Randy Hollis: Utah blew it by not hiring Utah State's Morrill

Published: Saturday, March 19 2011 7:31 p.m. MDT

Seven years ago, when the University of Utah knew that Rick Majerus had left the building for the last time and wouldn't be back as their men's basketball coach, the Utes went looking for the best man to replace him.

Seven years later, it appears, they're still looking.

Indeed, over the past seven seasons, the Utes have endured a couple of failed hirings when, all the while, there was one tremendous coaching candidate, Stew Morrill, working his magic up the road in Logan.

And if Utah had been interested enough — and, in hindsight, smart enough — they probably could have lured Morrill away from the Aggies at the time, too.

And now? Probably not.

After Majerus' departure, Utah subsequently settled on Ray Giacoletti, a terrific guy who, thanks primarily to Andrew Bogut and Mark Jackson, had one spectacular season and then, after back-to-back losing seasons, was dismissed.

Giacoletti was followed by Jim Boylen who, much like Giacoletti, had one great year — thanks in part to players who'd been recruited by his predecessor — followed by a pair of pretty crappy ones and got let go, too.

Over those seven seasons, the Utes' program managed to go 123-100 overall, picking up a pair of NCAA Tournament berths while suffering four losing seasons.

So, whaddaya suppose Stew's done over the last seven years in Logan? Well, his teams have averaged almost 26 wins a year, never winning less than 23 games in a season, and made five NCAA appearances.

How much would Utah fans love to have enjoyed that type of success in the seven years since Majerus left town? The point of all this is that, sure, you can stage your whoop-de-do national search and try to land some big-name guy or an up-and-comer from a high-profile program.

But, sometimes, the best man for the job is in your own backyard or right up the street.

For all his quirkiness, Majerus masterminded a prolific program that averaged almost 25 wins per season during each of the 13 years the big man coached at least 20 games. The Utes also went to the Big Dance 11 times during that glory-filled, 13-year stretch.

Morrill, meanwhile, has turned the Spectrum in Cache Valley into The Dreaded Place Nobody Wants to Play. Since Stew's second season, 1999-2000, Utah State has averaged almost 26 wins per season.

The Aggies are one of only three teams to have won at least 23 games in each of the last dozen seasons, and their winning percentage ranks fourth-best in the nation over that span.

Now, you might rightfully ask, who's to say Morrill would've had that same kind of success in Salt Lake City? That's a legitimate question. But if you've ever watched the way Stew runs that tight ship up in Logan, I think it's safe to say he darn well would have gotten this thing rolling in SLC, too.

He's simply that good a coach and is a guy who knows how, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, to get 'er done.

USU should be mighty grateful Morrill didn't leave for greener pastures several years ago. Instead, he stayed at Utah State and built the Aggies into a perennial Big West and WAC powerhouse.

Now, as he approaches his 59th birthday, Morrill might have one more career move left in him.

But, in all honesty, he'd be better off staying at Utah State, where he's become the school's all-time winningest coach. He's a big fish in a small pond up in Cache Valley, a place where he's beloved, respected and revered for his coaching genius and the classy, un-flashy way he does things.

The University of Utah should have hired him seven years ago. For all the recent success they've enjoyed with Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham in football, the Utes haven't been able to find the right answer yet in basketball.

Maybe this time, as they prepare to join the Pac-12, they'll finally find the best man for the job.

But, behind closed doors, they've gotta be kicking themselves for not making Morrill their man seven years ago when they had the chance.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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