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Kevin Schnepf, Published January 13 2008

Giacoletti happy with Zags

It was fewer than 10 months ago when Ray Giacoletti and his wife were on a cruise near Mexico, contemplating their future.

Giacoletti, the former North Dakota State men’s basketball coach, had just been fired as the head coach at Utah. On the last day of the cruise, Giacoletti discovered a message on his cell phone.

It was longtime friend Mark Few asking Giacoletti whether he would be interested in becoming one of Few’s assistants at Gonzaga. Giacoletti was, and now he is.

“Life is kind of funny, how things work out,” Giacoletti said by phone last week from his office at Gonzaga.

Even though Giacoletti endured extensive criticism before he got the axe at Utah last spring, life has been pretty darn good for the kid from Peoria, Ill., who ended up playing college basketball at Minot State.

Flash back to the spring of 2000, when Giacoletti decided to leave NDSU after compiling a 48-33 record in three seasons. Ten days into his new job as an assistant at Wichita State, Giacoletti got a call from another friend, Scott Barnes, the athletic director at Eastern Washington.

Just like that, Giacoletti was a head coach again, one who would compile a 69-50 record in four seasons at Eastern Washington, including an NCAA tournament appearance. Just like that, Giacoletti was a hot commodity and became head coach at Utah.

In his first year, Giacoletti’s Utes reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. But during his last two years at Utah, Giacoletti had a 25-32 record – not good enough to keep the boosters happy.

“How things change in such a short period of time,” Giacoletti said. “I never thought I would get fired. I never thought I would get fired for one losing season.

“Now look, with the young kids we started playing the last two years, Utah is having a good season.”

Sure enough, Utah – now being coached by ex-Michigan State assistant Jim Boylen – has a 10-4 record.

But don’t start feeling too sorry for Giacoletti.

He had a $1.5 million salary at Utah. When he was basically asked to resign, Utah officials handed him a $700,000 buyout.

Giacoletti said he had an offer to be a head coach, though he wouldn’t say what school. But he opted to go to Gonzaga to coach for his friend.

“This was probably the best scenario that could have happened,” Giacoletti said.

Few and Giacoletti met on the recruiting trail. Giacoletti was an assistant at Washington then while Few was an assistant at Gonzaga.

After 10 years as an assistant, Few has been Gonzaga’s head coach for the last seven years, compiling 157-37 record with seven NCAA Tournament appearances.

Playing another brutal schedule this year, Gonzaga has an 11-4 record and is ranked second in the latest mid-major poll. One of those wins came against Utah, a

61-59 win in Spokane.

“I’m filling in the void of whatever Mark wants me to do,” said Giacoletti, who coaches the post players and defense in addition to his recruiting duties. “This has been an easy adjustment being with Mark. It has been a lot of fun.”

Plus, this marks Giacoletti’s third stop in Washington. Not only has he been reunited with Few, the Giacolettis have been reunited with friends they made while he was a head coach at Eastern Washington.

“It’s been an easy transition for both of us,” Giacoletti said. “It’s strange how it all worked out. I wasn’t ready to go tackle a head coaching job right away. I wanted to learn from someone else, and I couldn’t have imagined a better situation.

“I just wish Mark would have called me the first day of the cruise. We would have enjoyed it a lot more.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com Giacoletti happy with Zags Kevin Schnepf 20080113