Larry’s coming home to finish the job at UW

Boy, am I a sucker!

Thirteen years ago this month I was so mad at Larry Shyatt that I could scream – and I did scream, in a furious column that took the departing University of Wyoming men’s basketball coach to task for promising Wyoming fans the world and then bolting for Clemson after one year at the helm of the Cowboys.

And now, 13 years later, I am excited that he’s coming home. Yes, home. Like the father of the prodigal son (Larry’s older than me, but it still fits), I am welcoming the lost lad home with open arms as the new, er, old, er, returning basketball coach at the University of Wyoming.

I shouldn’t be this happy. Thirteen years ago, Larry Shyatt vamoosed, skedaddled and hightailed it for Clemson one year after declaring that Wyoming was the perfect place for him and his family. A year earlier, upon being hired, he told the media, “I intend to create a love affair between this program, the university and the people of Wyoming.”

And then when a new love came along, he was gone. In fact, he left skid marks. Said Clemson was the perfect place for his family.

As I wrote at the time, “Shyatt said all the right things, and we soaked it all in like a kid with a bad case of puppy love.”

When he arrived, Larry Shyatt took the Cowboy State by storm. He said he wanted to return to the West, that Laramie’s small-town atmosphere was the perfect fit for his family, that he wanted to be a builder, that he wanted to take Wyoming basketball back to the prominence it once enjoyed. He stressed that he was at Wyoming for the long haul.

He seemed perfect. He revved up the student body and the fan base with lots of one-on-one encouragement, going into the dorms and meeting fans at Tailgate Park during the football season. He provided a spark to a moribund program that had struggled under coach Joby Wright.

In one year, Shyatt turned a 12-16 team into a hard-nosed, defensive-minded 19-9 team, complete with an NIT appearance, and his recruiting set the stage for coach Steve McClain’s NCAA tournament success a few years later.

We loved Larry Shyatt, who gave us hope, enthusiasm and quality, winning basketball for the first time in years. He said his family was excited to be in Wyoming and that he wanted to make Wyoming his home “for a long time.”

As I wrote 13 years ago: “And we believed him. Boy, were we gullible.”

No one faulted Shyatt for leaving Wyoming for Clemson and the prestige of the ACC at triple the salary. It’s just that, because of all of his pronouncements at the time of his hiring we thought he was different, that he would stay to build a program. And then on top of it all, he sued the university (or the university sued him, doesn’t matter) over a buyout clause in his contract.

Fast forward to this year and the sorry state of Wyoming basketball, a program that has gone 20-42 over the last two seasons. Wyoming fired coach Heath Schroyer on Feb. 7 and launched a nationwide search (it’s always a nationwide search) for a replacement.

Athletic Director Tom Burman said he had one man in mind from Day One: Larry Shyatt. He said it just took a while to complete the deal because the University of Florida was playing in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.

Larry Shyatt – of all people.

And you know what. I’m excited again. Maybe I’m a gullible fool, and maybe I’ll be eating crow, but I believe Wyoming has hired one of the finest basketball coaches in the country – the associate head coach at Florida, no less – and this time he’ll stay to finish the job of rebuilding the Wyoming program.

I believe Larry Shyatt. Maybe I’m a sap, but I believe he knows he has some unfinished business to complete, hurt feelings to heal, amends to make. He says he has always regretted how he left and sees this as a chance to redeem himself. He said he wants to give back “10-fold whatever I have” to the Wyoming job and “repay these people who were so kind to us 13 years ago.” He said this will be his last coaching job.

I believe him. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me? Perhaps, but think about it. Do you leave balmy Gainesville, Florida, where you’re the associate head coach working with one of your best friends (Billy Donovan) coaching a team that won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007 for Laramie, Wyoming, if you really don’t want to be there? He’s 60 years old, after all, and could coast into retirement.

Shyatt knows what he’s getting into. He knows all about the cold winters and that Laramie can be a difficult place to recruit to. He knows that UW has fallen to the bottom of the Mountain West Conference. But he also knows about Wyoming’s passionate, loyal fans and solid basketball tradition prior to the crummy seasons of recent years.

Shyatt can coach. He coaches strong, intense defense, fundamentals and a disciplined offense. He can recruit. And he can energize a skeptical fan base weary from years of losing. He’s bringing back his former top assistant and a great recruiter, Scott Duncan, from UCLA – yes, UCLA! – and will be able to coach with his son, Jeremy, who played basketball for Laramie High School in 1997-98 and has been coaching at North Florida.

Maybe at age 60 Larry Shyatt won’t be able to work his magic like he did 13 years ago, but he will certainly improve the program and build a better foundation for the future.

I believe Larry Shyatt. I believe you can come home again.

Who me, gullible? Nah!

By David Peck