As the ball fell through the hoop and the Utes fans cheered in confusion as their team fell by a single point to the 4th ranked Bruins of UCLA, I had one initial thought; 'What. A. Game.' Then, as a drove home following the fantastic performance by both teams at the Huntsman Center I had another thought; 'What. A. Coach.' I'm not talking about the guy with a roster loaded with 5 star talent (4 of them to be exact). I was talking about the guy that is overseeing a roster with TEN new players. A roster with junior college players that weren't getting sniffs from other Pac 12 schools. A team led by a 6'9" kid that was nothing but a shooter when he arrived a few years ago, but is now one of the most complete and well-rounded players in the conference. A team with a 6'10" center that is on the bottom end of the athleticism barrel. The fact that this Utah team was able to go blow for blow with a team that has arguably the best player in the country, a national championships contender, while the officials didn't do them any favors, is a testament to how good Larry Krystkowiak really is. I don't want to take anything away from Utah's players, but Saturday was a matchup between UCLA's talent and Utah's coaching....and Utah's coaching almost won.
Utah isn't a special place when it comes to hoops. Yeah, there is history and success, but there are also dark periods. In comparison to other programs around the country, they're far from the Kentuckys, Dukes, North Carolinas, and UCLAs of the world. Over the course of 40 years, they can't compete with the Louisvilles, Michigan States, Kansases, or Arizonas. Villanova, Syracuse, UCONN. For Utah to be special, it takes a special coach. Now, that's often the case for many schools, but generally you can slide in coach X to any of the schools above and they're going to find a way to have some success. Utah didn't have special coaches in Giacoletti and Boylen and the program became inconsistent. Maybe a 5 seed would pop up one year, but that would be followed by a losing record. That's not happening under Larry Kyrstkowiak. That won't happen under Larry Krystkowiak. Larry and his staff are that good. They can take a decent roster and turn them into a good team. They can take a good roster and take them in a really good team. With a few more years, they can take a really good roster and turn it into a great team.
If he can coach an almost completely retooled roster to the level of play that they are at right now, and able to compete head to head with arguably the best team in the country, in a game where both teams played well, then you know you've got something special on the bench.
Washington is likely to fire their head coach this season. They recruit at a high level and don't get results. They'll likely call Larry. If UCLA can't get past the sweet 16 year this, Alford is probably gone. They'll likely call Larry.
What Larry Krystkowiak is doing and has done at Utah is nothing short of amazing. This program was dead. DEAD! Now they've had high NCAA rankings the last two years and are poised to make a strong run in conference play despite all of the new faces. He's a special coach. He can be a Majerus. He and his staff are the biggest reason as to why this program is here. He's the best game-prep and in-game coach in the conference...and the Utes have him. Whatever it takes from Chris Hill to keep Larry Krystkowiak in Salt Lake City must be done. If a better offer comes elsewhere, rolling the dice and hoping you strike gold twice in a row at Utah is a risky proposition. Pay the man whatever it takes. Keep him happy. Let him keep building this. You likely can't duplicate Larry Krystkowiak right away if he's gone. Utah can't put themselves in a position where they show the necessary respect to Krystkowiak years after he's gone. It needs to happen now. Utah basketball may never be special, but Larry Krystkowiak can make them special for a season, or two, and keep them relevant and competitive every year during his tenure. He's that good.