LARAMIE — Larry Shyatt, the man credited with turning around Wyoming’s men’s basketball program, entered the 7,220 Room inside the Arena-Auditorium on Monday wearing a black quarter-zip sweater.
It proved a telltale sign that Shyatt, who became known for coaching in gold and brown sweaters, had finished his second stint with the Cowboys.
Seated beside Wyoming Athletic Director Tom Burman, Shyatt announced his resignation after six total years at UW.
“He’s done an amazing job changing a program that was on life support,” Burman said. “We had a program that had won 10 games two years in a row, didn’t have the off-the-court culture and discipline and accountability that I wanted. He came in and pulled those kids together and gave us hope.”
An hour after the Shyatt era ended, the Allen Edwards era began, as Burman announced the fifth-year Wyoming assistant as the Cowboys’ 21st head coach during a separate news conference in the Wildcatter Stadium Club & Suites at War Memorial Stadium.
Shyatt’s move, which had been heavily speculated this month, comes less than two weeks after the Cowboys’ season-ending loss to Utah State in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Shyatt, 64, finished his six-year tenure at UW with a 117-78 record and a 187-162 career record as a head coach.
The 40-year-old Edwards has served in various assistant roles since 2002, making stops at his alma mater, Kentucky, as well as Morehead State, VCU, Towson and Western Kentucky before joining Shyatt at Wyoming in 2011.
The right time
After road games, Shyatt calls his wife, Pam.
He noticed a change during the 2015-16 season, when Wyoming became the first team to win at both New Mexico and New Mexico State in 30 years. And again when the Pokes left the University of Denver’s Magness Arena victorious for the first time since 2001.
The excitement in talking to Pam wasn’t there.
“Those were signals,” Shyatt said.
When the season ended, he pondered the same decision he staved off in July, when he signed a contract extension to remain at Wyoming through April 30, 2020.
“Well, I’ve thought about it for a long time,” said Shyatt, who turned down a spot on the Dallas Mavericks’ bench to return for 2015-16. “When you’re a veteran coach, at least growing up in the era that I did, you dream of being able to walk out on your own terms, somewhat proud, somewhat respectful, and in my case, to be able to take care of an entire staff because we have three guys that are going to be tremendous head coaches.”
Shyatt hasn’t always been so fortunate.
His head coaching career began at Wyoming in 1997-98, when he led the Cowboys to a 19-9 record and an NIT appearance. After being named Western Athletic Conference Mountain Division Coach of the Year for that season, he accepted the head coach position at Clemson, where he spent five years before being fired.
Shyatt later became Billy Donovan’s right-hand man at Florida, serving as an assistant from 2004-07 and associate head coach from 2007-11. During his time there, Shyatt helped guide the Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.
In 2011, Shyatt returned to Laramie for a second stint as Wyoming’s head coach, and subsequently won 84 games over the first four seasons.
“I’m proud that we came back,” Shyatt said. “We had some unfinished business.
“And not everything went right. I think you find out you appreciate the really good times when you’ve fought through some difficult times.”
The Pokes claimed their first Mountain West Conference tournament title in 2015, but graduated five seniors and finished 14-18 in 2015-16.
“It’s not always about winning and losing,” Burman said. “In this case, coach Shyatt and his staff did it the right way with great kids. And they won.”
As dusk falls on his time in Laramie, Shyatt — who was set to make $716,000 in guaranteed compensation in 2015-16 — leaves Wyoming in a stable position.
“Our program is solid,” Burman said. “We’re not the Aztecs, but we are a really good program. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
His contract states that in the event that he resigns, he is not required to repay any compensation as long as he does not accept a job in intercollegiate athletics over the next year. He is, however, free to immediately work outside of intercollegiate athletics.
So what’s next?
“I’ve got to tell you, we feel good about this,” Shyatt said. “I don’t know what the next step is. I know (Pam’s) not going to let me ever use the word retired. I’m not going to go home and play shuffleboard, so something’s out there.
“The best news for me selfishly is this guy and this school have a great group of young guys, a great group of coaches. They’re going to do a marvelous job. Hopefully another championship in a few years when they gather their oats.”
On Jan. 23, 2014, Edwards filled in as head coach for an ill Shyatt and led Wyoming to a 66-59 win over Air Force.
Edwards, who won national championships in 1996 and 1998 as a forward at Kentucky, said after that victory: “It was probably more excitement than anything, because I think every assistant dreams of the opportunity.”
Finally, after 14 seasons as an assistant, his time has arrived.
“I think sky is the limit,” Edwards said. “I’m not in the mindset of thinking that winning a (Mountain West) title has to be a once every four or five years deal. I want to be able to compete for a championship year in and year out and stay within the top four year in and year out.”
Edwards interviewed with Burman last week for the head position. So did associate head coach Scott Duncan and assistant Jeremy Shyatt, Larry’s oldest son.
Burman’s decision was a simple one.
It was Edwards’ time.
“I think coach Edwards, the respect players have for him, the work ethic and passion that he has for the game of basketball, his success as a player, the coaches he’s been around,” Burman said, “the timing was right for him to become a head coach. If we didn’t hire him, someone else was.”
About a year ago, Edwards finished as a finalist for the same position at Eastern Kentucky and Northern Kentucky.
Burman noted that the Western Kentucky job is currently open, and Edwards would’ve been a strong candidate.
So instead, he promoted from within and retain the continuity that has rebuilt the program since 2011.
“In today’s world, you’re generally going to lose four, five, six kids in a coaching change,” Burman said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case at Wyoming.”
His new contract will boost his guaranteed compensation to $490,004.
More than money, he’s realized his dream — the one he fulfilled more than two years ago against Air Force.
“I think when you’re an assistant, you always envision becoming a head coach at some point in your career,” Edwards said, “and you’re always trying to figure out what you would do when you run your program. I will say I’ve learned a lot under coach Shyatt, and we come from that same family tree. The core structure of what we do will not change. But there are some little subtle differences that I would like to do going forward.”
Follow Wyoming athletics beat writer Ryan Holmgren on Twitter @ryanholmgren
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