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SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly eight years ago, Jim Boylen ventured up to Snowbird. He had just been fired from his post as head coach of the University of Utah men’s basketball team, and he was looking for something to get his mind off it.
“We had some success,” Boylen said. “When it gets taken away from you, it’s painful. Recovering from that was difficult.”
It took some time, but Boylen has recovered. Boylen returned to the Salt Lake Valley on Saturday with the Chicago Bulls. It wasn’t his first time returning to Utah in a professional matter — he’s been an NBA assistant with the Pacers, Spurs and Bulls since being let go by Utah in March of 2011 — but it was the first time he’s been back as a head coach.
And that provided the man whose tenure at Utah became infamous because of such lines like “the ball didn’t go in the hoop” to reflect on his time spent in Salt Lake City.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had here,” Boylen said. “I loved it here. Loved the experience. I wouldn’t be the head coach of the Bulls, the leader I am, the coach I am, if it wasn’t for that experience. I’m really thankful for it. This is a beautiful place and I have a lot of great memories of Herbert Avenue and my kids. It’s a good place.”
Boylen led the Utes to a 69-60 record in four years, which included one Mountain West Conference championship and a berth in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. He was fired after two straight losing seasons.
He believes he has changed as a coach in the eight years since he coached at Utah. He’s been able to spend time on numerous NBA staffs — including being the lead assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio — and that has helped him grow.
“I think just maturity — think I am a better communicator than I was then,” Boylen said. “I’m a little more patient and more tolerant. Hopefully wiser.”
And he’s a coach that Jazz coach Quin Snyder has always respected. The two have worked around the same people, but they haven’t spent time on the same staff. But that didn’t stop Snyder from calling Boylen for advice when he was contemplating moving to Russia to coach.
“He’s a terrific coach,” Snyder said. “It’s a small business and he is someone that I have respected from afar for a long time. Before I went to Russia, he was someone I spoke to on the phone a couple times because I valued his opinion. We had some good dialogue at that point when I was trying to make that decision and called him and asked him his thoughts.”
Snyder didn’t call Boylen before he took the Jazz job, but if he had, Boylen likely would have raved about at least one thing: the skiing.
“I was actually a pretty good skier when I was a kid,” Boylen said. “I skied until I was in ninth grade. I played hockey too. But then I needed to make a choice to play hoops. Kind of cut my Olympic skiing career short.”