Giac-ing up a storied program

By Natalie Dicou

Personable, polite and soft-spoken when interviewed.

The media has observed these traits of Ute basketball coach Ray Giacoletti during these past few seasons.

Giacoletti seems like the kind of guy who’d make a great neighbor. Not quite a Ned Flanders, but at least a stop-and-chat-in-the-driveway kind of guy. What I’m getting at is this: Giacoletti is nice — a favorable designation for kindergarten teachers and milkmen, but not necessarily for coaches.

There’s a reason Bobby Knight is the winningest coach in NCAA history and, as we all know, it has nothing to do with his manners. Knight doesn’t pat his players on the butt and issue them gold stars when they play tough, tireless defense. He demands that they give it their all.

That doesn’t mean that the next time the Utes let an opponent shoot a wide-open three that Giacoletti should heave a chair across the court in disgust. The Utes already had a bully of Knight proportions in Rick Majerus. But there has got to be a middle ground between strangling players and letting them sit back on defense while opponents shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc.

There’s a difference between being nice and being respected. Back in the day, there were players who hated Majerus’ guts and who will probably shudder with fear every time they see the silhouette of a morbidly obese man until the day they die. These players knew that if they didn’t play the Majerus way, they didn’t play. It’s not a stretch to think that some of these players considered Majerus to be a loathsome wretch on a personal level, but in the realm of coaching, many players respected him and tried like hell to please him.

In stark contrast, there’s the Giacoletti way.

Aside from being a softie rather than a “my-way-or-the-highway” dictator, Giacoletti fails to make vital halftime adjustments — evidence that he’s not an Xs and Os guy. And he can’t get his guys to play defense — evidence that he’s not a strong motivator. So, if he doesn’t fit into either category, what exactly is Giacoletti?

Unfortunately, he’s a guy who’s gotten in over his head

In 2004, Giacoletti showed up in Salt Lake City, raring to go. He was handed the reins of a storied program backed by knowledgeable fans that expect to win 20 games every season — no excuses — and at least make a showing in the NCAA tournament. No other team Giacoletti had coached — North Dakota State or Eastern Washington — had ever tasted success even remotely comparable to that enjoyed by Utah.

In Giacoletti’s three years at North Dakota State, he finished with records of 18-9, 14-13 and 16-11.

In 2000, he took over at Eastern Washington, guiding the Eagles to their best four-year stretch in program history. He finished up with a 69-50 record. In 2004, Eastern Washington won the Big Sky Conference Championship and received its first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament, in which the team was promptly eliminated by Oklahoma in the opening round.

Enter Utah. In need of a new coach after Majerus went AWOL in the middle of the 2003-2004 season, Utah was on a hunt for someone capable of keeping the Runnin’ Utes runnin’ in the right direction.

Utah had recently experienced success in hiring Urban Meyer, a young coach from a smaller school. Could lightning strike twice? Was there another diamond in the rough just waiting to be harvested by the Utes?

Utah thought it had its man and signed Giacoletti to a seven-year contract.

Right off the bat, Giacoletti was a go-getter. He traveled to Australia and brought back blue chip Andrew Bogut, who was not planning to return to the U for his sophomore season. Undoubtedly, Giacoletti used his charm and “player’s coach” mentality to successfully bring the future No. 1 NBA draft pick back to Salt Lake City.

With Bogut in the lineup, the Utes compiled a 29-5 season.

But since then, Giacoletti’s coaching has skewed Utah into a Bizarro World where up is down, black is white and BYU dominates Utah in men’s basketball (basketball, of all things!).

Which brings me to the issue on everyone’s mind: Should Giacoletti be fired? For some, it is discussed in hushed tones (after all, Giacoletti is so nice — what if he hears?). Others are more vocal and are even gathering signatures on a petition asking that Giacoletti be sent on his way.

Tomorrow, Utah will face BYU. The Utes (would you have believed this was possible five years ago?) don’t realistically stand a chance in the Marriott Center, where the Cougars have won 30 straight.

Whatever your opinion on the matter — be you a hater or an apologist — the fact that Utah is most likely going to get smoked by BYU is unacceptable.

Now if only there were a nice way of telling Giacoletti that his services are no longer needed.

Lennie Mahler

Ray Giacoletti announced his resignation as U head basketball coach Friday after three years at the helm.