Utes could face exodus

U. coaches are top candidates for national openings
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It might have been the last time that Utah's Urban Meyer, Mike Sanford and Kyle Whittingham left the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium as colleagues rather than competing head coaches.

But what a way to go.

The head coach and his two top lieutenants enjoyed the most overwhelming postgame party - er, fiesta - that the Utah football program has ever seen, after beating rival Brigham Young 52-21 on Saturday night to finish an undefeated regular season and clinch a spot in the Bowl Championship Series. The goalposts came down, thousands of fans mobbed the field, and a national television audience watched it all on ESPN2.

"This morning was even better," Whittingham said.

That's when the victory really began to sink in, Whittingham said, as a perfect gift for his 45th birthday on Sunday. And while the Utes held their positions at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 and No. 6 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, Whittingham spent the day with friends and relatives at the Riverside Country Club in Provo - where he could wind up spending even more time in the near future.

While Meyer and Sanford are leading candidates for other jobs of their own - Meyer at Florida, and Sanford at UNLV - Whittingham is potentially a top candidate to replace coach Gary Crowton at BYU, if the Cougars do as expected and fire him after his third straight losing season. A native of Provo who played linebacker for the Cougars, Whittingham repeated the public knowledge that he wants to be a head coach, and said an opening at BYU certainly would fit into that.

"I'm just going to be patient," he said.

The waiting and the seeing could be as intriguing as the Utes' run to their second straight Mountain West Conference championship.

With Meyer believed to be interested in the opening at Florida, the Utes could see their coaching staff quickly gutted if he gets that job and Sanford and Whittingham also move on. Athletic director Chris Hill might have to act fast if he fears losing Meyer to the Gators and wants to hire Sanford or Whittingham to replace him - Sanford is interviewing with the Rebels today in Salt Lake City, for example - but he has refused to comment on what might happen or any contingency plans he might have developed.

Meyer has said he "plans" to coach the Utes next season, and has not discussed his future. Meyer deflected questions about the Florida job at the press conference after the BYU game. The Gators had said they would not contact active coaches until their regular seasons were complete, leading to speculation that athletic director Jeremy Foley would try to reach Meyer soon.

Foley did not return phone calls Sunday, nor could Meyer be reached for comment.

Meyer also canceled his weekly television coach's show, though assistant athletic director Liz Abel said that he seemed exhausted after the game and the celebration, and told her that he wanted to spend the day with his family and the seven high school players the Utes had in town on recruiting visits over the weekend.

Meanwhile, senior safety Morgan Scalley made an impression with BYU fans a day after the Utah victory by posting a message on an Internet chat board, apologizing for language he used to describe the Cougars to his teammates in a post-practice huddle last week that was filmed by ESPN and broadcast on its "College Football GameDay" program.

The network bleeped out the word Scalley used, leading some viewers to believe he had sworn gratuitously.

A member of the LDS Church who served a two-year mission in Germany, Scalley said some friends alerted him to messages on the board that suggested he should lose church privileges for the remark, which Scalley acknowledged was "probably inappropriate," but not really a swear word. As a result, he posted his own message of apology on the board - www.CougarBoard.com - complete with his home phone number for fans who wanted to discuss the matter.

"I talk to so many youth groups and I speak at firesides," he said. "The last thing I want is for people to view me as a hypocritical person."

By late Sunday, Scalley said only one person had called.

Scalley and the Utes will practice only once this week, while administrators today begin making plans for the bowl trip - probably to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona on Jan. 1. There is a slight chance the Utes will wind up in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 3, but that would require No. 2 Oklahoma to lose the Big 12 Conference championship game, among other things.


Utah Utes

11-0 (7-0 Mountain West)

Sept. 2 Texas A&M W, 41-21

Last Game: W, 32-25 (OT) vs. Texas Tech

Record: 7-3 Next: at Texas, Friday

Sept. 11 at Arizona W, 23-6

Last Game: L, 49-9 at USC

Record: 2-8 Next: vs. Arizona State, Friday

Sept. 18 at Utah State W, 48-6

Last Game: W, 34-25 vs. New Mexico State

Record: 3-8 Next: season complete

Sept. 25 Air Force W, 49-35

Last Game: W, 47-17 vs. Colorado State

Record: 5-6 Next: season complete

Oct. 1 at New Mexico W, 28-7 Last Game: W, 16-9 vs. Wyoming

Record: 7-4 Next: Las Vegas or Emerald Bowl

Oct. 16 North Carolina W, 46-16

Last Game: W, 40-17 vs. Duke

Record: 6-5 Next: Continental Tire Bowl

Oct. 23 UNLV W, 63-28

Last Game: L, 21-3 at San Diego State

Record: 2-9 Next: season complete

Oct. 30 at San Diego State W, 51-28

Last Game: W, 21-3 vs. UNLV

Record: 4-7 Next: season complete

Nov. 6 Colorado State W, 63-31

Last Game: L, 47-17 at Air Force

Record: 4-7 Next: season complete

Nov. 13 at Wyoming W, 45-28

Last Game: L, 16-9 at New Mexico

Record: 6-5 Next: Las Vegas or Emerald Bowl

Nov. 20 Brigham Young W, 52-21

Last Game: L, 52-21 at Utah

Record: 5-6 Next: season complete

Turning the Keys

1. Keep 'Em In Front

The Utes shut down the Cougar running game and never let receivers Todd Watkins and Austin Collie kill them with big plays downfield. Yes, both players caught touchdown passes, but they combined for a manageable seven catches for 115 yards - below their average of 9.8 catches for 170 yards.

2. Handle the Blitz

Quarterback Alex Smith said he was more prepared for the 3-3-5 defense than ever, but he looked a little off-kilter against the storm of blitzes. He threw two interceptions, took two sacks and looked a lot like he did against New Mexico - mortal. Still, he's now 20-1 as the starter.

3. Early to Rise

The Utes couldn't blow out the Cougs right from the start, the way they have most teams this season. Instead, they punted on their first two possessions and needed a little time - and a few big breaks - to work into a solid rhythm.