Before joining Larry Krystkowiak's staff at the University of Utah this season, Tommy Connor and Norm Parrish built successful programs at Westminster College and Salt Lake Community College, respectively. Deseret News sports writer Dirk Facer spoke with both coaches before the Utes left town for games at Oregon State and Oregon.
Q: Why did you make the jump to Utah now?
CONNOR: "I was given the opportunity and I'm grateful that coach Krystkowiak reached out to me and provided me the opportunity. And then I was ready for a new challenge. So opportunity and challenge presented themselves. It's my alma mater and I didn't have to move."
PARRISH: "I've known Larry for a while. I've had some players play for him. You can never accomplish all you want but we had it going pretty good at Salt Lake. It was just kind of like with the age of my kids at the time, not having to relocate and the state of Salt Lake's program and the state of this program, rather than why, it was like why not? It's a great opportunity."
Q: How hard was it to leave a program you had invested so much into?
CONNOR: "Very difficult. I didn't just leave a team I left a program — because I started it from scratch. So it was hard. It was not an easy decision. I wanted to make sure the program was left in good hands. I know it is. … I had a lot invested at Westminster College and in the basketball program. But it's in good hands now and I think they'll continue to have great years ahead of them."
PARRISH: "It was really hard. At Salt Lake, you have to do everything so it wears on you. But on the flip side you take a lot of pride in it. The night that Larry actually made the offer I didn't sleep a wink. Which will you regret the most? It's like when my players have been recruited. It's hard to say yes or no. But which one will you regret? And it got to where if I would have stayed at SLCC, I'd be watching up here thinking 'Man, I should have tried it.'"
Q: What have you learned about Krystkowiak working for him?
CONNOR: "He's very patient. He cares about people and the program. The reality is it's been a really tough year and he's done an unbelievable job coaching this team. … It could have been really miserable for the players and the staff. So even though we're not having any parties, he's been consistent all year long. He's made it about just working everyday to try to improve."
PARRISH: "Larry's been great. He's kicked the kids when they've needed it. He's hugged them when they've needed it. He's approached the games consistently. We do the same thing. … I respect the heck out of him for that alone, just the way he approaches every game."
Q: When do you foresee Utah competing for conference championships again?
CONNOR: "I think we have a blueprint. I think our blueprint is next year that we know we're going to have a much more competitive team and we're hopeful by year three that we're going to be very competitive. Does that mean we're winning conference championships? It's very hard to say. That's a difficult question. … Our goal is to get ourselves competitive each and every night where we have a chance to win games."
PARRISH: "Optimistically, you've got to think why not now? Why not next year? But realistically how many teams have won six, seven games and all of a suddenly have gone up to 25 or 30? But things are in place. … Next year I don't see why we can't be a competitive team. Now to say we're going to win the Pac-12, that's asking a lot."
Q: How satisfying was last week's victory over Stanford in the Huntsman Center?
CONNOR: "It was great for these players that have worked so hard in a very difficult season. That's just the reality. It's been a really tough, long year. They've worked every day. Clearly we've improved. We see that in our play. We've been competitive in games. This team deserved that win. That's what I'm happy about. I'm happy for our players and I'm happy for the people that were here, that kind have stuck with us, to be able to celebrate with our team on the last home game. Hopefully that's a good carryover for next year because we hope to have a lot more of those."
PARRISH: "At Salt Lake, the wins weren't even enjoyable. They were relief. The administration was great but I personally expected to win. Last year we were 25-8, got beat in the region championship and I was just ticked and miserable. Other coaches are like 'Man, c'mon.' So one thing that's been a positive this year is the wins are enjoyable and you appreciate the wins. I dreaded the losses at Salt Lake, but I didn't appreciate the wins."