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SALT LAKE CITY — Early Monday morning, the University of Utah football team announced its latest series of coaching moves, hoping to right the ship in what most recently may be described as a boat set adrift.
Dennis Erickson, originally hired to be Utah’s co-offensive coordinator alongside up-and-comer Brian Johnson, was moved to running backs coach last season before being named the Utes' latest assistant head coach while retaining his duties overseeing the running backs.
These moves took place over the past 24 months.
In the same time period, the Utes allowed Johnson to leave the program where he built his football career for a job as the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. Head coach Kyle Whittingham then hired former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen to oversee the team’s offense before Christensen left after one season for a lesser job at Texas A&M.
And that’s just on offense.
Most recently, the Utes lost longtime defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake to former Whittingham disciple Gary Andersen at Oregon State, losing defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki in Sitake’s wake.
In addition to the Erickson promotion, former offensive line coach Jim Harding will now make up half of the Utes' offensive-coordinating staff, serving alongside Aaron Roderick, who in addition to filling this role previously, has also held the title of wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and most recently quarterbacks coach.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Whittingham brought former Utah defensive line coach and longtime NFL assistant John Pease out of retirement to oversee the Utes' defensive coordinator position. Pease will turn 72 in October.
Based on prior success, Utah fans ought to applaud the program’s latest moves.
With Roderick overseeing the offense, the Utes achieved a 10-win season in 2010 and a sixth overall national ranking before losing consecutive games to TCU and Notre Dame.
Pease, seeing to the defensive line, helped catapult defensive end Koa Misi into the second round of the 2009 NFL draft.
Over the past two seasons, Erickson, and now Harding, have proven to be Utah’s most valuable recruiters, opening a reliable recruiting pipeline in Florida, and most recently a series of highly touted offensive line recruits across the West.
However, if the Utes' latest coaching moves were designed to produce stability, the strategy appears doomed to fail once again.
Erickson and Pease are in the twilight of their careers, having both retired before joining Utah’s staff. A departure from football once and for all will be fast approaching for the Utes' most senior coaching members.
Whittingham’s co-coordinator method has been short-lived in the past, with both Erickson and Johnson, and Roderick and Dave Schramm combining to last only one season. Based on prior history, Utah’s latest incarnation may be destined to a similar fate.
This isn’t to say Utah’s football program is doomed, or that progress can’t be made for the Utes' future. With Travis Wilson returning to start as a senior quarterback, and All-Conference running back Devonte Booker returning, Whittingham’s more than adequate coaching staff will start the 2015 campaign seemingly light years ahead of where it has been in previous Pac-12 seasons.
But long-term stabilizing moves these are not. As Whittingham enters his third decade with the Utah program, a change at head coach appears to be on the horizon. Whether Whittingham opts to leave Utah for a bigger job, hoping to compete for a national championship, or the Utes decide to shake up the status quo with a head coaching move, the long-tenured coach’s heir is anything but apparent.
While this latest series of moves may be intended to right Utah’s coaching ship, they may better serve as a patch to an aging boat than an improvement on the previous course.