This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Nobody cheers for the corporation.
That would explain why athletic director Chris Hill received boos during a University of Utah basketball game last week. The response was unwarranted, if somewhat understandable, among fans who have chosen a side in the public perception of the relationship between Hill and Ute football coach Kyle Whittingham.
If you take the personalities out of the discussion, it becomes clear that the Utah athletic department has supported the football program very well in terms of facilities, salaries, budgets and support staffing. Whittingham undoubtedly recognizes that, even if he's not happy with how Hill handled his staff's contractual issues prior to the 2014 season.
The funding of football is not merely an act of benevolence, because Hill wants to win games as much as anybody. Yet his department deserves credit for aggressively supporting football, men's basketball and women's gymnastics in this initial four-year phase of Pac-12 membership, positioning all three sports to compete for conference championships in 2015.
The financial challenge "never, never ends," Hill said Thursday in a Tribune interview, "but our commitment has been really strong in our most visible sports."
That's easily documented, and is important to remember, amid the turnover of assistant coaches and questions about how much Hill values Whittingham.
In labor vs. management, labor is always the underdog never mind that in today's college athletics, the football coach of a Power 5 program is by far the school's highest-paid employee.
Rick Majerus' father was a union leader in Milwaukee. During the 15 years they worked together, it is unlikely that Hill and his former basketball coach ever were completely satisfied with one another, partly because Majerus was predisposed to battle with management. But they made it work, most of the time, and the Utes achieved great things.
The same potentially can be said of Hill and Whittingham, who has three seasons remaining on a contract that paid him $2.2 million (plus bonuses) this past season.
"We're fine," Hill said. "I have no indication we're not moving forward. Even answering that question seems weird to me."
My overriding point is, their relationship doesn't have to be fine. It just has to be functional. As long as Hill is financially and personally supportive of Whittingham's choices to fill his offensive and defensive coordinator vacancies, they can make this work. And if the Utes continue their upward trend in 2015 with an improved offense, Whittingham undoubtedly would deserve another contract.
The coaching market plays into this, but Whittingham's salary has basically doubled since 2010, the year the Utes received a Pac-12 invitation. That's also true of the assistant coaches' salary pool, with former defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake having gone from $160,000 in 2009 to $500,000 this past season, according to USA Today's database. Hill has cited an offer of a significant raise that failed to keep Sitake from joining Oregon State's staff.
Beyond that, the administration has shown its commitment by increasing the number of full-time support staff members from two to 12 and graduate assistants/part-time staffers from eight to 21 since joining the Pac-12, Hill said. The football program now is headquartered in the $32 million Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center, and major investments have been made in nutrition and academic support for athletes, with plans to spend $1 million annually to fund the full cost of attendance.
Hill got out in front of the Pac-12's increased level of competition by going into debt for the first time in his tenure, borrowing university funds to increase budgets prior to the Utes receiving a full share of conference revenue. The athletic department is now paying back roughly $1 million per year.
The proactive strategy worked. The Utes are highly ranked in the sports Hill targeted. That merits some cheers for the AD or an absence of boos, anyway.