SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine the following resume for the new coach of the Utah Jazz:
NBA assistant for 17 years. ... Coached under Rudy Tomjanovich, including two NBA championship seasons. ... Top assistant for Gregg Popovich when Popovich won NBA Coach of the Year honors and had best record in NBA. ... Coached at Michigan State for seven years, five under Jud Heathcote and two under Tom Izzo. ... Four years as a head coach at a major university with an overall winning record and an NCAA tournament appearance.
Most Jazz fans would be ecstatic to get such a coach to replace Tyrone Corbin, who had just seven years as an NBA assistant and no head coaching experience before becoming the Jazz's coach.
Except there’s one more thing to add to the resume — the name.
If you haven’t noticed by now, Boylen’s name is being thrown around by various media folk as a top candidate for the open Jazz head coaching job. Most of the talk comes from out-of-state journalists. Fueling the rumors are Boylen's seven-year working relationship with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and his long NBA history.
An online gambling service lists several candidates for the Jazz job, with Boylen at the top at 2-to-1 odds. The next candidate is 4-1.
Around here, a lot of folks are scratching their heads. Jim Boylen? Really? For others, it’s, Jim Boylen, are you kidding me?
Didn’t he get dismissed as the University of Utah basketball coach in 2011 following consecutive losing seasons? Isn’t he the coach that some say ran the once-proud Ute program into the ground?
Yes, it’s that Jim Boylen.
After being unceremoniously dismissed from Utah in March 2011, Boylen landed back on his feet in the NBA, where he had coached for 14 seasons before becoming the Utes’ coach in 2007. He coached for two years at Indiana under Frank Vogel, helping the Pacers’ resurgence before going to San Antonio this season, where he became Popovich’s top assistant after Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown left to become head coaches at Atlanta and Philadelphia, respectively.
People tend to think the Ute program was a total disaster under Boylen, which it wasn’t. He got players going to class and his team’s overall GPA was even better than the teams of Rick Majerus, who used to brag about his players' great academics. In his second year, Boylen won the Mountain West Conference title and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. After that season, Boylen was actually a finalist for the open Arizona job, which went to Sean Miller, and he was rewarded with a new contract.
However, things turned south the next season and several players, including Carlon Brown and Marshall Henderson, left the program. Boylen scrambled to get some replacements, such as Jiggy Watkins and Will Clyburn, but they couldn’t fashion a winning season and he was let go right before the Utes embarked on their Pac-12 journey.
I knew Boylen as well as any media person in the state when he coached at Utah, covering his program for all four years he was here, and I liked him. I interviewed him over a hundred times, sat in his office dozens of times, and found him to be very personable and accommodating. He is a God-fearing man with a wife and two daughters who seems to sincerely care about others. Personally, I’ll never forget the time when I received some bad news and the first person who called me was Jim Boylen.
All that said, I don’t think Boylen will be picked as the next Jazz coach. For one thing, you have to consider the public relations angle — whether it’s right or not.
Most sports fans in Utah are Jazz fans, but they’re split when it comes to BYU or Utah. Boylen wouldn’t be a popular pick for either Jazz/BYU fans, who didn’t like him when he was at Utah, or Jazz/Utah fans, many of whom blame him for the program’s recent demise. Do the Jazz want a polarizing coach when they’re trying to start over and attract fans back to EnergySolutions Arena?
Unless Boylen came in and knocked everyone’s socks off with 50 wins in his first year, he’d have a hard time getting the community to rally behind him.
There’s also the uncertainty of his head coaching ability. Would he be a better coach in the NBA than he was in college? Perhaps, perhaps not.
So who will the Jazz choose as their next head coach?
I doubt it will be an older coach who has been around the league like George Karl or Lionel Hollins or Jeff Van Gundy.
It’s not going to be a high-profile college coach like John Calipari or Rick Pitino, who have already failed in the NBA, or Tom Izzo, who is 59 and already makes money in the $4 million range.
I doubt it will be a former NBA player, of which there are several currently in the NBA head coaching ranks.
My guess is that it will be some coach out of the Erik Spoelstra/Vogel/Budenholzer mold, a non-NBA player who started off as a video coordinator and worked his way up as assistant coach in the NBA. Perhaps Phoenix assistant Mike Longabardi or Chicago assistant Andy Greer or Atlanta assistant Quin Snyder will be candidates.
Really, I have no idea who the next Jazz coach will be.
But I would be very surprised if it turns out to be Jim Boylen.