With the search for a new Penn State basketball coach entering its second week a clear frontrunner has yet to emerge. We did learn late last week, however, that former Michigan State assistant and Utah head coach Jim Boylen is one of the names under consideration. Boylen has a lot of experience in the NBA and worked under Tom Izzo in East Lansing before landing the job in Salt Lake City. The high point of his time in Utah was leading the Utes to a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. He suffered back to back losing seasons in 2010 and 2011, however, and was let go by the athletic department there.
To get a better perspective on his Utah career, we've enlisted the help of Sean Reynolds from SB Nation's Utah blog "Block U,' who was gracious enough to do a quick Q and A session. Here are his responses to some of our questions. He put in a lot of effort here, so mad props to him.
1. What worked for Boylen at Utah in his first two seasons?
The team Jim Boylen inherited had underperformed under the last coaching staff and I think Boylen was able to improve the consistency right out of the gate. In his first season, he took a losing program and won 18 games, which had most Ute fans excited about the future of the basketball program. Much of the success came in the preseason, as Utah actually only improved their conference record by a game (they still finished below .500 in Mountain West play at 7-9 and actually finished below their preseason prediction of fourth in the conference).
2. What went wrong for him in his last two seasons there before his firing?
Not much went right in Boylen's final two seasons. The Utes lost a lot of games, and worse, regressed from Boylen's third season to his fourth. The way he handled the rebuild set the program back a few seasons and ultimately doomed any chance of him remaining Utah's head coach.
3. What can you tell us about elements of his coaching style like defensive philosophy, tempo, etc.?
Jim Boylen ran a pro-style offense here at Utah, which was obviously heavily influenced by his coaching days in the NBA. I'm guessing, as is done at Michigan State, he would continue to run a more pro-style offense if he were to get a new head gig somewhere else.
4. Some of the YouTube videos out there of him paint him as a pretty fiery guy. How did that factor into his tenure at Utah?
Boylen is very enthusiastic and passionate about the game. That's what endeared him to the fans at first because the last coach we had was kind of a cold fish. He came in, shook things up and had us believing that this program would return to its glory days of the 1990s when another highly charged head coach, Rick Majerus, was roaming the sidelines.
5. How was Boylen as a recruiter? What did he do well and what could he have done better?
I don't think anyone knows how Boylen was as a recruiter. His first two teams were mainly built of players recruited by the last coaching staff and many of the players during his third season weren't around for last season. Last year's roster was a quick build because of the player defections seen at the end of the 2010 season and some of those players were junior college transfers, so even then, you're looking at a limited picture here.
6. Any general thoughts on the coach?
Boylen is a great guy - that isn't up for debate. I think every Ute hated that he failed and that most of us wanted him fired. Generally, when a coach is in that position, the fans can't get rid of him fast enough and it's a celebration when he's finally forced out. Not so this time. Most Utah fans were very disappointed that it didn't work out. But you don't hire a head coach just because he's a nice guy. As great as he was, he wasn't a great head coach. I think he's a good assistant, a valuable asset to the community, but he's not a good coach.