SALT LAKE CITY — Bulls coach Jim Boylen wasn’t about to sugarcoat the emotion he was feeling Saturday.
“Yeah, it’s a big one,’’ he said when discussing his return to the place where he had his first head-coaching job, running the Utah Utes from 2007 to ’11.
The last time the Utes won a conference championship was 2009 (in the Mountain West) under Boylen, and the banner hangs from the rafters in the Jon M. Huntsman Center. So, of course, he’s emotional about the place.
“First of all, I loved it at Utah. I loved it there,’’ Boylen said. “I loved everything about it, and it was very disappointing when that situation didn’t work out [he was fired in ’11]. That being said, I wouldn’t be the coach I am today if that wouldn’t have happened. I know I wouldn’t be here with the Bulls.’’
That’s another reason for Boylen to be emotional. He isn’t just “here with the Bulls.’’ Now, he has more staying power.
A team source told the Sun-Times on Saturday that Boylen has not only received a bump in pay since he took over from Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3, he also received a contract through 2019-20.
When he was promoted, Boylen was working under his associate head-coaching deal, which paid him just more than $800,000 for the rest of this season and through next season. The Sun-Times reported that Boylen was betting on himself to earn that increase, at least for 2019-20.
The front office appreciated the gesture because it would be paying the remainder of Hoiberg’s $5 million salary this season and another $5 million next season.
Board chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has never been a fan of handing out dead money to former coaches, let alone paying two coaches. So it’s hard to imagine Boylen being removed at the end of the season and the Bulls taking on the salary of a new hire, as well.
It’s simple economics for Boylen’s critics. Though his detractors haven’t been put in checkmate, this news at least puts them in check and has them running out of moves.
Like him or dislike him, the Boylen Era now has some legs.
And while Boylen has done a good job avoiding discussions about his immediate future, being back in Utah brought back some memories of his past.
“I learned a ton and I grew here,’’ Boylen said. “It helped me become a better coach, a better everything, just going through that process of what I could have done differently, what I could have done better. What I did well, and owning that, but also owning what I needed to improve on. The relationship piece with my [Athletic Director in Chris Hill] was obviously a frustrating thing. Same guy that hired me, same guy that gave me my big extension, was the same guy that let me go. But I loved where it led me.
“I mean three years later we were winning a championship in San Antonio , and now I’m the head coach of the Bulls. So you could say it was a really good thing for me and made me better.’’