Amazing season? Yes, but still true
Utah football is back once again
And my wish for fans of BYU?
Peace on turf, and good will toward Mem(phis)
COMMENTARY — No sane and honest fan would ever admit that they expected Utah to go 9-4 this season in football, including a 5-4 record in the Pac-12, with wins over Michigan, UCLA, USC and Stanford, capped by a 45-10 Las Vegas Bowl victory over Colorado State. It’s almost too good to be true.
In contrast, while BYU posted an identical 8-4 regular season record, the Cougars suffered four straight losses (including an embarrassing home loss to Utah State led by a third-string quarterback), let the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl slip through its fingers, and ended its season with an all-out brawl with Memphis in front of a national television audience.
So which program would you expect to be building on the momentum it has created, and which program would you expect to be in disarray?
As a lawyer, I often tell my clients that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. While the Utes have provided their fans with a pleasant surprise this holiday season, it is not all rainbows and unicorns at Utah, and a dark cloud has taken up residence over the football program as a whole.
Assistant Ute coaches are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. Three days after the Las Vegas Bowl victory, defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuikai announced that they will be joining Gary Anderson at Oregon State. Two days later, offensive coordinator Dave Christensen elected to leave Utah to coach the offensive line and be the run game coordinator at Texas A&M. That’s right, it’s not even a lateral move for Christensen, but rather a voluntary demotion. Perhaps that was why Christensen had no motivation to play either Brandon Cox or Connor Manning in the Las Vegas Bowl in preparation for Utah’s future.
And the dust from the coaching carousel still hasn’t settled on The Hill. Tensions are running high between head coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill.
Prior to the season, Dr. Hill refused to offer the customary extensions to assistant Ute coaches. Coming off of back-to-back 5-7 seasons, that seemed like a prudent plan. However, was he too slow in offering extensions when the season turned out better than expected? Did he fail to match offers from other schools? Is he trying to force Whittingham (who still has two years left on his contract) out this year or set him up for inevitable failure next year?
What about Kyle Whittingham’s own relationship with his coaching staff? Remember earlier in the season when Whittingham inexplicably limited media access to his coaching staff? What about the roulette wheel of offensive coordinators (seven in the last seven years, with the guarantee of a new one next year)?
The only thing that is for certain is that the current state of affairs is not good for the program (the players, the coaches and the fans). During a time when Utah recruiters should be cashing in on this year’s success, turmoil has nearly erased the momentum and positive vibes the Utes had created this year.
At this point, I believe it is the primary responsibility of Chris Hill to right the Utah ship and bring stability and positive energy back to the football program. A failure to do so may have implications for Dr. Hill’s future as the Utes’ athletic director.
If you think the situation with Utah football is being blown out of proportion, then think again. Collegiate football is not mere amateur athletics, it is big business. Why else would BYU sacrifice the rest of its sports in order to gamble on independent status for its football team? According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the last academic year the Utah football program accounted for $20.6 million in profit, while all other Ute teams combined to lose $19.5 million (with men’s basketball a distant second earning a mere $2.4 million).
Speaking of basketball, the Runnin’ Utes are a prime example of a program that has turned itself around without all of the controversy and internal unrest that has spoiled an otherwise very good football season.
Utah’s hoopsters were ranked nationally even before the season began, and at 9-2 they have never fallen out of the rankings. The Runnin’ Utes were given an early Christmas present with a home game against South Dakota on December 23 with an outcome that was never in doubt and a final score of 80-66. They wrap up their non-conference schedule on Tuesday, Dec. 30, with a final home tune-up game against Carroll.
The upcoming contest against Carroll comes at a very opportune time for Utah. “Bodies are beat up. We’ve played some tough teams and we’ve been going for three straight months now. Everybody needs a break right now,” Coach Larry Krystowiak said after the South Dakota game. “Plus, I’ll bet they’ll all say they’re really sick of me.”
With the New Year comes a new challenge as Utah embarks on its Pac-12 basketball schedule with a home game against USC on Friday, Jan. 2, at 8 p.m. For the first time since joining the Pac-12, the Runnin’ Utes are true contenders.
Here’s hoping the New Year brings continued success to the basketball program, and some much needed resolution and peace to the football program.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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