Harlan: Utah’s Coaches Are Best Teachers I’ve Been Around

Nov 4, 2019, 5:01 PM

Kyle Whittingham - Utah Utes...

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham pumps his fist after beating the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SEATTLE, Washington – As I stood outside the Utah locker room waiting to hear the halftime message from head coach Kyle Whittingham, Mark Harlan, Utah’s athletic director, approached me and complemented Utah’s staff of assistant coaches.

“Those coaches are such great teachers, the best teachers I have ever been around. They always stay calm and composed and just teach, no matter the circumstance,” He whispered in my ear.

It got me thinking about all of the teaching moments I have witnessed in my time playing for and covering the Utes.

Morgan Scalley Responds To Being Caught Off Guard

During the first quarter, immediately following the first Utah defensive drive when Washington went on a 13 play, 70-yard touchdown drive to open the game, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley got the entire defense together on the sideline.

“We are good. Everything is okay! They went into some tempo, and caught us off guard. We knew that they were going to try some of that. Stay calm, stay positive, and everything will be just fine. A few self-inflicted mistakes kept them on the field. Regroup, and let’s respond,” Scalley told the defense in a very positive manner.

He did not shout, nor did he seem panicked. Despite a number of players evidently frustrated and upset.

Lewis Powell Reacts To Painful Penalties

During that same drive, Utah’s defense found themselves in a third and one situation on their own 16-yard line when Bradlee Anae jumped offside, giving Washington a free 5 yards and a first down. He came to the sideline and was quickly approached by defensive line coach Lewis Powell.

“What are you doing?!?” Powell screamed, “Watch the ball! Do not get greedy! You are better than that!”

Powell was angry and agitated with his star defensive end.

Anae responded, ending the game with one sack and one tackle for loss.

Jim Harding Won’t Let The O-Line Lose The Game

The offensive line struggled for the better part of one and a half quarters. Tyler Huntley, who is clearly struggling with a sore left knee, had very little time in the pocket before he was met with pressure. Offensive line coach Jim Harding had seen enough before he spoke with his guys.

“What are we doing?! Wake the *bleep* up! We are losing this game for us!” Harding screamed at his offensive line.

Multiple adjustments took place over the first quarter and a half.

Bamidele Olaseni started at right tackle and struggled. Giving up a sack before coming out of the game with an injury to his shoulder.

Nick Ford bumped out to tackle, from guard, and Johnny Maea moved into the right guard position. It did not work. Maea was clearly undersized and paid the price. Ford did not look comfortable at tackle either, giving up a costly false start penalty.

Harding benched Maea, bumping Ford back into tackle and inserting Simi Moala at right tackle.

The next drive Utah went on a 12 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard reception to Zack Moss that put six on the board for Utah.

The defense had more time to recuperate and gather their breath and the momentum started to shift.

Utah had control of the line of scrimmage.

After the game, I walked into the locker room with Harding.

“After watching the chaos unfold early in the game, I have come to the conclusion that I do not want your job,” I told Harding.

He laughed, “I just hope I make it to an age where I can see my children grow up.”

Kiel McDonald Stayed Composed

The longer the game went on, the more it felt as though Utah had control. That was until true freshman running back Jordan Wilmore lost control of the ball after a simple handoff in the backfield and gifted the Washington defense the ball on a fumble, just as it seemed Utah was going to put more points on the board.

Wilmore would not take another snap in the game.

Running backs coach Kiel McDonald was the first to greet Wilmore following the fumble. McDonald placed his hands on either side of Wilmore’s helmet and placed his forehead above the facemask of Wilmore. He spoke with him for a minute, he did not raise his voice once. He was calm.

When the footage of McDonald speaking with Wilmore popped up on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast, commentator Brock Huard said: “boy do I love that teaching right there.”

Wilmore beat himself up on the sideline following the encounter with his coach, while McDonald remained focused on the task at hand.

Coaching Is More Than Just Xs and Os

Most football coaches have a hard time maintaining composure. Utah’s coaches do not.

Early in the season, I remember sitting in the Director of Operations Jeff Rudy’s office. We were talking about coaching and how I do not think I could do it, despite having thought about it in the past.

“There is so much more to coaching than what most people think. Getting the Xs and Os down is only a small portion of it. Every coach interacts with their players differently and the best coaches are often the ones that understand their personnel the best,” he told me.

This weekend was a great example of that. There is a time and a place to shout and scream at your players, but it does not work all the time.

Early in the game, it would have been easy for the Utah coaches to verbally dismantle their players on the sideline. In fact, I would bet that most college coaches would have done exactly that.

However, Utah is experienced, there are 20 seniors on the team. The coaches have spent a number of years with the senior leaders of this team and it is paying dividends. There is a mutual respect.

The coach-player relationship on this 2019 football team is different. In my opinion, it was the difference in the ball game. Utah won this game because its players respect and respond to their coaches.

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Harlan: Utah’s Coaches Are Best Teachers I’ve Been Around