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Ute Nation Hot Board: Predicting Utah Basketball Head Coach Candidates

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After 10 years, the University of Utah finds itself looking for a new head basketball coach. With only two NCAA appearances in the Larry Krystowiak era, Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan will get his first chance at a legacy-defining hire, as he looks to revitalize a program that is a sleeping giant.

As the search begins, here are 10 of the best potential candidates, according to UteNation. to keep in mind:

Alex Jensen

Utah Jazz, Lead Assistant

The no. 1 target on this list, he would be a bigtime steal from the Utah Jazz and the NBA, where he is considered a future NBA Head Coach. A local standout from Viewmont HS and Utes basketball legend, Jensen was known as Rick Majerus’ all-time favorite player. He would later hire him as an assistant on his Saint Louis University staff. After coaching with Majerus for four seasons, he left to coach the Canton Charge of the NBA D-League, where he was named the NBA D-League's Coach of the Year for 2013 after his second season. He then joined the Utah Jazz coaching staff where he’s worked his way up to Quin Snyder’s lead assistant.

In recent years, Jensen interviewed for NBA head jobs and also interviewed at BYU before withdrawing his interest. Sources have told UteNation that Jensen’s interest lies solely with the NBA, but he won’t turn down an interview. If hired, he won’t come cheap.

Porter Moser

Loyola-Chicago, Head Coach

Moser’s ties to Utah aren’t as strong as some of the other names on this list, but he did serve as an assistant coach under Rick Majerus while Majerus was coaching at Saint Louis during the 2007-08 season. Moser has been vocal that during time, Majerus helped reinvent him as a coach.

An alumnus of Creighton University, Moser played in 102 games, averaging 4.6 points and 1.7 assists per game during his collegiate career. Moser’s coaching career started in 1990, and he had stops as an assistant at Creighton, Texas A&M, Milwaukee, and Arkansas-Little Rock, before landing his first head coaching job at Arkansas-Little Rock in 2000. He then went on to be the head coach at Illinois State from 2003-2007 before coaching with Majerus in St. Louis.

Since 2011, Moser has been the head coach at Loyola-Chicago, where he has compiled a 186-140 record which has included five 20+ win seasons, one 30+ win season, a CBI championship, three first place finishes in his conference, and a Final Four run in the 2017-18 season. His team in 2020-21 is currently 24-4 and was disrespected by being given a no. 8 for the NCAA Tournament.

Moser is likely to be a highly coveted name on the coaching market, especially in the Midwest.

Johnnie Bryant

New York Knicks, Lead Assistant

From Paul Millsap’s personal skills development coach to New York Knicks lead assistant. Bryant cut his teeth with the Utah Jazz starting in 2014 by leading their player development program. A player development guru, that’s exactly what the Utah program needs to go along with their state of the art training facility.

Several Jazz players give Bryant credit for their development, including superstar Donovan Mitchell. Because of this, the Knicks stole him from the Jazz this past offseason. Many will point to the fact he has yet to be a head coach and that he has yet to recruit. With Bryant’s credentials though, it’s easy to look past.

A former Ute from 2004-07, Bryant’s wife Vanessa is from Taylorsville, UT. Sources have told UteNation that Bryant would like a call from Utah AD Mark Harlan.

Earl Watson

Former Phoenix Suns Head Coach

A former UCLA Bruin basketball player and a member of the Utah Jazz from 2010-13, Watson was seen as a rising coaching star, as he was elevated to the head man of the Phoenix Suns after only two seasons. After two seasons and three games into his third, he was fired as he finished with a 33-85 record.

Watson is a bright mind who was known as a player’s coach. He has familiarity with the State of Utah and him and Utah AD Mark Harlan both have UCLA ties.

Currently Watson has been a studio analyst on the Pac-12 Network.

Steve Wojciechowski

Marquette University, Head Coach

“Wojo’s” path to Utah is not as direct as some others on this list, but the longtime Duke assistant’s name is an intriguing one to consider. Wojciechowski played for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad from 1994-98. He played on the Duke squad that made it to the Elite 8, falling to Kentucky on their way to a national title.

Along with being named an honorable mention All-American, Wojo earned NABC Defensive Player of the Year honors his senior year and is ranked 8th all-time in both steals and assists at Duke. He then came back after a year overseas to serve as an assistant, where he stayed until 2014, being promoted to associate coach in 2008. Wojciechowski was on staff during the Blue Devils’ NCAA championship runs in 2001 and 2010 before being hired as the head coach for Marquette in 2014.

Wojciechowski’s time at Marquette has been up and down, highlighted by two NCAA appearances and a trip to the NIT quarterfinals. His overall record leading the Golden Eagles is 128-95 (.574), finishing 13-14 this season, good for 9th in the Big East. The best season under Wojo’s tenure was in the 2018-19 season, where Marquette finished 24-10 and was second in the conference standings. Wojciechowski’s record is only a little better than Larry Krsytkowiak’s at Utah, but his experience as a head coach in a major conference and time under the other Coach K at Duke could provide the background and preparation to take over a Utah basketball community longing for the Final Four runs of the late 90s. Also worth noting, his wife and her family are from Utah.

Stan Johnson

Loyola Marymount, Head Coach

Not the flashiest name on the list, but Johnson would be a solid hire. Johnnie Bryant’s brother-in-law recently took over this season at Loyola Marymount for his first head coaching gig, but his track record as an assistant is impressive.

A former assistant at Utah under Jim Boylen from 2008-11, he then went on to coach at Drake, Arizona State and Marquette before getting his big opportunity. He finished the season with a 13-9 record.

