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Brent Uberty

We all remember the original BCS-busting football team of 2004. Utah went undefeated and clinched a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, and for one season the “mid-major” Utes earned a spot at the big kid’s table. But it didn’t last.

In two seasons at the helm, coach Urban Meyer turned Utah into a national player, but just as the Utes were about reap the rewards of the undefeated campaign, Meyer accepted the job to become the next coach of the Florida Gators.

For Meyer, Utah was nothing but a steppingstone to bigger and better things. He used his position as the Ute coach to demonstrate what he could do and when a more prestigious job came around, offering more perks and more money, he was gone. After what happened on Wednesday, those days may be behind us.

It’s a different sport, yes, but the fact that Utah inked Larry Krystkowiak to an extension through 2023, and upped his salary to $2.4 million per season shows that Utah isn’t a steppingstone job anymore.

According to USA Today, Krystkowiak is now one of the top 20 highest paid basketball coaches in the NCAA, and the third-highest paid coach in the Pac-12, trailing only Arizona’s Sean Miller ($3.07 million) and UCLA’s Steve Alford ($2.6 million). You know, the two schools in the conference known for their decades worth of basketball tradition.

And when you add in the the new basketball center that is nearing completion to the mix, Utah is certainly acting like a national power.

This is the first time that Utah athletic director Dr. Chris Hill has made this type of commitment to a coach. He’s mostly tried to stay around the middle of the conference (or should I say middle of the Pac) when it comes to coaches salaries. This is a clear deviant from that. So, why now?

The answer may just be found in Hill’s statement in the university release of the extension. It just takes a little reading between the lines.

“Our men’s basketball program has made tremendous strides these past four seasons under Coach Krystkowiak,” said Hill. “The success of a program starts with its head coach and he has provided outstanding leadership for our student-athletes. Larry is aware of his value to our program. It is clear that his success has been noted throughout the country and we are pleased to be able to solidify his commitment to our program.”

“Larry is aware of his value to our program…”

Larry knows he is a hot commodity. You don’t have ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, USA Today, The New York Times, among others writing glowing profiles on you and your program without thinking you’re pretty badass.

What’s the old expression — strike when the iron’s hot? Yeah, it was never going to get hotter. A Sweet 16 appearance, a top 15 final national ranking and a couple players that may be first-round picks in June’s NBA Draft, and the credit to Utah’s rise was pretty much going all to Mr. Krystkowiak. If he wanted a bigger, or longer contract, this was the time to ask for it.

But that’s the thing, even if Larry K. walked into the Hill’s office and asked for more money and more years (remember the Utes just extended Krystkowiak last season), Utah was willing to give it to him, and that speaks volumes.

After the growing pains that pretty much everyone single program went through upon entering the Pac-12, Utah finally got to see some major success this season. Under Krystkowiak, the Runnin’ Utes made national noise pretty much all season. The Utah administration got a taste of success this year and apparently want much more, and are willing to pay handsomely for it.

“We always speak about the culture within our program and a big part of that is realizing who we are,” Krystkowiak said in the release.

The Utes have realized who they are, or at least who they want to be.

On the court Utah has graduated to the big kid’s table, and with Krystkowiak’s contract extension it looks like the administration is ready to be all grown up too.

r.miller@chronicle.utah.edu

@millerjryan

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