SALT LAKE CITY — New men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak has pledged to make the University of Utah competitive again and restore the pride it experienced under Rick Majerus.
First he needs to hire a staff capable of winning recruiting battles, and win over players already on the roster.
Leading scorer Will Clyburn was among those still wavering Monday even after hearing Krystkowiak introduced as the successor to fired coach Jim Boylen.
Others such as center David Foster, who will be a senior next season when the Utes join the Pac-12 Conference, was already looking forward to playing for someone with such credentials.
Krystkowiak, a Montana native and former University of Montana star, played nine seasons in the NBA and previously coached the Milwaukee Bucks and Montana. He spent last season as a New Jersey Nets assistant.
He signed a five-year deal at Utah worth $950,000 annually.
The 46-year-old Krystkowiak promised that his teams would play hard, smart and play together, and acknowledged there would be some “tough love” forthcoming.
“I want to get the pride back in the University of Utah basketball program,” said Krystkowiak, whose wife and five children were at the news conference. “It’s not going to be an easy thing to do. It’s a little bit like raising a family. It takes a village. ... we need to find 15 guys who are willing to make some great sacrifices. I’m confident we can get to a place we’ll all be very proud of.”
Utah athletic director Chris Hill said he was impressed with Krystkowiak’s leadership, toughness, intelligence and concern for those around him.
“We both are very understanding of how important it is to get Utah back to the history that we have,” Hill said. “There are many banners in that arena and we want to add to that.”
Hill spoke of the success of Majerus, a fan favorite and cult figure during 14-plus seasons at Utah. Under Majerus, the Utes qualified for the NCAA tournament 10 times, advancing to the regional semifinals twice and the national championship game in 1998.
His overall mark before leaving for health-related reasons was 323-95.
Since then the Utes have had sporadic success.
They went 54-40 under Ray Giacoletti, who was fired and replaced by Boylen.
Boylen received a contract extension after a 2008-09 season that saw the Utes go 24-10 and win a share of the Mountain West Conference regular-season title. But he was fired last month after consecutive losing seasons, and some dismal showings at home that drew sparse crowds. Boylen is receiving a $2 million severance package because of that extension.
Clyburn admitted he is still upset that Boylen was fired rather than being given one more year to rebuild.
“I came to play for coach Boylen. He’s been part of my family, the team’s family,” Clyburn said.
He said he will listen to what Krystkowiak has to say in private, and discuss with him thoughts about taking a year off to give his body time to grow and mature.
“I still do not know if my future is here. I don’t know if this is the place for me,” said Clyburn, who admitted transferring to another school remains an option.
Josh Watkins said he is leaning toward returning for his senior season but wants to see if Krystkowiak backs up his words by pushing the players to work harder.
So was Chris Hines, who was excited with the attitude Krystkowiak brings.
Former player Josh Grant, a member of Utah’s All-Century Team, was among those in attendance Monday.
“I was in the same position as these kids,” Grant said of having a coaching change from Lynn Archibald to Majerus after his first season.
Grant said he sees a little bit of Majerus in Krystkowiak, albeit a coach who is taller, slimmer and seems quieter.
Grant remembered Majerus disliking the woulda-coulda-shoulda mentality, and was more impressed by what Krystkowiak didn’t say Monday.
“He doesn’t want to stand up here and tell you how great of a coach he is,” Grant said. “He wants to get down on the court and go practice. As players you welcome that.”
This will be Krystkowiak’s fourth head coaching job.
He was fired in 2008 after going 31-69 in one-plus season coaching the Milwaukee Bucks. He also went 42-20 with a pair of NCAA tournament bids in two seasons at Montana, and was 37-16 with the Idaho Stampede in 2003-04, leading them to the CBA title game.
Krystkowiak said he looked forward to coaching at the college level again, where he could impact young lives more easily than at the NBA level.
His first priority was to hire a staff, including an assistant with a thorough knowledge of Utah prospects. He also expressed confidence that he could recruit top-100 players, those interested in serving missions during their college careers and international students interested in playing in the U.S.
As for his own mentors, Krystkowiak mentioned Jazz Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan, whom he played under in 1992-93, averaging just over seven points in 71 games.
“He wasn’t a man of a lot of words, but he knew how to play really hard,” he said of Sloan. “I absolutely loved my time here ... and certainly I learned an awful lot from him.”
Krystkowiak also spoke of learning from coaches such as Phil Jackson when he was with the Bulls and Cal coach Mike Montgomery, another ex-Montana coach, whom he called Monday morning for advice.
Harkening back to his Montana days, Krystkowiak said he knows what it is like to restore pride in a program.
“There are no shortcuts,” he said. “At the end of the day, fans want to come and watching winning basketball.”