Year one for Utah basketball coach Jim Boylen hasn't gone exactly as he hoped. His team ended the regular season looking suspiciously like the one he inherited from Ray Giacoletti last spring hesitant, error-prone and insecure.
It's a team that all year had Ute fans wondering, "Aren't they better than this?" and usually concluding, "Maybe not."
It's hard to imagine there's a solitary player on this year's roster who will play in the NBA.
Still, that doesn't mean much in the Mountain West. A coach doesn't need a flock of pro prospects to win in that league.
Which makes it all the more disappointing to Boylen and his "guys," as he likes to call them. Through most of his team's 29-game regular season, his guys weren't particularly good (16-13). Boylen would likely insist on being included in that indictment. After all, this is the team with no names on its jerseys.
Next year, Boylen will be more experienced, with a better idea of how to manage his assets and liabilities. He'll make adjustments. And while he's tinkering (excavating?), he'd be wise to do something else: dial himself down a notch.
If he doesn't, the man might explode like an overcooked pita pocket.
Isn't there a happy medium between being highly emotional and half-dead?
Boylen is a likable, impassioned guy. He gets teary-eyed when he talks about this, his first head coaching job. You'd think he raised his players from infancy, the way he's attached. Don't even get him started on loyalty and teamwork.
It's hard to dislike a man who works so hard in games that he appears to have played in them.
But at times Boylen goes over the top. The prime case was two weeks ago when he accused Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer of willfully allowing a Cowboy player to dunk late in the game, with a safe lead. Boylen met Schroyer for the post-game handshake and ended up shouting profanities, not once but twice. He claimed Schroyer failed to call his team off which would be hard to prove unless Boylen was in the Cowboys' huddle.
To make things worse, he added, "We wouldn't have done that, we don't do that. You've seen us play, we pull the ball out, we respect our opponent."
Except when they don't. In the next game, against Colorado State, Boylen's team tried but failed on an alley-oop dunk with about a minute to go and a 20-point lead.
In both instances, it was more a case of players getting excited and enjoying the moment than planned humiliation.
Boylen was reprimanded by the conference for his remarks.
But that was just the most visible of his rookie-year overages. Against BYU in Provo, he slammed a clipboard and broke it during a timeout. He threw a punch into the gut of guard Tyler Kepkay, pulling back just before he reached his point guard's stomach. It certainly wasn't abuse; he was simply urging Kepkay to get tough. Still, he was about an inch and a half from Bob Knight territory.
Boylen spends all game standing, waving and shouting. That's hard work. Afterward, it seems to be work, too. At least twice he had stare-downs with reporters. The first time he simply hesitated for about 15 seconds after a question about poor shooting, and said, "Anyone else have a question?" The other time, he stood silently for about 20 seconds after being asked whether anything stood out as the difference in the game. When a TV reporter followed up by asking about the wide free throw disparity, he said, "I'm not going to talk about it. Thanks for bringing it up, though. I appreciate that. You're my friend for life."
Does this man own a hot tub?
He needs to take a soak.
Visibility and emotion aren't new at Utah. Rick Majerus spent 15 years in the spotlight. His profanity on the sidelines was ubiquitous. At some point, fans, boosters and media began to tire of his act. He lost popularity, and his program began fading. So he quit, ostensibly for health reasons, though he's coaching again.
Now Boylen has the job and seems an overall good fit.His devotion to his team is admirable. But he needs to teach it how to execute down the stretch. And he needs to find a reliable point guard. Most of all, he needs to step back and take a breath. Life's short, and Boylen might be making his shorter. No need to tone it all the way down to his predecessor, Giacoletti. Just enough to roll with the punches.