How Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak became one of the highest-paid coaches in college basketball
A deep dive into the 10-year coach’s contract history shows how much former Utah athletic director Chris Hill valued Krystkowiak’s mid-2010s success, and rewarded him handsomely for it
As the hard-driving leader of the University of Utah men’s basketball team, Larry Krystkowiak can usually be found coaching, practicing with, talking about, watching film on, recruiting for, or thinking about, his squad.
“There is not a whole lot of time to do much else,” Krystkowiak, a father of five who turned 56 last September, said last week.
Even while the coach is waiting for interviews on Zoom to begin with reporters during the pandemic, he often can be seen practicing a few chords on the guitar in his office at the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility in Salt Lake City. He’s actually quite good. Once, Krystkowiak did a post-game Zoom interview while he was a passenger in a car heading to his son’s high school basketball game.
A time-waster, he is not.
But when the 6-foot-9 former college and NBA star does have some leisure time, he likes to play a little bit of golf. He gets to play for free any time he wants at Hidden Valley Country Club on the Sandy-Draper border.
“It is kinda something that you shore up at the end of the year. I always think it is a mistake, or dangerous, to (pay attention) to them. I have never been motivated to cash in and get paid. It is always kind of intrinsic motivation to do as well as you can and I think those things take care of themselves.” — Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak on contract bonuses and incentives
A country club membership is just one of several “perks” that Krystkowiak has written into his contract with the University of Utah, first signed when he got the job back in 2011. It has been rewritten, extended or amended at least three times since then, each time pushing Krystkowiak’s compensation higher and higher.
The Deseret News recently obtained Krystowiak’s “Employment Agreements” through an open records request in an effort to provide to the public some of the lesser-known details of the 10-year Utah head coach’s contract.
Almost anyone who cares knows that Krystkowiak is the state of Utah’s second-highest paid employee, trailing only football coach Kyle Whittingham, who has an annual salary of nearly $5 million (before taking a pandemic-caused pay cut of $365,822 last year).
Krystkowiak, who also took a coronavirus-related pay cut last year, was the 14th-highest paid college basketball coach in the country after the 2019-20 season, making $3.76 million annually, according to USA Today.
Krystkowiak’s current contract runs through the 2022-23 season.
His buyout on April 1, 2021 — the amount of money he’s owed if he is fired without cause — will be approximately $6.7 million. His most recent contract also shows if another school tries to whisk “Krystko” away from Utah, it would cost that school $2.4 million, payable over a four-year time period in monthly installments to the U.
With the Runnin’ Utes in the middle of another so-so season — they were 8-7 overall, 5-6 in Pac-12 play heading into Thursday’s game at California — the Deseret News recently examined how Krystkowiak’s job performance compares to the coaches he followed on the Hill, Rick Majerus, Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen.
A closer look at his contract history reveals how Utah’s longest-tenured hoops coach since Majerus became one of the highest paid coaches in the country — after starting in 2011 with a fairly modest $900,000 annual salary — and sheds some light on the perks, bonuses and others incentives worked out between then-athletic director Chris Hill and Dennis E. Lind, Krystkowiak’s Missoula, Montana-based agent/attorney.
The first big bump
Because he guided Utah through its first few tumultuous seasons in the Pac-12 and resurrected a once-proud program that had hit rock bottom during the Boylen years, Krystkowiak was rewarded with a new, five-year contract in April 2014 that paid him $1.4 million a year, plus two retention bonuses of $375K apiece if he stayed through the 2016-17 season and the 2018-19 season, which he obviously did.
The agreement came after Utah went 21-12, 9-9 in conference play, and lost 70-58 to Saint Mary’s in the first round of the NIT.
Standard college coaching contracts are usually broken down into four or five funding “sources,” and Krystkowiak’s is no different.
The next season (2014-15), his “base salary” was $400K, while his compensation for “radio and television” appearances was $500K. His “additional compensation for appearances, public speaking and fund raising activities” was $500K, and his “official outfitter agreement compensation” through Under Armour was $100K.
Additionally, Krystkowiak was to receive an extra $50K if Utah finished with a winning Pac-12 record or played in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, an extra $50K if it played in the Sweet 16 and an extra $100K if it played in the Final Four.
There were also “academic incentives,” which paid the coach up to $15K per season if the team’s academic progress rate (APR) was above certain thresholds.
Krystkowiak said last week he doesn’t dwell on the incentives and bonuses as the season progresses.
“It is kinda something that you shore up at the end of the year,” he said. “I always think it is a mistake, or dangerous, to (pay attention) to them. I have never been motivated to cash in and get paid. It is always kind of intrinsic motivation to do as well as you can and I think those things take care of themselves.”
He said pro athletes pay more attention to them than coaches.
“Some of those things, individually, when you are playing, maybe you get caught up in a little bit more,” he said. “But when you are coaching, it is just more overall success-driven, I think.”
