SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Krystkowiak was named as the head coach of the Utah basketball team two weeks ago Monday. He hit the ground running and has hardly had time to take a breath ever since, as he has been working putting a staff together, meeting with each of the players, starting his recruiting and taking care of the small details that come with the new job.
The Montana native and his wife, Jan, have five children ranging in age from 11 to 3 and they are excited to be settling in Utah. In a wide-ranging interview, Krystkowiak came off as sincere and unpretentious, yet confident about his ability to bring success to the Utah basketball team. He doesn't try to impress with fancy slogans and has a pretty simple philosophy as a coach — play hard.
He revealed that his name was mispronounced when he was here with the Utah Jazz 18 years ago, he talked about his memories of Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton, how he plans to recruit and that he plans to stay at Utah a long time.
Deseret News: First of all, let's get your name straight. It seems like when you were here with the Jazz (in 1992-93), people pronounced your name with a T after the first syllable as in Krys TOH viak, rather than Krys KOH viak.
Larry Krystkowiak: I know, but I never bothered saying anything. There is a K in there if you do it properly. All of a sudden it's important to people, but I've heard it so many different ways. "Coach" is always easy, or "Coach K" ... I'm not too particular about it."
News: Do you have any particular memories of your time with the Jazz that stand out to you?
Krystkowiak: No specific game memories. I tore the plantar fascia in my foot, which was a big injury for me. It was toward the end of the year and I didn't make the playoff roster. So that was a little bit frustrating. But the positives leading up to the injury were just being on the same floor with John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone), playing against Karl every day in practice and being around coach Sloan. That was pretty neat.
News: You been on the job for just over a week — what are your first impressions of being the head coach for the University of Utah?
Krystkowiak: It's been so busy, absolutely the busiest week of my life with a lot of different things cooking. But it's also been one of the most rewarding weeks. A lot of this stuff is first time, things you've got to do it maybe once like get your parking pass, get your keys, all the little details. Once that was out of the way, we've focused our time and energy on the players and the staff. I knew what I was getting into and that building a program is going to take a lot of energy. Just look around — it's a beautiful place to be, with the program and the resources in place to get the deal rolling. It's been a whirlwind. I haven't been able to kick back and take a deep breath. But it's good.
News: I know you may not want to talk about specific players, but what have you discovered about the returning players in the limited amount of time you've been able to work with them?
Krystkowiak: It's really hard to get a feel in just one or two practices. In the first practice there was a tremendous number of turnovers and a lot of individual play but it was the first time. Everybody gets a little amped up and wants to show the coach what they can do and maybe that leads to some of the ragged play. But we're just starting to get into some skill workouts where we get three or four guys together in a group. I've had a chance to visit with everybody now and get their sense of what their experience has been and what they'd like it to be like and what their strengths and weaknesses are. But we do have a group of guys who want to work and are eager to get better. From a coaching perspective, that's what you want to see. It's hard to assess it, but I think we're moving in the right direction.
News: Can you give us an idea of the style of basketball you're going to bring to Utah?
Krystkowiak: The important thing to me is that guys are playing hard. I mean really hard. I think everybody thinks they're playing hard, but it's getting guys to play in another gear. We want to play a game of basketball where we're taking a high percentage shot. I don't want us to take bad shots. When the percentages go up, I think it's a funner game to play and to watch when the ball is moved around. I have no problem if somebody misses a shot, but it can't be a shot that's not within the context of our team. So we're going to execute and try to put people in position where they can score in a place where they can be successful. We want to play good, hard, defensive-minded basketball. Just try to keep it pretty simple.
News: So you don't have a specific offensive style like, say, a motion offense or a set-play offense?
Krystkowiak: It's going to be a combination. You have to figure out what kind of team you have. You have to have some motion offense, you have to have some sets and different things. It's not gong to be strictly one or the other.
News: What about defense?
Krystkowiak: It's hard-nosed team basketball, putting a lot of pressure on the person with the ball, yet if there is a breakdown, you know where your help is coming from. What kills you is when you give up easy baskets whether that's in transition or if you're not running back hard enough. The other thing is offensive rebounds for your opponent. If you give up too many offensive rebounds, they're at a point blank range and that ends up being Russian roulette too. To me that's a focal point, making teams have to earn baskets, instead of easy baskets. There are times you want to throw curve balls at teams, but I wouldn't anticipate being a 94-foot up-tempo defense. Sometimes if you've got a really athletic team, you can go out and wreak havoc on teams and cause turnovers and get baskets. Right now I don't think we've got that kind of roster that can do that."
News: You talked in your opening press conference about recruiting international players. Tell us more about that.
