- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Utah athletic director Chris Hill wants to make one thing clear: Ray Giacoletti resigned. The decision was Giacoletti's, not Hill's.
But, multiple sources close to Giacoletti said that is not entirely the case, telling ESPN.com that the decision came from above Hill. Giacoletti and his representation signed a confidentiality agreement and won't comment any further. Giacoletti did say Friday that he resigned and that he had nothing but good things to say about Hill.
"It was Ray's decision," Hill said Friday afternoon by phone from Salt Lake City. "Ray did understand the situation and he did feel a lot of pressure. I thought it was the right decision at the time. But he should speak for himself. He resigned and I accepted it."
But those close to Giacoletti in the coaching business say that he is not a quitter and wouldn't have just walked away, and question that if he did in fact resign, why did he receive nearly $800,000 in a buyout package for the final four years of his deal?
Three years ago, Hill searched for a hidden gem in coaching to replace Rick Majerus. He was convinced at the time he had found one in Eastern Washington's Giacoletti, who had led the Eagles to their first NCAA Tournament berth.
Three years later, the search is resuming anew.
In his first season, Giacoletti led the Utes to the Sweet 16, re-recruited Andrew Bogut to stay and return for Bogut's sophomore season, and helped Bogut earn national player of the year as well as become the top pick in the NBA draft.
Giacoletti had to rebuild after Bogut's departure but apparently was given only two years to do so.
Giacoletti, who went 54-38 at Utah, is the second Mountain West Conference coach to be bought out in less than a month. Last week, New Mexico bought out Ritchie McKay. Both Giacoletti and McKay are being allowed to finish the season.
Hill had signed Giacoletti to a seven-year contract after the school was put on two years' probation under Majerus' and Hill's watch. So they added two more years to the deal.
Declining attendance hurt Giacoletti's case. According to Utah, attendance at the Huntsman Center slipped from 10,900 in Majerus' last season to 9,522 this season, but sports information director Mike Lageschulte said there were more often roughly 5,000 fans in attendance.
Hill said there were a number of factors in Giacoletti's decision, including attendance, but wouldn't elaborate. When asked if Hill should shoulder responsibility for Giacoletti resigning two years after a Sweet 16 appearance and three years after he made the hire, Hill said, "It does reflect on me. I thought I made the right decision at the time."
Hill said the decision was between him and Giacoletti, not the university president. At least one high-profile high-major coach called ESPN.com Friday and said this was "terrible news for the coaching business," that a coach could resign, or have the perception that he's out, just two years removed from a Sweet 16 and three years after he was hired.
"I'd like to thank Dr. Hill and the University for the opportunity," Giacoletti said in a statement. "No one wanted our team to succeed this year more than my staff and I, but that just wasn't the case. I felt that it was in the best interests of the University and the players that I resign and allow the program to move forward."
Said Hill in a statement: "We're all disappointed things didn't work out the way we wanted. Ray is a quality person and I wish him the best."
The Utes, 11-19 and 6-9 in the MWC, are going to have their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1983-85. The overall record will be the worst since the Utes were 8-19 in 1972-73.
"I know Ray was struggling and he told me that this is really hard," Hill said.
Former Golden State Warriors and Stanford coach Mike Montgomery could be a candidate to replace Giacoletti, but Montgomery won't talk to schools while another coach is under employment.
Giacoletti was the Big Sky coach of the year in 2003-04.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.