SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The University of Utah didn’t have to look very far to find its new head basketball coach.
Athletic director Mark Harlan announced on Saturday morning that Craig Smith has been hired as the 16th coach in Runnin’ Utes program history.
Smith spent the last three years at Utah State, compiling a 74-24 record, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to be the men’s basketball coach at the University of Utah,” Smith said. “This basketball program has one of the steepest traditions in all of college basketball, and our expectation is to win, win at the highest level, and do it a certain way.”
Harlan made the announcement Saturday after firing Larry Krystkowiak last week after ten years as head coach. Krystkowiak still had two years and nearly $7 million left on his contract, which will have to be paid.
“I’ve had my eye on Craig Smith for a while,” Harlan said. “It’s hard not to see the unbelievable success that has gone on in Logan over these last few years. Went I went out looking for a coach the first thing I wanted was someone who has passion for mentoring, teaching young men, the ability to communicate at the very highest of levels and to develop deep relationships. And boy, does this gentleman have all those qualities and more.”
Smith, who just signed a contract extension this past season at Utah State, will have to be bought out at a price of just over $1 million.
Harlan was believed to be interested in former Utes player and current Utah Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen, but Jensen pulled his name out of consideration earlier this week. Former Utes point guard and New York Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant was also considered as a candidate.
“People ask what is our style of play ,” Smith said. “I like to say it’s a winning style, and I think the best teams know how to win in any way.”
You can watch the press conference with Craig Smith and Mark Harlan here:
In the last ten years, as a collegiate head coach, Smith has compiled a career record of 225-108 (.676). The Aggies qualified for the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons in Logan, including a first round loss to Texas Tech last week.
Utah State was 20-9 this past season, Smith’s third straight 20-win season with the Aggies.
Smith takes over a Utah program that has had consecutive losing seasons, including a 12-13 mark this past year. The Utes have not made the NCAA Tournament since the 2015-16 season.
The Utes best player and first team All-Pac-12 forward Timmy Allen announced on Friday that he has entered the transfer portal. Smith’s first big recruiting job will be to convince Allen to stay, which is a possibility.
“I met with the players earlier today , and I asked them what don’t we have?” Smith said. “We have history, facilities, support staff. I’ve always wanted guys in our program that want to be here, and that are fully invested and that are all in to making the University of Utah basketball the best it can be.”
In his first year at Utah State, Smith led the Aggies to a 28-7 record, the most wins by a first-year head coach in USU history and the third-most wins overall in school history. USU advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, the highest in program history. The Aggies lost to Washington in the first round.
In the 2019-20 season, Utah State won its second consecutive MWC Tournament Championship to earn the MW’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and finished 26-8. But the NCAA Tournament was cancelled because of the pandemic.
Smith has been to postseason play 13 times, while winning four regular season and four postseason conference championships. They go to mention that he even managed to earn four conference coach of the year awards (2006, 2007, 2017, 2019) in three different conferences and was named NAIA II National Coach of the Year Award in 2007, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) District 12 Coach of the Year Award in 2017, and NABC District 17 Coach of the Year and USBWA District VIII Coach of the Year in 2019.
Craig Smith has also had ties with Mayville State, South Dakota, Nebraska (2012-14), and Colorado State (2007-12).