DES MOINES, Iowa — Ray Giacoletti was fired by Utah just two seasons after reaching the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. The firing devastated Giacoletti, though he wound up at mid-major power Gonzaga.
Six years later, Giacoletti has earned another shot at a head-coaching job with Drake, a mid-major desperate to enjoy success at anywhere near the level of the Zags.
Drake announced Thursday it had hired the 50-year-old Giacoletti as its men’s basketball coach. He replaces Mark Phelps, who was fired two weeks ago after five seasons.
“This is a really big day for Drake athletics. We have a very bold vision. We want to be an institution that sustains competitive excellence in all of its programs,” Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb said. “We searched the entire nation to find somebody with the experience, the passion and the desire to share in this vision.”
Giacoletti is perhaps best known for a three-year tenure at Utah that started great and ended badly. The Utes won 29 games his first season behind star Andrew Bogut, the national Player of the Year. The Utes made a change after going just 25-34 over the next two seasons.
Giacoletti was subsequently hired by Gonzaga coach Mark Few, a move he says reinvigorated his career. Giacoletti worked under Few for the past six seasons as Gonzaga won five West Coast Conference titles and reached No. 1 in The Associated Press poll this season.
“The last six years truly opened my eyes up as far as what it means to be a student-athlete, to do it the correct way with character, work ethic,” Giacoletti said. “It’s the same morals and values that I know Drake basketball envisions.”
Giacoletti grew up in Peoria, Ill., and graduated from Minot State in 1985. He served as an assistant at Missouri Valley Conference school Illinois State from 1990-93 before jumping to the University of Washington. Giacoletti’s first head-coaching job was at NCAA Division II North Dakota State, where he worked from 1998-2000 before taking over at Eastern Washington for four seasons.
Though Giacoletti will use Gonzaga as a model for rebuilding Drake, he made it clear that he wants Drake to take on its own personality.
Let’s “not try to be Gonzaga. Let’s not try to be someone else. Let’s be the best Drake can be,” Giacoletti said.
Drake’s best might take a while to find.
The Bulldogs haven’t had a 20-win season since coach Keno Davis led them to the Valley title and their first NCAA tournament in 37 seasons back in 2007-08. Under Phelps, Drake teams showed glimpses of progress, but inconsistency and continued roster turnover kept the Bulldogs from becoming a Valley contender.
Drake finished 15-17 last season and tied for seventh in the Valley, and three of its top four scorers won’t be back.
Giacoletti hinted at his opening news conference on campus that he’ll lean toward developing high school players rather than seeking out college transfers as Drake has so often done in the past.
That will be just one of many aspects of Gonzaga’s success that Giacoletti hopes to bring to downtrodden Drake.
“I had an experience that, at the time, was devastating,” Giacoletti said of being fired by Utah. “But it has made me a better person and a better coach because I had a chance to learn a new system.”