Utah lets coach Boylen go
Utes suffered second consecutive losing season this year
SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah coach Jim Boylen was fired on Saturday, two days after the Utes ended a second consecutive losing season with a loss to San Diego State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
During four seasons at Utah, Boylen compiled a 69-60 overall record, including 32-32 in conference play. This season, the Utes lost eight of their last 11 and finished with a 13-18 overall record and 6-10 in the conference. Last season, Utah went 14-17 overall.
Athletic director Chris Hill said a national search for a replacement would begin immediately.
“It’s difficult to point to one thing,” Hill said in a phone interview on Saturday. “It’s almost a collection of things you add up. We felt it was time and we needed to move in a different direction.”
The move was not unexpected especially with the Utes moving to the more competitive Pacific 12 Conference next season.
Hill acknowledged that figured into his decision but not so much as evaluating where the program needed to be. He cited the team’s competitiveness and how the team protected the home court.
The Utes set a conference tournament futility mark with only 15 first-half points against San Diego State.
Attendance throughout the season was sparse at the Huntsman Center where the Utes played their home games. Thousands of fans stopped following a team that once was rated the 11th-best program in college basketball.
The team drew crowds only when top opponents such as BYU were in town. Utah lost nine of its last 10 games to its instate rival, and was being out-recruited in the state.
Even out-of-state fans ridiculed Boylen, with San Diego State fans chanting “You Are Fir-erd” during the Utes’ regular-season road game against the Aztecs.
“You have to not feel like you’re taking a vote from any of our boosters or looking just at attendance,” Hill said. “It’s a decision we had to make in the best interest of the university.”
The 45-year-old Boylen was Utah’s 14th basketball coach, replacing Ray Giacoletti four years ago after Hill fired him after a 54-40 mark.
The move also was a costly one as Hill rewarded Boylen with a new five-year contract in May 2009 in response to the coach drawing interest when Arizona had a vacancy. The buyout on Boylen’s contract reportedly was $2 million.
Hill notified Boylen of his decision after returning to Salt Lake City rather than staying in Las Vegas to watch the Utes women play in the Mountain West Conference tourney finals Saturday.
Boylen was not immediately available on Saturday. He told reporters after Thursday’s loss to San Diego State that his team was on the verge of big things.
He noted that the team has nine players returning, losing only senior Jay Watkins.
“The league was very powerful this year,” he said Thursday. “It was very good top to bottom. It was not a good year to be in a rebuilding mode with five guys that never played Division 1 basketball. But I’m encouraged and I like this group … I haven’t worried about my job status at all.”
Boylen was particularly encouraged by what he saw in freshman Dominique Lee, a 6-4 guard. The Utes also signed 6-7 wing George Matthews from Phoenix and have 6-7 forward Josh Sharp returning from his church mission.
Boylen’s best season was his second, when he guided the Utes to a 24-10 record, a tie for the MWC regular season title and a conference tournament championship. That team earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and fell in the first round to Arizona in 2009.
Boylen was a 13-year NBA assistant prior becoming Tom Izzo’s top assistant at Michigan State from 2005-07.