- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah men’s basketball coach Jim Boylen was hoping for one more year to rebuild.

Instead he lost big in Las Vegas, then lost his job after four seasons.

Boylen was fired on Saturday just two days after the Utes ended a second straight losing season by falling to San Diego State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas.

“We had the pieces to build this team forward,” Boylen said in a phone interview, speaking of a team that returns nine players.

“I feel we had an upper-division team (heading into) the Pac 12. It’s a tough pill that way. It’s not my decision, so you move on.”

During four seasons at Utah, Boylen was 69-60 overall, including 32-32 in the Mountain West. This season, the Utes lost eight of their last 11 and finished with a 13-18 overall record and 6-10 in the conference. Last season, Utah went 14-17 overall.

Athletic director Chris Hill said a national search for a replacement would begin immediately.

“It’s difficult to point to one thing,” Hill said in a phone interview on Saturday. “It’s almost a collection of things you add up. We felt it was time and we needed to move in a different direction.”

The move was not unexpected, especially with the Utes moving to the more competitive Pacific 12 Conference next season.

Hill acknowledged that figured into his decision but not as much as the Utes’ competitiveness and home-court record of 3-5 in the Mountain West this year.

The Utes scored a conference tournament record low 15 first-half points against San Diego State.

Attendance throughout the season was sparse at the Huntsman Center where the Utes played their home games. Thousands of fans stopped following a team that once was rated the 11th-best program in college basketball.

The team drew crowds only when top opponents such as BYU were in town. Utah lost nine of its last 10 games to its instate rival, and was being out-recruited in the state.

San Diego State fans even taunted Boylen during the Utes’ regular-season road game against the Aztecs.

“You have to not feel like you’re taking a vote from any of our boosters or looking just at attendance,” Hill said. “It’s a decision we had to make in the best interest of the university.”

The 45-year-old Boylen was Utah’s 14th basketball coach, replacing Ray Giacoletti four years ago after Hill fired him after a 54-40 mark.

Asked what went wrong, Boylen said, “Nothing.”

“We were just in a rebuilding year,” he said. “I was given a five-year contract extension because we knew we had to rebuild. I took over a team that won 11 games, then won 18, then we won 24, then (four) guys graduated and now you’re rebuilding. That’s what happens in college basketball.

“In Utah, you just don’t reload, rebuild overnight. It’s very hard. We were going through that process, going through some pain and obviously that wasn’t part of the plan.”

The move was a costly one as Hill rewarded Boylen with a new five-year contract in May 2009 in response to the coach drawing interest when Arizona had a vacancy. Boylen confirmed that he will receive $2 million in a contract buyout.

Hill notified Boylen of his decision after returning to Salt Lake City rather than staying in Las Vegas to watch the Utes women play in the Mountain West Conference tourney finals Saturday.

Boylen said he already met with his players and staff.

“It was a very difficult meeting, but we got through it,” he said. “They’re good guys. I’m concerned about them.”

Asked if all of the players will stay, Boylen couldn’t say, noting it was their decision and he wouldn’t try to influence them one way or another.

He believes the nucleus is there to do well in the Pac-12, though conceded the team is lacking a power forward and probably needs to add another point guard.

Boylen was particularly encouraged by what he saw in freshman Dominique Lee, a 6-4 guard. The Utes also signed 6-7 wing George Matthews from Phoenix and have 6-7 forward Josh Sharp returning from his church mission.

Boylen’s best season was his second, when he guided the Utes to a 24-10 record, a tie for the MWC regular season title and a conference tournament championship. That team earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and fell in the first round to Arizona in 2009.

Boylen was a 13-year NBA assistant prior becoming Tom Izzo’s top assistant at Michigan State from 2005-07.

“I think my body of work has been good,” Boylen said. “I graduated all my guys. I had no compliance issues. I ran a clean program. You hope you have value out there.”

He then noted that he has more time coaching in the NBA.

As for his successor, Boylen had no idea.

“They better hire a hard worker,” he said, noting he did everything from hand out tickets at Costco to speak at community events and play a top non-conference schedule in an effort to ramp up attendance.

“It was an uphill battle,” he said.

“I’m thankful for Chris Hill for bringing me here and giving me an opportunity. They wanted to move on, in a different direction, whatever direction that is.”

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