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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah football team is a mess.
Let me correct that.
The University of Utah football program is a mess. The team is just fine. Despite likely losing several players to the NFL, a blessing and a curse in college football, the team will likely thrive next season in what should be a Pac-12 featuring a large number of new and, to this point, unproven quarterbacks. The Utes won nine games this year, including five within the conference, despite having arguably the worst quarterback rotation of any school in the Pac-12.
With a healthy number of offensive players returning, and an impressive number of defensive starters coming back, assuredly healthy, the Utes' talent on the field should net them another trip to a bowl game.
However, the work on the field can be undermined by a slew of issues taking place in the front office of the program. The loss of Kalani Sitake and Dave Christensen will force the Utes' offensive and defensive units to start from square one going into spring. This is the eighth time in eight seasons that the Utes offense will have a new leader, a nearly impossible situation for any quarterback, or other offensive player to build continuity.
It can be assumed the Utes defense would continue to perform at a high level under Kyle Whittingham, assuming oft-injured linebacker Gionni Paul and defensive back Tevin Carter come back healthy, and young defensive end Hunter Dimick continues to improve. However, without Sitake coaching the defense, a culture change is inevitable. And as Utah has seen on offense, any change at coordinator can be devastating.
Losing two of its three highest-ranking coaches is an enormous setback for the Utes after a nine-win season, but it isn’t a disaster, and Dr. Chris Hill is not wrong to bet on himself to clean up the mess.
In his tenure as athletic director at the University of Utah, Hill has cleaned up more than one mess, and with few exceptions, has done a standout job.
Hill took control of Utah's athletic department in 1987, a department that had seen its Runnin’ Utes basketball team flounder in mediocrity under Lynn Archibald. Hill replaced Archibald with Rick Majerus in 1989, who led the Utes to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of his 15 seasons as head coach.
Hill’s first head coaching hire for the football team was Ron McBride. Previous to hiring McBride, the Utes had not made a bowl game since 1964. The new coach took the team bowling in his third season. McBride went on to lead the Utes to a bowl game in six of his 13 seasons as head coach.
Upon replacing McBride, Hill hired then-little-known Urban Meyer, and while Meyer’s tenure with the Utes lasted only two seasons, he led the Utes to their first undefeated season in the BCS era. He has since proven to be one of the elite coaches in all of college football.
Replacing Meyer seemed to be an impossible task, but Hill again hit a home run, hiring current head coach Whittingham, who over the last decade as head coach has led the Utes to an 85-43 record, including 8-1 in bowl games, with a stunning victory over Alabama in the 2008 Sugar Bowl.
The talent of the coaches cannot be overlooked when examining the success of the Utes football and basketball teams, as they are the boots on the ground doing the recruiting and day-to-day coaching in practices and games.
Though credit must also be given to Hill, as it takes a special athletic director to see coaching talent from afar and to know when a new coaching hire is necessary. While the Utah athletic director hasn’t been perfect in his coaching hires —consider Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen — the track record of the majority of his coaching hires have been overwhelmingly successful.
So while the current situation at the University of Utah is certainly a mess, Hill may already be the right doctor to cure the ills.
Ben Anderson is the co-host of Gunther in the Afternoon with Kyle Gunther on 1320 KFAN from 3-7, Monday through Friday. Read Ben's Utah Jazz blog at 1320kfan.com, and follow him on Twitter @BenKFAN.