Joining the top 10
A year after signing that second contract, Krystkowiak was given a $1 million a year raise, essentially. In April 2015, a month after leading the Utes to a 26-9 record, a third-place finish in the Pac-12 (13-5) and a berth in the Sweet 16, he signed what Utah termed “an extension” through the 2022-23 season that was worth $2.4 million a year.
“Larry is aware of his value to our program,” then-AD Hill said, noting the record-breaking contract was needed to keep Krystkowiak, then a hot commodity, from bolting for a bigger program, or the NBA. “It is clear that his success has been noted throughout the country.”
His base salary jumped to $500K, his radio and television revenue package jumped to $800K, his appearances (and etc.) compensation jumped to $900K and his official outfitter compensation jumped to $200K.
He was rewarded with a $50K bonus because the Utes played in the Pac-12 championship game and another $50K because they made it to the NCAA Tournament. He would have pocketed $50K if they played in the Sweet 16 and $100K if they made the Final Four, but got neither bonus because they lost to Gonzaga 82-59 in a second-round game following the 2015-16 season.
As for retention bonuses, that section of Krystkowiak’s deal was reworked to pay him annually, rather than at two- or three-year intervals. He would make an additional $175,000 if he was employed by the U. on June 30, 2016, and $25K more than the previous year each subsequent year.
A quiet raise
When Krystkowiak received new contracts and/or extensions in 2011, 2014 and 2015, the U. acknowledged the agreements with news releases and posts on its website. Not so in 2016.
That year, after the Utes were buried by the Zags in the Big Dance, Utah quietly gave its then-popular coach another pay bump that amounted to about $500K more per year, before the retention and other bonuses and incentives.
That raise, which wasn’t made public until The Salt Lake Tribune uncovered it in March 2018 when Utah was appearing in the NIT for the second-straight year, was called an “amendment” to the 2015 deal and became effective on July 1, 2016. It wasn’t signed until Nov. 15, 2016, for reasons that are not clear.
Through a third party, current Utah athletic director Mark Harlan declined to answer questions submitted via email for this article, citing personnel confidentiality concerns.
Publicized or not, the amendment boosted the coach’s base salary to $600K, his radio/TV compensation to $1.1 million and his appearances compensation to $1.1 million.
“You look and see if you’re in danger of losing a good coach or maybe you want to make a preemptive strike to keep people off your doorstep,” Hill told the Tribune on March 17, 2018.
The bump led USA Today in 2018 to call Krystkowiak the eighth-highest paid coach in the NCAA, at $3.39 million.
Hill retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year, and Harlan, announced as Utah’s new AD in June of 2018, has not made any additions or alterations to the coaching agreement during his tenure.
The amendment in 2016 also contained a buyout clause of $3 million per year for each remaining year of Krystkowiak’s deal should he be terminated without cause.
It also installed this language for the first time in the agreement: “In the event that coach Krystkowiak voluntarily terminates his employment with the university in order to take another college coaching position, coach Krystkowiak shall pay the university as liquidated damages the total amount of ($2.4 million).”
Although Krystkowiak’s pay has soared north of $3.7 million annually, thanks to retention bonuses and the like, he’s slipped out of the top 10, per USA Today, as other coaches have inked new deals.
Most of the perks in Krystkowiak’s contract are standard fare at most major universities. He is also entitled to the benefits provided to other “similarly situated” full-time staff members at the U., including health and disability insurance, a $200K life insurance policy, sick leave and a pension plan.
Rather than paid vacation time, Krystkowiak is provided $15,000 a year for family vacations.
BYU’s coaches contracts are not made public because it is a private institution, but former basketball coach Dave Rose and former football coach Bronco Mendenhall freely said their deals included memberships at Provo’s Riverside Country Club. Because Mendenhall didn’t like golf, he “traded” his in for season ski passes to Sundance Resort, he once said.
Krystkowiak has belonged to The Country Club of Salt Lake City most of his tenure, but he recently moved to Southeastern Salt Lake County and had his membership moved to HVCC, “which isn’t far from our home.”
Krystkowiak said the membership allows him to hobnob with boosters and make new friends in the community.
“They have a beautiful new pool out there and our kids put it to good use,” he said. “It has been a nice perk, certainly.”
Utah pays for Krystkowiak’s smartphone, automobile and automobile insurance as well. His vehicle always comes from the Ken Garff Mercedes-Benz dealership downtown, “where (general manager) Dave Bennion has been my guy for six or seven years.”
After he puts “six or seven thousand miles” on it he takes it back so the dealership can sell it and he picks out another one, usually an SUV.
Another perk: Utah picks up the tab whenever Krystkowiak’s wife, Jan, travels with him to men’s basketball-related events.
Of course, the deal comes with plenty of tickets to university sporting events. Krystkowiak gets 12 men’s basketball season tickets per year, two seats in a luxury box at Rice-Eccles Stadium for Utes’ home football games and eight football season tickets.
The coach also gets to use university facilities for his summer youth basketball camps and clinics, and keep more than 90% of the revenue generated from those activities.