When reached by phone at his office last week, Ray Giacoletti just happened to be looking at film of the University of Utah basketball team.
That was almost a daily occurrence over the previous three seasons, but this time Giacoletti was in Spokane looking at the Utes from an opposing coach's viewpoint.
Giacoletti is an assistant coach at Gonzaga University, which plays host to Utah Monday evening (6 p.m. MST) at the McCarthey Center.
It's a game that Giacoletti helped set up when he was in Utah thanks to his friendship with head coach Mark Few. He didn't foresee that he would be coaching against his former team, for which he recruited every current player. But after being let go last March after three years with the Utes, Giacoletti landed an assistant coaching gig under Few and now will see how his former players have progressed under new coach Jim Boylen.
Although he wasn't happy to be let go after just three years at Utah, Giacoletti shows few signs of bitterness.
"I'm really happy for them, watching the kids mature and have a great year," Giacoletti said. "Jim has done a really good job with them. He's got them playing really well. I'm excited for them. It's fun to see Tyler Kepkay and Carlon Brown, a couple of guys we recruited, starting for them and playing well. It reinforces to me that we were headed in the right direction."
Giacoletti said he is happy in his job and has enjoyed getting back to Washington where he coached for four seasons as the head coach at Eastern Washington and for four years as an assistant at the University of Washington.
"It's been great, it's been an easy transition," Giacoletti said. "Mark and I have known each other for a long time (16 years), so it's been a great fit."
Predictably, Giacoletti preferred not to talk much about the specifics of losing his job at Utah after the third year of a seven-year contract, except to use the term "fired" when talking about it rather than "resign" as he did last March.
"I'm not going to get into any of that," he said. "They made a decision and that's their right. We did the best we could. You can't look back."
Giacoletti did say he felt somewhat restricted his whole time at Utah for NCAA violations committed by his predecessor, Rick Majerus. That limited the Utes on the number of scholarships, recruiting visits and other things.
"I'm not pointing fingers or blaming anyone," he said. "Did we have growing pains? Yes. Should we have been better? Yes. But I'm not going to apologize for anything. We were on probation for three years and that hurt us. There were a lot of things there."
Giacoletti took over in March 2004, two months after Majerus resigned following a successful 15-year stint at Utah. He wasn't the Utes' top choice athletic director Chris Hill tried to get then-Nevada coach Trent Johnson and others. Ironically, Giacoletti might have been hired largely because of the high recommendation he got from Few, who was contacted by Utah about the job.
Within his first month on the job, Giacoletti traveled to Australia to convince Andrew Bogut to return for his sophomore season and welcomed Marc Jackson back to the team. Those two were the catalysts for a 29-6 team that won the Mountain West Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.
"We had a great first year and that's something I'll never forget," Giacoletti said.
Giacoletti said he was actually offered two head coaching jobs at lower levels, but he opted to take the Gonzaga job, because he needed to "take a step back."
Unlike Majerus, who wouldn't give Giacoletti the time of day when he called soon after getting his job, Giacoletti has been accommodating to Boylen.
"I talked to him twice over the summer over some housecleaning things with summer camp and some recruiting issues," Boylen said. "He's been great, never disrespectful. We've had no problems. But it's not about Ray and me. I've got a job to do, and he's got a job to do."
Most Ute players have good feelings toward their old coach and look forward to seeing him Monday.
"It's going to be weird seeing him on the opposing team's bench after playing for him for two years," said junior Shaun Green. "I have no hard feeling toward him at all. He gave me a chance to play in my hometown, so I have nothing but love for the guy. It's a business, and we all had to move on."
Johnnie Bryant was Giacoletti's first official recruit and he's grateful that he was given the chance to play at Utah."Coach Giac gave us the opportunity to come here and play college basketball and I appreciate that and respect him," he said. "Things didn't work out. But that's the nature of this business."
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