Utah Utes Basketball: Definitive Jim Boylen History


Jan 17, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Jim Boylen gives direction to his team during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at AT&T Center. The Blazers won 109-100. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you buried your head in the sand you know that former Utah Utes Basketball Coach Jim Boylen has emerged as a strong and perhaps leading candidate to take over the Utah Jazz.

Since then, A LOT of awful, distorted and frankly some false things have been said about Jim Boylen, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to put his history out there.  Not that it will help as people saying those things don’t like facts getting in the way of a good narrative, like Fox News.  But at least it’s out there for those who care.

To let you know my bias up from, I like Jim Boylen a great deal.  I think he was mistreated at Utah and should have been given another season.  What really upsets me most are the lies told about him after he was fired.  Lies that came out of Chris Hill’s office among other places and were openly repeated by people like Bill Riley, people who knew they were lying about a good guy.  Even I said I would get it if Jim was fired, but the way they did it was wrong.

But I’ll lay all of this out and you can decide from there.

Ray Giacolletti was let go after three seasons.  I won’t go into the Giacolletti era as there was a great deal going then too and it’s a whole different ball game and blog post.  Oddly the theme of Chris Hill being a jerk comes up there as well.  Anyway, Jim Boylen was hired to replace Ray Giacolletti.  As I’m sure you know, Larry was a candidate for the Utah job but used it as a bargaining chip to get the Milwaukee Bucks head coaching gig.   Jim Boylen was the top assistant at Michigan St., came highly recommended by everyone, including Rudy Tomjanovich, whom he spent 11 years coaching under at Houston.

Boylen took over an 11 win team.  I think the two things people need to remember about this is first.  Ute fans said everyone on this team sucked at the time.  They said things like Lawerence Borha and Shawn Green didn’t have D-1 talent and Luke Nevill was soft and would never be a player.

The other thing to remember is, Jim didn’t have the option of simply dumping the team and starting over.  Utah had a bad APR situation and was in danger of losing scholarships and having a post season play ban.  This was because of both the tail end of the Majerus era being a mess and the transfers that happened under Ray Giacolletti.  Jim had to play with what he was dealt and he had to make sure those guys kept going to class.

Jim won 18 games that Utah and took Utah to the 2nd round of the CBI.  Something to recall about the CBI is that you have to pay to host home games and Utah wouldn’t pay.  So the Utes had to go on the road.

The Utes returned nearly everyone that next season, won 24 games, tied for first in the MWC, won the Mountain West Conference and received a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Where we lost to 12 seed Arizona.

The Arizona game was always a sad game.  That Utah team essentially relied on working inside to Luke Nevill and then back out to our shooters.  The Utes just didn’t hit wide open threes.  Also Arizona was very physical with us and Utah struggled with that.  In fact I think that is a problem that plagues the top teams in both the MWC and WCC.  Their conference officials won’t let them be physical, otherwise they’d dominate the bottom teams even more.  So after spending three months being forced to play soft, they get in the NCAA’s where teams are allowed to play, they aren’t used to the style and struggle.  I think it’s a pretty good theory.

After Jim’s second season, he graduated 77% of his scoring and 72% of his rebounding.  In order to give you context, after whatever you want to call what happened when Larry took the job, Larry lost 66% of scoring and 76% of rebounding from Jim’s final year.  If you remove Jiggy Watkins stats from those, Larry loses 88% of scoring and 83% of rebounding.  Whatever you want to take away from those, the one certainty was that Utah wasn’t going to be as good their third year as they were in their second.  Many Utah fans felt that we should have.

Now here is where things get complicated.  Jim Boylen just missed on CJ Wilcox who went to Washington for reasons that are still debated.  My guess would be if Washington wasn’t a Pac-10 Program and Utah a MWC program, but on equal footing, Boylen lands Wilcox.  Jim was going to rely on Luka Drca and Carlon Brown who ended up not getting along.

And then there was Marshall Henderson.

