New Utah HC Craig Smith Has Big Decisions To Make Regarding His Coaching Staff

Mar 28, 2021, 2:07 PM | Updated: 4:13 pm
Craig Smith - Utah Utes...
New Utah head basketball coach Craig Smith (middle), his wife Darcy (left) and Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan (right). (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Now that Craig Smith has made the jump from a mid-major program to a power conference, he knows he needs the best coaching staff for this next challenge.

Craig Smith has said that his success at South Dakota and Utah State has been primarily due to the coaching staff he has had along the way. He is going to lean on the new staff he assembles to get Utah back to the success that the history of the program has seen before.

“We haven’t made any final decisions that way,” Smith said on Saturday. “I think the world of coach Krystkowiak and his entire staff, have relationships with all those guys to different levels and certainly out of respect to them and what they built here I want to meet with all of those guys and have frank discussions and talk to them and see if it’s the right fit. Then of course our staff at Utah State, what we’ve been able to do there has been tremendous and of course they were a huge part of all of our success.”

New Utah Coaching Staff Needs Strong Recruiting Connections

At this level, Smith will have to adjust to recruiting, which will be a little bit of a change. He was finding diamonds in the rough at South Dakota and Utah State, while developing them into talented players. Now, he will still need to do that but also chase the big time recruits.

“Obviously we have to look at the broad picture and what this position entails and where have we had success on the recruiting trails,” Smith stated. “So we got to really look at that. We want to have great connections in the state of Utah and on the west coast, specifically California but we’re going to recruit nationally. We’ve had some success with guys from all over the world. At the University of Utah when you look at the history of Utah basketball and then we’ve had great success as well at various stops that we’ve had.

“So we’re going to look under rocks on the recruiting trail but it all starts with your staff and we’re going to have a staff that holds people accountable, that embraces what Utah basketball is all about and that’s having a great culture built on relationships and trust and integrity,” Smith added. “These guys are gonna have all three but I am so pumped at the tools of leadership that Mark (Harlan) has provided and you know the sky’s the limit for what we’re gonna do and I’m very confident that we’re going to have a stellar coaching staff.”

Potential Coaching Staff Additions

When a new coach comes in, there is a possibility of bringing your staff over from their previous stop or utilizing the staff that is currently at the school but it’s usually a mixture of both and possibly bringing in some new assistants that were on neither staff originally.

Regardless of the situation, coach Smith will not lack the options as he assembles his staff. The unfortunate thing about coming to Utah is that two of the assistants under Larry Krystkowiak had sons that were on the team and a part of the rotation.

Tommy Connor was one of the first hires by Krystkowiak when he got the head coaching job at Utah. He was elevated to associate head coach and has been a part of the Utah basketball program for two decades as a player, as well as an assistant with Rick Majerus and Larry Krystkowiak.

Andy Hill was the “defensive coordinator” for Larry Krystkowiak and would be a solid addition for Craig Smith if he retained him. Hill is like Smith, who hangs his hat on the defensive end of the floor. He was on Krystkowiak’s staff from day one as well. Hill had stops at Whitworth College, Lewis-Clark State College, before going to Eastern Washington as a graduate assistant. He then joined Krystkowiak at Montana from 2004-11, serving under Coach K for two seasons before he went to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Henry Martinez is the father of freshman Ian, who showed signs of brilliance towards the end of the 2020-21 season. Martinez finished his second season as an assistant coach for the Runnin’ Utes after serving sixteen years as director and head coach of the ProBasket Academy in Costa Rica.

Chris Jones is the father of sophomore guard Rylan Jones. He finished his fifth season as the Director of Basketball Operations at Utah. Jones played two seasons at Utah from 1993-94. Then he started coaching in London, England before coming back to Utah as an assistant at Westminster College. Jones went to Utah State as an assistant for eight seasons and then came back to his alma mater.

The assistants at Utah State under Smith includes Eric Peterson, who went with Smith from South Dakota to Logan. KSL Sports wrote a Utah State head coaching big board on Saturday evening and listed Peterson as a candidate for that job. If he doesn’t get the position, he would be a great addition to Smith’s staff at Utah. He has been responsible for working with the bigs at Utah State including Neemias Queta, who is NBA bound. Utah has a promising big man in Branden Carlson, who would thrive under the mentoring of Peterson.

Another assistant of Smith’s that went with him from South Dakota to Utah State is Austin Hansen. Hansen was in charge of working with the guards and helped Sam Merrill mold into an NBA player. With Rylan Jones, Alfonso Plummer (if he returns), Pelle Larsson and Ian Martinez on the roster, it would be interesting to see how Hansen could mold those guards over the next two or three years.

David Ragland joined the Utah State staff in June of 2018 after a two-year stint at Valparaiso. He worked with the wings at Utah State, including Justin Bean and Alphonso Anderson. Ragland would make an intriguing prospect to work with Timmy Allen (if he returns) and Mikael Jantunen.

Steve Grabowski was the Utah State Director of Basketball Operations for the last two seasons. He joined the staff after seven years at North Dakota.

Curran Walsh was the director of player development at Utah State for two seasons after a two-year stint at Loyola Marymount.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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