Utah Utes: Rebuilding a College Basketball Program 101

Runnin' Utes Basketball

The Utes have been trying to rebuild for the last couple years. They have had some of the worst turnover in both coaches and players. This whole team is completely different from a few years ago. But, what is it going to take to truly return the program back to prominence? Well, to answer that question I went to look at 2 programs that were down and out and then returned. I looked at the Memphis Tigers with Coach Calipari and the Indiana Hoosiers with Coach Crean. In looking at both of these examples there are two things needed to build a great basketball program, money and talent.


Most people would look at these two things and say that once you recruit the talent the money will come, but that isn’t true. First you need the money. Later comes the talent.

The team needed money. One of Calipari’s first moves was getting a meeting with Frederick W. Smith, the chief executive of FedEx in Memphis. He persuaded Smith to become a team benefactor. He also asked him to help set up a paid summer internship for the Memphis players. Since then 25 basketballers have taken paid summer internships at the delivery giant; one former player took a full-time job at the company. Alan Graf Jr., chief financial officer at FedEx, has pledged $500,000 of personal money to the athletic program. Smith has become one of Calipari’s trusted advisers. “He asks me about organization and management,” says Smith.

Calipari is always selling. The coach speaks to booster groups 30 times a year. Donations to the athletic program have risen 120% to $5.6 million this year, and the budget for university athletics has jumped from $17 million to $31 million. – Forbes, 2007

Calipari needed money. He needed money for several reasons, the 2 that he focused on was marketing and recruiting. Calipari went out and met with alumni and the area around Memphis. He sold himself to the area to garner support. He increased season ticket holders. All of this gave Calipari money to improve a few things that would change recruiting and the image of the team.

Image matters. Class attendance is mandatory, says Calipari, who hired three academic advisers to travel with the team when they play games out-of-town. Since he took over the program, 79% of team seniors have graduated. He insists that his team fly chartered planes to games and eat at four-star restaurants on the road. This year he overhauled the waiting rooms for recruits in the basketball offices. They now include a large-screen TV and an Xbox, with games that include NBA ’08. “People want to be seen in Macy’s; they don’t want to be seen in a dollar store,” Calipari says. – Forbes, 2007

Can you see why players might want to go to Memphis if they are treated like kings. That would certainly have players like Derrick Rose wanting to go to your school. However in the end I don’t know what Coach Krystkowiak’s style is like. How does he recruit players? But, the other question is what is Coach Krystkowiak doing to pull the local market into believing in him and the program? The fact that I don’t know what Coach K is doing to build the interest in the local market is concerning. I am a Utah alumni and a sports blogger and I haven’t heard too much about Coach K getting out there. However, maybe in my life of a full-time job (Yes, this is not my day job) and a family I have missed a few things.

The good news is that the athletics budget is going to continue to grow as the Utes get a bigger and bigger portion of the Pac-12 money. The Pac-12 TV deal started bringing in $3.4 million a year and will increase each year until it reach $25 million. The athletics department is also expecting donations to continue to rise. Since the announcement of joining the Pac-12 the Utah Athletics department has broken records for the raising of donations. However, they are still not on par with the rest of the teams in the Pac-12 when it comes to donations.

TALENTLarry Krystkowiakx-large

Now, if Coach K can win over the locals and get the dedicated Ute fans engaged, it is time to get the bandwagon fans back on board. I know many who read this blog will find this concept unacceptable. The fact is that with a strong core and plenty of band wagon fans the Utah basketball program could flourish. But to get the bandwagon fans back you have to bring in the talent.

Right now the amount of talented basketball players out there that have Utah on the top of their list of schools is minimal. This makes it hard for me to believe that Utah will be landing any top recruits outside the state of Utah. Which leads me to a key point Indiana has focused on in rebuilding their program.


It starts with Tom Crean. If Tom didn’t have the eye for talent and the eye for what could be, Roy Williams still wouldn’t have heard of those three guys. I read quotes recently where Kelvin Sampson was quoted as saying that Jordan Hulls might be a nice NAIA player, but Tom came and immediately honed in on him and said, ‘we’ve got to get you to make everything happen. We’ve got to build it all around you.’

And then when Victor and Sheehey came in, that class was met with kind of a ‘ho-hum’ inside and outside Hoosier Nation. But Tom saw in those guys what could be. It really goes back to Tom and his willingness not to follow the pack, do his own scouting, make his own judgments, not make the safe choice, get guys that others might not know about, and then develop the hell out of them. – Fred Glass, Inside the Hall

So, now is the time for Larry Krystkowiak to prove himself the basketball genius all head basketball coaches need to be. He must find a way to recruit talent to Utah and turn the program into the top program Utah fans remember and miss. It definitely is a tough job to be a head coach in college basketball. Not only do you must have the basketball knowledge and eye. A coach must have a knack for business and marketing.

In Indiana’s case, Coach Crean has needed 4 years to bring the team back to the top. A team that no one wants to play. So, how long will it take Coach Krystkowiak? 4 years seems feasible to me. He has a great core of young players that will be seniors and juniors in 2 years. Utah fans, have some patience and let’s see what happens.

About the author

Grant Bagby

Since moving to Utah in 2005, I have changed from following all sports in D.C/Virginia to following all sports in Utah. I am a Chicago Bulls fan first (Born and raised by my father), but I am also a hardcore Jazz fan with 7 years of being a season ticket holder under my belt. I started TornBySports to write about the BYU/Utah Rivalry after Max Hall ran his mouth.