What’s Going on in Utah?

After a playoff appearance in 2021, the Utah Warriors have struggled in 2022. That didn’t make this week’s firing of head coach Shawn Pittman less surprising.

As we’ve previously noted, Utah’s firing of Pittman was abrupt. The team was struggling to the tune of a 2-6 record. However, Pittman earned Coach of the Year honors in 2021. They were likely out of the playoff chase, but every observer expected Pittman would have a chance to turn things around.

The strangest part is the timing. While a coaching change going into a bye week is a better time, Utah seems set on letting Pittman’s two assistants run the show instead of bringing in another skipper. Neither assistant is being official elevated to the head job.

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. You don’t make a change unless there’s a better alternative. So, what’s the alternative?

Just over a week ago, the firing would’ve prompted speculation over a push for Nate Osborne (the type of push where the new coach is unofficially on board prior to the firing of the departing coach). By waiting until their bye, Utah missed on the best coach available. With Rob Hoadley and Scott Lawrence appearing set to spend the year focusing on the Eagle’s, Osborne was the only viable candidate available.

That leaves only two options. The first is that GM Brandon Sparks opted for addition by subtraction. The only way that makes sense is if Sparks himself was a genuine product within the camp. There’s been no reporting to support such a theory, and Pittman remains well liked in the rugby community.

That leaves one alternative to watch. GM Brandon Sparks could be in trouble.

In firing Pittman, Sparks chose to oversee rugby operations himself for the duration of the season. He’ll spend the rest of the season starting a search for Pittman’s successor. Could that not be done with Pittman staying on through the end of the year? Instead, Sparks chose to punt on the remainder of the campaign and wait until there were no viable interim candidates on the market. By throwing the coach overboard early, it cements Sparks’ place with the team. By waiting until Osborne was hired, it prevents Sparks from having to attach his name to a hire in the short term. The GM washes his hands of this year and makes sure they won’t be dirtied this campaign.

All of this gets more interesting when Sparks makes the next hire. While the MLR coaching cycle spins quickly, Sparks would be wise to get the next gaffer on a multi-year deal. Tying the club to the coach would also provide Sparks with more safety. Only a dysfunctional team would dump the GM and not the coach.

In fairness, Utah is starting to look a little less than fully functional.

The Warriors will be a drama to watch over the next year. If the next coaching hire sticks, we call Sparks a genius. If not, it might be time to focus less on ridding the team of the decision and more about cutting the decision-maker.

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