Mike Sorensen: I think Utah coach Jim Boylen deserves another year

Published: Sunday, Feb. 27 2011 11:15 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — I think I can safely say I've seen more Utah basketball games in person over the last 15 years than anyone alive. And since Jim Boylen became coach four years ago, only members of the coaching staff have been to more Ute games.

I've sat through the head-scratching home losses to Southwest Baptist, Seattle and Idaho. I've witnessed amazing comeback wins over Illinois, LSU and California on the road. I've watched the offense at its most anemic and seen Lawrence Borha transformed into an all-league player. I've seen insufferable ineptness along with glimpses of greatness.

Through all that, I'm in the camp that says Boylen should get at least one more year to coach the Utes.

In case you haven't heard talk around town, listened to sports talk radio, read other newspaper columns or looked at internet message boards, Boylen is on the hot seat.

Barring a pair of victories this week and a first-round win at next week's Mountain West Conference Tournament, the fourth-year coach will finish with his second consecutive losing season. The Utes stand 13-15 with games against Colorado State on the road Wednesday and home against UNLV Saturday.

I understand the reasons many Ute fans want a change. They like to win. They're used to winning. And Boylen hasn't won enough the past two seasons.

They've already forgotten he took an 11-win team with academic and other problems to consecutive postseason tournaments, winning 18 games his first year, followed by 24 wins the next year, including a regular-season and conference championship and a No. 5 NCAA seed.

His third year was almost like a first year, starting over with his own recruits and a new five-year contract worth nearly $4 million after being courted by some prominent basketball programs.

Boylen is the first to tell you that the chemistry on his 2009-10 team was awful with several players playing only for themselves. After the season, Utah's two top scorers transferred by mutual agreement of the coach and player.

With that year behind him, Boylen brought in four junior college players, three of whom have played significant roles this year, along with a talented freshman, to blend with players already in the program.

However, that talented freshman, J.J. O'Brien, broke his foot in the first game, missed nine games and wasn't 100 percent for another half dozen games. The team's only senior, starting forward Jay Watkins, was hampered by a back injury the first 15 games before being shut down for the season after the first MWC game. The Utes' two best power forwards missed a combined 24 games this season.

No doubt the Utes have been inconsistent, but they finally seem to be hitting their stride since playing BYU dead-even in Provo for 31 minutes and winning their last three games, including that last-second thriller at The Pit.

However, ad hoc committees have apparently already been meeting to explore the possibility of getting a new coach with feelers being sent out. Also the question has been raised, can the U. and its boosters raise a couple of million to pay off Boylen, right after they've finished paying off hundreds of thousands to his predecessor, Ray Giacoletti, over the past four years.

In some ways Boylen has been the victim of a perfect storm. His two in-state rivals are having their best seasons ever with BYU about to move into the top five in the nation with a 27-2 record, while Utah State is 26-3. The Mountain West Conference is enjoying its best overall season ever with a national No. 4 RPI ranking. On top of that, the Utes are about to enter the Pac-12 Conference, where expectations will be higher.

All of that magnifies a sub-.500 record and things like a squeaky-clean program with strong academics are ignored.

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