A native of Taylorsville, UT, Johnson played basketball at Southern Utah and Bemidji State. Johnson is well respected as an up-and-coming mind, in coaching circles.

Craig Smith

Utah State University, Head Coach

Smith is currently the head coach at Utah State, leading the Aggies for the past three seasons to a 74-23 record. Smith-led teams have hit the 20-win mark for the past five straight seasons, including his last two at South Dakota.

After graduating from the University of North Dakota, Smith started his coaching career as an assistant at Mayville State University, an NAIA school in North Dakota, in 1996. After a few years working his way up the coaching ranks in the Dakotas, Smith earned his first Division I role as director of operations at Colorado State under Tim Miles in 2007. The next year, Smith was promoted to a full-time assistant coach. While Smith was at CSU, they saw steady progression, earning berths in the 2010 CBI, 2011 NIT, and 2012 NCAA tournament. Miles took the head coaching job at Nebraska in 2012, and Smith followed him there, where the Cornhuskers found their way to the 2014 NCAA tournament.

In 2014, Smith became the head coach at South Dakota, where his teams were 79-55 (.590) through 2018. In 2016-17, the Coyotes won the Summit League regular season title, qualified for the NIT, and Smith won the Summit League Coach of the Year after a 22-12 season. In his last season before taking the Utah State job, South Dakota finished the 2017-18 season 26-9 and finished 2nd in the conference.

Smith had the task of getting Utah State back to the Stew Morrill heyday years after a subpar three years under Tim Duryea. So far, it’s safe to say that Smith has done just that. The Aggies went 28-7 and tied for the regular season title on their way to winning the conference tournament, earning the school’s first NCAA bid since 2011. Utah State finished with a 26-8 record last season and claimed another conference tournament before the NCAA tournament was cancelled.

Smith has put in his time and succeeded at every level he’s coached at, earning multiple coach of the year honors. Landing the job at Utah would be a great next step in his career at a major conference with a fanbase clamoring to get back to the Big Dance.

Gregg Marshall

Marshall is an interesting option, as he recently resigned from Wichita State in November 2020 after allegations of verbal and physical abuse from former staff and players. Despite the ethical cloud that may hover above him right now, Marshall has had a successful coaching career. As Rick Majerus’ career was peaking at Utah, Marshall’s head coaching career was just beginning in 1998. In his first season at Winthrop University, Marshall led his team to a 21-8 record, a regular season title, the conference tournament championship, and an NCAA tournament berth. Over the next nine seasons, the Winthrop faithful became accustomed to winning - six regular season titles, seven Big South conference tournament titles, seven NCAA tournament berths, six 20-win seasons, four conference Coach of the Year awards, and the all-time winningest coach in school history.

After a track record of uber success, Wichita State hired Marshall as their head coach in April 2007. After a couple seasons of building a foundation, Marshall had the Shockers celebrating every March and made some noise on the national scene as well. Ute fans might remember Wichita State’s 2012-13 NCAA run to the Final Four, followed by an unprecedented 35-0 start to the 2013-14 season before falling to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Utes and Shockers would face off in a home-and-home over the next two seasons, with Wichita State stealing a win in Salt Lake City (69-68) and then winning in Kansas during the 2015-16 season, 67-50.

The final three seasons in Marshall’s tenure saw Wichita State compete in the American Athletic Conference after years in the Missouri Valley Conference. Even as the competition raised, the Shockers still posted records of 58-8, 22-15, and 23-8 before Marshall’s resignation.

While being a hire that would raise some eyebrows with his Majerus-esque manner, there is no questioning Marshall’s ability to win.

Brian Michaelson

Gonzaga, Lead Assistant

Michaels was once a walkon as a player in the early 2000´s and has been on the Gonzaga staff since 2008 when he joined as an administrative assistant. Now, he is Mark Few´s right hand man as they lead the undefeated Bulldogs to a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Back in 2011, he took Ray Giacoletti’s spot on the coaching staff and has steadily risen to the top of the Gonzaga coaching ladder. He does not have any head coaching experience which could be a concern. However, he has been a crucial part of many successful Gonzaga teams.

Michaelson has especially excelled in recruiting and player development in his years on the Gonzaga coaching staff. Michaelson played a crucial part in the recruitment and development of: Kyle Wiltjer, Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss, and Byron Wesley. Michaelson is responsible for recruiting some high-caliber transfers to help Gonzaga reach the next level. This ability could help Utah rebound much quicker.

Michaelson knows what it takes to win at a high level and could be ready for the next step of being a head coach.

Randy Bennett

Saint Mary’s, Head Coach

Long time Saint Mary’s Head Coach is another name to be considered. The question is, does he want a shot to coach in a more prestigious conference?

Bennet has been with Saint Mary’s for 20 years and has been consistent throughout his tenure. Bennet has tallied seven appearances in the NCAA tournament, including a Sweet 16 run in the 2009-10 season when his Saint Mary’s team finished with a 28-6 season. Saint Mary’s has often been in the shadow of Gonzaga in the WCC but the distance between these two programs has not been very large throughout Bennett’s tenure.

It is worth noting that Bennett's name came up the last time that Utah was searching for a head coach and was also included in some other top Pac-12 programs head coaching search. Bennett is currently on year four of a 10 year extension that expires in 2026 and it is safe to say that he is very comfortable at Saint Mary’s. However, it is possible that Bennett could potentially heighten his ceiling as a head coach at the University of Utah. He would be one of the oldest candidates for the job but also one that carries little risk.