Krystkowiak: I have a lot of connections overseas. Australia, Germany, France — I played a season in France and have great friends there — Latin America, Brazil. I've built a lot of relationships over the years when I wasn't a college coach. Now I'm in a position where I can take advantage of some of those relationships. I didn't befriend them because I wanted to recruit their kids or people they knew. Whenever you're talking about international players and going a long way from home you have to know there's somebody there that really cares about them. I think through some of the relationships I've developed, those people know they'd be in a safe place if they came here.
News: Any chance of getting some international players for next year?
Krystkowiak: It's too soon to tell. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we had one or two international kids.
News: You have said you want to recruit kids from Utah. Where else will you look for players?
Krystkowiak: We're recruiting some kids that are on the East Coast right now. There's really not a home where I could say, we can't go there with where we are league-wise and some of the things that are around the corner here. Some kids in the East want to get away from home. Maybe there's a kid from L.A. that says he wants to get away from home. So there's really no stone that you can't flip over and try to find out. But Utah's going to be a big part of it. We're a Utah school and we need to get some Utah players. There's not going to be any restrictions. We certainly feel this league is as good as any in the West and one of the top conferences in the country, so we're in position to get in a few people's doors.
News: How familiar are you with the Pac-12?
Krystkowiak: I'm pretty familiar with it. I've watched quite a bit of basketball. I know a lot of the coaches that are in it. Once we get our whole staff, we're going to split up and do scouting reports on different teams. I'd like to have coaches help me get familiar with it and get them familiar with it. Maybe take three teams each and do a scouting report and present it to the rest of the staff, so we understand what teams are doing. It's one thing to watch a team casually — I've watched a ton of Pac-10 basketball — but it's another thing when you're sitting down and breaking down video and trying to figure out what they do. That's probably what we need to do right now more than anything.
News: Attendance at U. games has fallen from over 14,000 in 1996-97 to just over 8,000 last year. What can you do besides winning to increase attendance?
Krystkowiak: When people come to watch Runnin' Ute basketball, we're not going to win all of the games. But we're going to play hard and lay it on the line. I think people will leave the arena with their money's worth, in terms of effort. That's one thing we can control. Fans of Utah understand the game and they're not going to accept shortcuts. If we don't win, I'd like to think we can still gain some momentum with the fans. When you start winning, the peripheral fans, people on the fringe, may come watch. I think we can attract people that are interested in basketball and winning will take it to the next level."
News: You've been a coach since 1998, but have never stayed at a job for more than two years. What can you say to assure Ute fans that you'll be here for more than a couple of years?
Krystkowiak: I'm hoping that the only way I'm going to be gone is if I don't do a good enough job. I have all of the confidence in the world we can get the job done. To me this is a destination job. This is isn't a job I'm using to get anywhere else, for a number of reasons. When you're in a position to be coaching in the Pac-12, in this environment with five kids ... my nomadic days are over.
But a lot of those moves were circumstantial rather than trying to find the next thing. Two or three of those stops on the resume were more staying in the game and proving that I wanted to be a part of it. If there's an opportunity that presents itself, sometimes you have to take it.
If someone tells me to leave, obviously I've got to go, I've got to turn in the keys.
But I can't be any more clear about it — I'm not looking for the next job. I want to be here and raise a normal family. I want to be here when my kids are going through high school. I've spent the last nine months on a solo mission. My family has been in San Diego, while I've been in New Jersey by myself, living off the Skype. It's the worst, hardest year I've ever been through. It was great basketball-wise to be able to work with Avery Johnson, but from a personal view, it was as hard as it got and I don't want to be away from the family or disrupt the family. That's part of getting back to college again.
News: Tell us about your family.
Krystkowiak: We have three boys 11, 10 and 8. Our twin girls are 31/2. They're very much into sports. They're basketball junkies, baseball and we like to play golf. I've got a built-in foursome with the three boys. Basically if something is round, they've taken a liking to it.
News: What do you like to when you're not coaching basketball?
Krystkowiak: Anything to do with family is No. 1 for me. That's hobby No. 1 — spending time with the gang and getting away from the game. I like playing golf and fishing with my boys.
News: Looking back a year from now, what would you consider to be a successful first year for you?
Krystkowiak: Each day is kind of microcosm of what one year will be. I come in early, know I've got a bunch of things to do, start pounding away at them and I know the program's in a better state at the end of the day. I go back at the end of the day and take a deep breath and say, "I feel good about that, what's the next challenge?"
You want to instill that in your guys, to represent themselves properly, make good decisions, work hard, then whatever happens we can live with when we know we put in an honest day's effort. I want to start that culture. We're not thinking about NCAA Tournaments or Pac-12 tournaments or attendance or anything like that. We're just going to try to control what we can control today. If we can instill that in our guys and get 15 people that want to be here and are buying in, we're going to be successful.