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Saturday, March 12, 2011
Utah, Providence latest to can coaches

By Eamonn Brennan

The biggest coaching news of the day came early Saturday, when we learned that Georgia Tech had finally, mercifully fired (and given a rather tidy $7 million buyout to) coach Paul Hewitt. But the relative importance of that news shouldn't overshadow two more programs -- Utah and Providence, specifically -- that handed their coaches walking papers and added to our list of 2011 Division I college hoops job openings this weekend.

The recipients of said walking papers: Utes coach Jim Boylen and Friars coach Keno Davis. The reasons for the two decisions aren't all that dissimilar; both are borne of that vague blend between on-court performance and off-court considerations.

Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll cited the Friars' third-straight bottom-run Big East performance and his belief that this program was capable of competing at the higher levels of the Big East as the reasons to let Davis go. Davis is 18-36 in the Big East in three seasons. That record, coupled with the litany of off-court issues that happened on Davis' watch -- assault charges for two freshmen and the dismissal of star Jamine "Greedy" Peterson among them -- no doubt buttressed Driscoll's decision to ditch Davis after only three seasons.

Utah athletic director Chris Hill said he couldn't "point to one thing," but surely Boylen's 32-32 record in the Mountain West, not to mention this season's late collapse (in which the Utes lost eight of their last 11 and finished 6-10 in the Mountain West) played a part. Perhaps most important, though, was Utah's imminent move to the Pac-10, which will no doubt be the more competitive and cutthroat conference in the coming seasons, especially after BYU moves to the WCC in basketball this offseason. Hill said Utah's new conference "figured in" to his decision, but "not so much as evaluating where the program needed to be," according to The Associated Press.

Either way, both coaches are now gone, and both jobs are now vacant. And here's another similarity: Both places present intriguing opportunities for prospective hires.

As ESPN's Doug Gottlieb tweeted earlier Saturday, Utah is especially intriguing. The Utes' stature as a program will receive a boost from the affiliation, and Utah's next coach should be able to recruit more effectively on the West Coast. What's more, Utah doesn't have quite the same academic standards as some of its Pac-10 counterparts, so there might some built-in talent advantage there. Plus, there's that Salt Lake City location, and it never hurts to have a gorgeous major market on your side, too.

And Providence is, well, Providence. It's always tough to rebuild in the Big East, but Driscoll is right: There's no real reason the Friars can't at least be competitive in that league.

So, no, neither job is Georgia Tech. But both are major-conference openings with a few respective built-in advantages. They could make for interesting coaching searches in the next few weeks. The return(s) to glory begin Saturday.