SALT LAKE CITY – Cowboy boots on an NBA team bus.
What more does anyone need to know about Larry Krystowiak?
The University of Utah introduced its basketball coach on Monday, and all I can say is it was business as usual. As much as every coaching hire is hailed as a renewal moment, sometimes it isn't. Krystkowiak's moment looked just like the last two basketball hirings. Unpretentious blue-collar approach, supportive blonde wife, talk of tradition and history, optimism without promises. …
They were all there.
And while Krystkowiak admits he's not a talker ("I'm a believer, but I'm not a big fan of the talk. I can't wait for this to be over, this press conference, and start practicing"), he also says he plans to use local players, returned LDS missionaries and top 100 recruits.
Did he leave anything out?
Not that I know of.
The former Jazz forward showed up at the Huntsman Center looking just as he should have: elegant black suit, crimson tie and the right amount of earnestness. It sounded a lot like in 2004 and 2007 when Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen were hired. There was, however, at least one thing the two previous coaches didn't have: the battle scars to prove it. Krystkowiak spent nine years in the NBA, most of them with a brace on his knee. Yet he spent a lot of his time pounding with people who were bigger.
"Tough guy. Very tough guy," former Jazz coach Frank Layden once said.
As Krystkowiak noted in a 2004 interview, both he and Jerry Sloan were similar in that "we stuck our noses in places where it didn't belong."
He comes to the Utes with good if not overwhelming credentials. He has experience as a head coach in college (Montana), as well as the NBA (Milwaukee). What the Utes didn't get was someone whose name is easy to pronounce. It's Kryst-KOH-vee-ack. Some abbreviate that to "Krystko," while others call him "Krisco" or "Krysto." I asked if maybe we should just call him "Costco."
"I've heard it all; you're not gonna offend me," he said, regarding the spelling of his nickname. "You can call me by anything you want. Maybe Coach K Jr., not to be confused with the guy at Duke."
No clarification necessary.
Some believe it was a case of the Utes settling for what they could get. Athletics director Chris Hill reportedly contacted — though not necessarily offered the job to — others such as Lon Kruger, Dave Rose and Randy Bennett. Hill said he didn't have a 1-through-10 wish list, but rather a pool of possibilities.
"You can't solve an equation that has more than three variables," Hill said. "This had more than three variables."
So the Utes got generally what they wanted. He was head coach for two seasons at Montana, where he took the Grizzlies to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including a second-round appearance in 2006. He also coached a year and 17 games as head coach of the Bucks (his record: 31-69). It's true he got fired by the Bucks, but honestly, who hasn't?
A Montana native, Krystkowiak isn't the flashiest name, but he certainly isn't venison. Nor is he a total unknown. He played for six NBA teams in nine seasons, including 1992-93 in Utah. As a backup to Karl Malone, he had an injury-weakened knee and late that year tore his plantar fascia.
Through it all, he never quit diving on the floor for the ball. Nor did he make excuses.
His new assignment isn't for the faint-hearted. Some current players seemed ambivalent about staying — which may not be the worst news he could hear. Utah won only 13 games last season. Meanwhile, attendance at is at an all-time Huntsman Center low.
How bad was it? Fans even stopped complaining.
Curiously, there's a short gap in his résumé, where he didn't coach at all. As he explained in 2004, he "tried to dive into something else, but I didn't really dive into anything."
This time he's into the pool with both feet.
All of which means zilch unless he wins. I feel fairly certain he will. But don't quote me. I'm only going by the fact he wore boots on the Jazz team bus, rather than bling; jeans rather than fine fabric. And that he tended to stick his nose in places it didn't belong.
In this case, it just happens to be the Pac-12.
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