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Brad Rock: Football driving the bus, even in U. hoops search

Published: Saturday, April 2 2011 11:07 p.m. MDT

The engine is smoking and it's time to get a new car. But you've got this daughter in dance, piano and ballet lessons. Every time you get a few extra bucks, they go toward new point shoes or sheet music.

You're paying for Princess to be pretty.

I bring this up because the University of Utah is taking so long to hire a new men's basketball coach. That's either because it's waiting for one of the Final Four coaches (odds on that happening: 1 in 100) or because it doesn't have the money to make a quick, splashy hire (odds: 1 in 2).

I'm blaming a large part of the holdup on the princess at everyone's school: football. It has to be appeased before anything else happens. Which makes sense. While it is by far the most expensive undertaking in any athletic program, it also brings in the lion's share of the money.

Last week, the school announced a $16 million upgrade to its football facility on Guardsman Way. It will include the strength and conditioning room, sports medicine and athletic training areas, a multipurpose dining hall, a team locker room, offices for the coaches and support staff, equipment storage, a player lounge, a hall of fame, a team auditorium with space for 150 athletes and coaches and meeting/video rooms for position groups.

As head football coach Kyle Whittingham noted, "it's an arms race" when it comes to facilities. Football also recently hired famed offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

What that means is that either directly or indirectly, football has contributed to Utah's problems of finding a basketball coach. The Utes would love to write a blank check for a basketball coach. Instead they must make do. They have a sparkling but outdated Huntsman Center. But they also have below-average basketball offices and no dedicated practice court. So their options for a coach are reduced.

It's no secret they have been turned down by a number of leading candidates. Various stories have claimed Lon Kruger (UNLV, now Oklahoma), Dave Rose (BYU) and Randy Bennett (Saint Mary's) talked with the Utes but nothing developed. The two names that have persisted are Mark Gottfried, the ESPN analyst and former Alabama coach, and Larry Krystkowiak, the ex-Milwaukee Bucks and Montana Grizzlies coach. Those are still intriguing possibilities; they're not unknown assistants hoping to move up.

But the biggest reason Utah hasn't yet made a hire has to be related to money and/or length of contract. If someone swivels your head with a great salary offer, you don't say, "Let me think about it." You say, "I'll send someone to pick up my bags."

It's not like the $850,000 (not counting camps and incentives) Boylen made at Utah was embarrassing. Tennessee hired Cuonzo Martin for $1.3 million per year. Georgia Tech is paying Brian Gregory a reported $1 million a year. Utah's salary would probably be in that range.

At the same time, Utah can't compete against some programs. Kruger accepted the Oklahoma job at over $2 million annually. Arkansas hired Mike Anderson at $2.2 million for seven years. Missouri reportedly is offering $2 million as well.

Then there is the issue of years. Martin's deal is a five-year pact, Gregory's six. The Utes are wary of signing someone to a long-term contract who eventually might have to be bought out. They are just now paying off Ray Giacoletti's contract and owe Boylen $2 million.

So the Utes have their challenges. The Huntsman Center needs better locker rooms, plus luxury suites and restaurants. Or maybe it needs an entirely new building. But taxpayers aren't feeling generous.

Utah isn't eligible for full Pac-12 revenue-sharing for several years, though it will receive $2 million for the 2011 conference championship football game.

There it is again. Football is bringing in money, so football gets to spend most of it.

It's obvious why the Utes have taken longer than they wanted to hire a coach. They're operating on a budget and can't afford to sweep someone off his feet by throwing him money. The new coach will likely be making around $1 million or slightly more, per season. Which means, of course, it will be time to give the football coach another raise.

What Princess wants, Princess gets.

EMAIL: rock@desnews.com

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