After losing two assistant coaches last year, Ute basketball coach Jim Boylen scoured the country looking for replacements, only to come up with a pair of young coaches from his own backyard who happened to know each other very well.
Both Barret Peery and Stan Johnson have Utah backgrounds and were both a part of the basketball program at Southern Utah University, yet have experience coaching in other parts of the country. Peery and Johnson joined Jeff Smith on the Ute staff this year, taking the places of Chris Jones and Marty Wilson, who both left for other opportunities.
Boylen couldn't be more thrilled with his three assistants and is happy with the way his two new assistants are working out.
"I've got three workers, three independent thinkers and three guys that believe in where we're going," he said. "I've got three high-character guys."
Boylen first hired Johnson to replace Wilson, who left for a job at Pepperdine even before last season was over.
"I interviewed seven people at the Final Four for Marty Wilson's position, and after 10 minutes with Stan, I knew he was the guy," Boylen said. "He has a foundation of teaching and communicating. He's a great communicator in getting what I want from a player and how I want him to play when I'm not around. He's one of the best I've ever seen."
Born in the African country of Liberia, to an African father and Cuban mother, Johnson moved at age 10 after war broke out in Liberia to Utah, where his father got a job. They settled in Taylorsville, where Johnson played high school basketball and was recruited to Southern Utah, by none other than Peery, an assistant coach to Bill Evans at the time.
After college, he coached at Bemidji State in Minnesota, Southwest Baptist in Missouri and Cal State Northridge, before getting the offer from Boylen.
"I met coach Boylen briefly on the road, a simple handshake and a 20-second conversation," Johnson recalls. " I think I told him you've got a great place and a great job. During our interview, he told me the exact day and time and exact thing I was wearing. That was my only interaction with him."
Johnson is an outgoing type who is popular with the players. He said it helped that he grew up in a household where everyone was welcome.
"My home was like the United Nations," he said.
One of his prep teammates was future BYU player Michael Vranes, and Johnson's younger sister is engaged to former Ute Johnnie Bryant.
"I've always had a deep affection for Utah," Johnson said. "People were very good to me growing up. I always vowed that if I had a chance to get back to a place like Utah, I'd jump at it."
At 29, Johnson is one of the youngest full-time assistants in the country and he's thankful for the opportunity.
"It's an absolute blessing and something I don't take lightly," he said. "Every day I realize there are guys twice my age who don't get a chance to be at this level. That motivates me every day to be good. I'm fortunate and very blessed to be where I am at this stage."
The 37-year-old Peery is a Utah native who grew up in Sandy and Payson, then spent a year at Snow College before going on an LDS mission to Japan. He completed his playing career at Southern Utah and coached briefly at Snow and Utah Valley.
He returned to SUU to coach for four years, including the T-Birds' banner year in 2000-01 when they won the league title and went to the NCAA Tournament with Johnson on the team. Since then, he coached a year under Heath Schroyer at Portland State and spent the last five seasons at the College of Southern Idaho, the last three as head coach.
Peery had met Boylen when the Ute coach was recruiting at CSI, and last spring Peery called to recommend Johnson for the open Ute job. Boylen asked if he might be interested in an assistant's job.
"It was kind of a random deal," Peery said. "One thing led to another and we ended up talking about me. I didn't have any plans on leaving CSI."
Boylen asked if he might have an interest in coming to Utah, even though Peery would have to take a pay cut. There was only one job open at the time, but within a couple of weeks, Jones left for Utah State and there was another opening.
"As I talked to coach (Boylen), my interest began to grow," Peery said. "He really sold me on the things going on here. It's a neat opportunity for me and my family because my wife is from Salt Lake and both of our parents are here."
"Barrett brings a positive, embracing attitude," said Boylen. "He's a people guy first who's also a coach. He has a great feel and understanding for this part of the world and the culture here. His head coaching experience has been valuable as he looks at things a little different than the other guys on my staff. He's also been a big influence on our running game."
As a kid, Peery used to come to Utah games and cheer on the likes of Manny Hendrix, Pace Mannion, Peter Williams and Kelvin Upshaw. He moved to Payson in Utah County in seventh grade, but says he never became a BYU fan.
"Coach has done a great job of forming a culture here for players to be successful," Peery said. "We have really good people on our staff, which has been good. You don't have that everywhere in the country."
Both assistants have young families Peery and his wife Tracy have a 5-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son, while Johnson and his wife Brittany are expecting a child soon.
When they're not coaching, Peery enjoys boating and golf, while Johnson calls himself, "a big movie guy" and loves to read books on leadership.4 comments on this story
Boylen hopes he can keep his two new assistants around for a long time."They wanted to come here and be part of this program and they've both been great," Boylen said.