storied program. Tommy Connor, who played for the Utes in his college days and enjoyed a successful run as head coach at Westminster before joining Krystkowiak’s staff as an assistant was presumed to be the heir apparent. However, I think Harlan’s statement that the search will be conducted on a national scale makes it clear; it’s going to be a whole new regime at the helm. An outside hire seems most likely.

The next chapter of Utah basketball will be interesting to watch. There’s really no excuse why the program is in the state it’s in now. That was abundantly clear as the book closed on Krystkowiak’s time on the hill. It’s time to get better, the sooner the better.

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