SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Krystkowiak was formally introduced as Utah's new basketball coach on Monday and the 46-year-old made his intentions quite clear.
He's determined to restore pride in a program coming off back-to-back losing seasons and a challenging future in the Pacific-12 Conference.
"I'm going to absolutely pour my heart and soul into this program," said Krystkowiak (pronounced krist-KOH-vee-ak). "We're going to get the basketball program back to a position where we can all be very proud."
Krystkowiak, who replaces the fired Jim Boylen, signed a five-year contract worth $950,000 annually to turn things around. The Utes reached the NCAA championship game in 1998 but have had just two winning seasons over the past six years.
"We've got a great, extraordinary tradition here and we are delighted to welcome our new coach who is going to further advance that tradition," said university president Michael K. Young.
It's a challenge Krystkowiak is eager to tackle. He couldn't wait for the press conference to end and get a chance to meet with the players for the first time.
"For us, it's about the present," Krystkowiak said. "I know the expectations that come with it. I'm not afraid of them, and we're going to hold ourselves to a pretty high standard."
Krystkowiak, who spent the past season as an assistant with the NBA's New Jersey Nets, wound up getting the job after a search that lasted for more than three weeks.
Utah athletics director Chris Hill downplayed the significance of everything but the outcome.
"It's the result," he said. "I'm happy with the result, so that makes life good."
The important thing, he added, is having a team that plays smart, plays hard and wins games.
"Our fans can identify with that," Hill said.
Krystkowiak knows it.
"It's going to take a lot of different facets. There aren't going to be any little things or any shortcuts," he said. "But at the end of the day, fans want to come and watch winning basketball, hard-nosed basketball."
It's an approach Hill appreciates. Krystkowiak's leadership, toughness and intelligence were among the traits that led to his hiring. Hill noted that he was impressed in a lot of ways.
As such, he's confident the Utes have the right man to lead them into the Pac-12 next season.
"We'll have a competition level at the highest we've ever had," Hill said. "I couldn't think of anybody better that would bring with us that toughness, the discipline to make us be successful."
Famed alum Arnie Ferrin, who led Utah to its only NCAA title in 1944, said Hill must have searched carefully and interviewed a lot of people to find a coach capable of facing the challenges ahead.
"I think this is a great opportunity for a coach moving where they are into the Pac-12 and taking a position that we have to grow into," he said after attending the press conference.
Restoring a winning tradition, Ferrin continued, will play a big role in Utah's recruiting success.
And that, Hill said, will begin at home where the Utes want to capture Utah again. They've slipped in recent years.
"We want to make sure we get the best in the state and recruit from beyond," Hill said.
Krystkowiak is confident the Utes will make a successful transition into the Pac-12.
"I've got all the faith in the world that we can compete regionally, that we can compete nationally — definitely," he said.
After expressing his thanks for being hired, Krystkowiak outlined his blueprint for success. It centers around a "we" philosophy and a mentality that it takes a village and not individuals to get it done.
"My goal is that we won't be outplayed," Krystkowiak said. "There won't be a team that outworks us very often."
The Utes, he continued, will play smart and with synergy.
Senior-to-be Jiggy Watkins, who stood near the front of the room with several of his teammates, liked what he heard from the new coach.
"He seems dedicated," Watkins said. "He seems to love basketball and is passionate about his work. So that's a good thing."
Watkins wants to stay at Utah and make amends for last season's 13-18 record.
"I think most of the guys want to stay together after the year we had. It was disappointing to us and we want to get better," Watkins said. "We know we can win these games and we've just got to prove it."
Teammate Will Clyburn, who will also be a senior next season, isn't as confident about the situation.
"I guess everybody's taking it day-by-day. No one is going to rush anything," he said. "People don't know what's going to go on and what the future holds."
Utah's leading scorer and rebounder last season is contemplating a transfer and plans to decide on whether or not to do so by the end of the week.
Krystkowiak, meanwhile, plans to meet with all the players (including Clyburn) and find out if everyone is on the same page as far as his "we" philosophy is concerned.
After playing or coaching in more than 1,500 games in his career, Krystkowiak is excited about his new position. He called Utah a special place, something he felt while playing for the Jazz in 1992-93. The city, the university and the program add to his enthusiasm.
"I can't tell you all how excited I am, honored to chosen as the next coach of the University of Utah," Krystkowiak said before adding that he and his family look forward to spending many years here.
Utah is Krystkowiak's second collegiate head coaching job. He guide his alma mater, Montana, to a 42-20 record and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances from 2004-06. After guiding the Grizzlies to a tourney win in his second season, Krystkowiak opted to take an assistant coaching job with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. He eventually became the head coach, but was fired after going 31-69 over two seasons.
"Any time you deal with adversity and you lose a job as I did in Milwaukee, I think it makes you take a look at yourself," Krystkowiak said. "Sometimes it almost introduces you to yourself and reminds you of what's really important and what you need to stay true to."
He kind of "veered away" from what he knew was right.
"If anybody tells you that professional players need to be treated different than college players, they're crazy," said Krystkowiak, who believes he's benefitted from coaching at both levels.
The lack of practice time in the NBA proved to be frustrating, though. It kind of changed the way he coached. Krystkowiak said he loves practice and being able to fix what's broken, something that is extremely difficult to do in the NBA.
College coaching, he explained, has other advantages as well.
"There's nothing like being on a campus," Krystkowiak said.
As for the task at hand, he's taking a "Field of Dreams" approach to returning Utah's basketball program to prominence. Krystkowiak is confident more fans will return to the Huntsman Center to watch the Utes.
"If you build it, they will come," he said.
Birthdate: Sept. 23, 1964
Alma Mater: Montana (1996)
Bachelor's degree in business administration
Family: wife Jan, sons Cam, Luc and Ben, twin daughters Samantha and Finley
2010-11 — Assistant coach, New Jersey Nets
2009-10 — Head coach, Adidas Nations
2007-08 — Head coach, Milwaukee Bucks
2006-07 — Assistant coach, Milwaukee Bucks
2004-06 — Head coach, Montana
2003-04 — Head coach, Idaho Stampede (CBA)
2001-02 — Assistant coach, Old Dominion
1998-00 — Assistant coach, Montana
1996 — Los Angeles Lakers
1994-96 — Chicago Bulls
1993-94 — Orlando Magic
1992-93 — Utah Jazz
1988-92 — Milwaukee Bucks15 comments on this story
1986-87 — San Antonio Spurs
1982-86 — University of Montana *
* Three-time Big Sky Conference MVP