In hindsight, a lot of Ute fans want to criticize Jim for recruiting Marshall.  But lets clear up a few misconceptions.  Yes Marshall was chucked off of his high school team right before the state tournament for smoking weed.  I’d listen to this argument from detractors if Brekkott Chapman hadn’t been suspended from his high school team for the exact same thing.  The detractors aren’t saying we should pull Brekkott’s scholarship.  Further, Coach Boylen sat down with Marshall and his parents and they all agreed he’d keep his nose clean and fly right at Utah.

Also Marshall averaged 12 PPG as a true freshman and was our leading scorer in conference play.  Talent wasn’t Marshall’s problem.

The third season was a mess.  At that point Jim asked Chris Hill how much time he had to take care of it and the Good Doctor told him two years.  I know this story for a fact.   People might want to argue this fact, but if Jim thought the next season was make or break, why does he make the wholesale changes that he does.  If you have one year, don’t you try to find a way to work with Carlon and maybe even Marshall instead of being fine with them looking elsewhere?  Do you bring in one year place holders like Kupets? (which people have been fine with Larry doing)

One other side note, people also claim the narrative that Carlon Brown got wildly better at Colorado.  Despite he new digs and breath of fresh air, his scoring average was essentially the same.  Shooting percentage up slightly, three point percentage and rebounds down slightly.

So, Coach Boylen thinking he had time, made some serious changes.  He brought in Will Clyburn and Jiggy Watkins from the JC ranks.  Jiggy was MVP of the JC tournament I believe.  JJ O’Brien was a highly touted recruit out of San Diego.

Jim’s final year looked promising but was derailed by injuries.  JJ O’Brien missed almost all of the preseason.  Jay Watkins missed the entire season.  Jiggy Watkins was hurt and would miss a few games and Will Clyburn was injured later in the year, tried to play but was not at all effective.  David Foster played but couldn’t really practice and would never be healthy during his time at Utah.  The turning point of that season was the trip to Hawaii where the Utes didn’t play well.  Coach Boylen’s wife had a miscarriage at Christmastime, and he missed a game taking care of her after the Hawaii trip.  I would guess that affected the team on that trip.

Jim was let go at season’s end, despite the fact or maybe because of the fact that everyone was returning.

After that it was a mess.  Players were angry that their coach was let go.  Larry Krystkowiak was hired.

Will Clyburn and JJ O’Brien transferred.  Larry forced everyone else who left out.  Except the story that was spread, with a lot of help from Chris Hill’s people repeated leaking it to people who would retell it, was that Jim Boylen told all the players to leave.  That was a cruel lie to tell to a guy who is a good many and whose one sin was not winning enough basketball games.

The other thing Jim was criticized for is not recruiting instate players.  Jim did recruit Jace Tavita on the advice of the previous staff, and Josh Sharp (whom Larry screwed up getting back, tried hard to get him, threw a tantrum in the press when it didn’t happen and now we all pretend the history is that Larry didn’t want him back).  Jim also recruited CJ Wilcox hard and thought he had him till the 11th hour and took a huge shot at one of the Haws kids, and got closer than anyone could have thought.

That story is tied to Jordan Loveridge which is a whole different can of worms and something that I’ll address another time.

For his part, Jim has been nothing but class, stating only that he wishes he’d have gotten a shot that final year.  But I also get if we’d won basketball games regardless of the reason we aren’t having this conversation.

Utah basketball is on solid ground, and I’m glad for where the program will be next year.  I also think we’d have been there sooner if we hadn’t fired Jim, who showed he could coach by winning with a group Utah fans said sucked.  Or if Larry hadn’t decided for whatever reason to give us the death penalty.  Shawn Glover in particular finished his senior year averaging 21 PPG and  6 RPG while shooting 48% from three.

I know most people will think what they want to about Jim Boylen, but I thought it would be helpful to lay out the facts and some of my opinion on the topic.

Now do with that as you wish.