SALT LAKE CITY — A lot happened in the world of sports in the state of Utah in 2019, so recapping the year comes as a challenge.
But without further ado, he’s a look at the 10 most memorable, or impactful, sports stories in the state for the year.
Fans banned for life
Sports bring out the best and worst in fans sometimes and, unfortunately, 2019 will go down as a bad year for fan interactions in the state. The most high-profile interaction was when a Utah Jazz fan allegedly yelled racist comments toward then Oklahoma City Thunder player Russell Westbrook. The whole incident got the fan permanently banned by the Jazz. The fan sued the Jazz later in the year; the case is still moving through the court system.
In September, The Utah Royals FC banned a fan for life for all events at Rio Tinto Stadium after racist slurs were allegedly hurled toward Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch during a match.
The two incidents prompted the state’s athletic teams to come together to encourage civility and sportsmanship.
Alliance football comes and goes
With hopes of a professional football league to exist after the NFL wrapped up its season, the Alliance of American Football wanted to fill the void. The league kicked off its season a week after the Super Bowl in February but, approximately two months later, it folded and declared bankruptcy, leaving teams like the Salt Lake Stallions stranded and without answers.
Weber State in the semifinals
After two consecutive seasons of reaching the Football Championship Subdivision’s quarterfinals and losing, Weber State football finally got over the hump in the third year and reached its first-ever semifinals appearance. The No. 3-seeded Wildcats would eventually lose to No. 2-seed James Madison in the semifinals.
Hanging it up
Longtime BYU men’s basketball coach Dave Rose called it quits after the 2018-19 basketball season, ending a 14-year career as the team’s head coach. Rose left the university with the second-most wins in program history.
Also hanging it up in 2019 was Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando. In a 12-year career in Utah, Rimando helped the team win an MLS Cup and finished his career holding every major goalkeeping record in MLS.
Aggies conference champs
Picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West Conference in Craig Smith’s first season as Utah State’s head coach for the men’s basketball team, the Aggies defied expectations and won the regular-season title with an upset win over Nevada. The win prompted a fight after the game. The Aggies went on to win the conference championship title with another win over Nevada, earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
National Coach of the Year
After his team went 11-2 and was part of the College Football Playoff narrative late into the season, Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham was named the Bobby Dodd Trophy Coach of the Year. Whittingham was also named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year and the American Football Coaches Association Region 5 Coach of the Year this season. He signed a contract extension earlier in the season to keep him at Utah through the 2023 season.
In one of the first big sports stories of the year, Dixie State moved from Division II to Division I and will be a part of the Western Athletic Conference as an FCS program in 2020. The Trailblazers are expected to go through a four-year transition period and likely won’t be eligible for postseason play until 2024.
Real Salt Lake let manager Mike Petke go after he served a three-game suspension for verbal complaints made to referee John Pitti following a 1-0 loss to Tigres UANL in a Leagues Cup match. Interim manager Freddy Juarez, who previously served as the team’s assistant coach, was later named the team’s manager. RSL also let general manager Craig Waibel go after the 2019 season.
The Utah Jazz didn’t eliminate any coaching positions but promoted former general manager Dennis Lindsey to be the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager Justin Zanik to the team’s general manager.
UHSAA moves to RPI
In one of the biggest shakeups to postseason play, the Utah High School Activities Association opted to utilize an RPI system to determine playoff seeding. Instead of the top teams in each region being invited to the playoffs, the RPI system would judge every school together. Just ask Orem High how it worked out.
Unfortunately, the state of Utah lost a few notable sports figures this year.
- Wat Misaka, a former University of Utah basketball player and Ogden native became the first non-Caucasian player drafted in what is now the NBA, to the New York Knicks. He died in November at the age of 95.
- Tom Nissalke, the Utah Jazz’s first head coach after its move to Utah in 1979, died in August at the age of 87. He went 60-124 in just over two seasons before being replaced by Frank Layden 20 games into the 1981-82 season.
- Harold Blaine Lindgren, Utah’s second-ever Olympian as a sprinter, died in October at 80 years old. He won a silver medal for Team USA at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
- Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert won back-to-back NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards.
- Utes running back Zack Moss became the program’s all-time leading rusher.
- Utah Royals FC players won the women’s World Cup with Team USA.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments.