Timeline Of Important Events For Utah Athletics Before, During Pac-12 Era
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – 10 years ago on June 17, Utah officially accepted their invitation to leave the Mountain West and join the Pac-10 Conference which would later become the Pac-12.
Utah has enjoyed a lot of success in the Pac-12 on and off the field. Joining a power-five conference has allowed Utah to build and upgrade facilities, recruit at a higher level and face tough competition in all sports.
KSLSports.com BYU insider and Cougar Tracks podcast host Mitch Harper joined the Crimson Corner for a cross podcast to dissect the last 10 years for both Utah and BYU.
In honor of the 10-year anniversary for conference realignment, here is a timeline of notable events that took place before and during the Pac-12 era.
1997: Stadium Renovation
After the 1997 season, Rice Stadium was almost completely demolished and was replaced with modern steel, concrete and glass that built nearly a brand new stadium. The only thing that was saved from the old stadium were the stands in the south end zone, which was built in 1982.
The renovations for Rice-Eccles Stadium helped the state of Utah’s chances of hosting the 2002 Olympics where the stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies.
2003: Utah Hires Urban Meyer
Utah head coach Urban Meyer became the head coach in 2003 after two seasons at the helm for Bowling Green. In his first season as the head coach of the Utes, Meyer led the team to their first outright conference title since 1957 and the best record for a coach’s first season in Utah history when they finished 10-2.
One year later, Meyer helped Utah to a second straight conference title and an undefeated 12-0 record. Utah beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to become the first non-BCS school to win a BCS bowl game.
In two seasons at Utah, Meyer held a 22-2 record with two conference championships.
2004: Utah Hires Kyle Whittingham
Towards the end of Meyer’s second season at Utah, he accepted an offer to be the next head coach at Florida. On December 8, 2004, Utah named defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham as the next head coach at Utah. The duo would co-coach the Fiesta Bowl and then Whittingham would take over beginning with the 2005 season.
Whittingham has carried Utah through the transition from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12. But the 2008 season was critical to Utah getting into the Pac-12 after they went a perfect 13-0 after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to bust the BCS for the second time.
During Whittingham’s tenure, he has a 131-64 record including an 11-3 record in bowl games. Also, Utah has won one conference title and two division titles under Whittingham’s leadership.
2005: Utes Beat Pittsburgh In Fiesta Bowl
On January 1, 2005, less than one month after Urban Meyer announced that he was leaving Utah to become the head coach at Florida and that Kyle Whittingham would succeed him, Utah appeared in the Fiesta Bowl. They clinched a berth in that bowl game after beating BYU in the regular season finale to improve to 11-0 and winning the outright Mountain West Conference Championship.
The Utes faced Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, who was ranked No. 19 in the country. Utah took it to the Panthers in the game by scoring 28 unanswered points before Pittsburgh scored their only touchdown. The Utes beat Pitt 35-7 to become the first non-BCS school to win a BCS bowl game.
Quarterback Alex Smith passed for 328 yards and 4 touchdowns while rushing for 68 yards.
2005: Two Utah Alums Selected No. 1 Overall NFL, NBA Drafts
After his junior season concluded, Alex Smith declared for the 2005 NFL Draft where he was taken as the No. 1 overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers. Smith is still in the league after spending time with the 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and now with the Washington Redskins.
A couple of months later, Runnin’ Utes big man Andrew Bogut declared for the 2005 NBA Draft after two seasons with Utah. Bogut was taken No. 1 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft to the Milwaukee Bucks. Bogut’s last season in the NBA was in 2019 when he was with the Golden State Warriors. The Australian has played with the Bucks, Warriors, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Lakers.
Utah is the only school to have No. 1 overall picks in both the NBA and NFL drafts in the same year.
2009: Utah Defeats Alabama In Sugar Bowl
After beating No. 14 BYU at home in the regular season finale, Kyle Whittingham and the Utes clinched another Mountain West Conference Championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl where they would face Alabama.
On January 2, 2009 in the Sugar Bowl, Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. After 10 unanswered points from Alabama in the second quarter, each team scored one touchdown in the third. The Utes put the game away in the fourth quarter with a field goal to knock off the 4th ranked Crimson Tide 31-17. It was Utah’s second BCS bowl win as a non-BCS school.
Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns in the win.
2013: Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center Opens
In the fall of 2013, Utah athletics opened the state-of-the-art Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center. The 150,000-square foot, $32 million facility was the first “big thing” that changed Utah football forever since joining the Pac-12. The sports medicine complex is a technologically advanced 17,000-square foot space that allows the Utah sports medicine staff to utilize cutting edge rehabilitation and therapy techniques. In that building, a 250-seat cafeteria is housed there that serves meals tailored to to the specific diets of the student-athletes.
The 19,000-square foot Alex Smith Strength and Conditioning Center opened in 2009 is attached to the Eccles Football Center. That is just some of the many great things that the Football Center provides to Utah student-athletes.
Utah President’s History
In the middle of being in the Mountain West Conference, Bernie Machen was the University of Utah President where he served in that position from 1998-04. Michael K. Young took over in 2004 and helped usher Utah into the Pac-12 with his last year in that position being in 2011.
David W. Pershing was the University President during most of the Pac-12 era, serving from 2012-2018. Ruth Watkins became the President in 2018 and is currently serving in that role.
Utah AD’s History
Since 1987, Utah has had just two Athletic Directors with Dr. Chris Hill serving from 1987-2018. He was critical to helping Utah get into the Pac-12. In 2018, Hill retired and turned the reigns over to Mark Harlan who is bringing Utah athletics to new heights.
Pac-12 Commissioner Changes
In the history of the conference, only four individuals have been the commissioner. Thomas J. Hamilton was the AAWU/Pacific-8 Commissioner from 1959-71. Wiles Hallock was the Pacific-8/Pacific-10 Commissioner for 12 years from 1971-83. Then, Thomas C. Hansen was the Pac-10 Commissioner for 26 years from 1983-09 but was not interested in expansion during his tenure.
The conference expanded to 12 teams when Larry Scott took over in 2009 and is currently the Commissioner of the conference.
First Pac-12 Win
It was a big moment for each athletic program that competes in the Pac-12 when they won their first conference game. Here is the sport, day, opponent and other information when that team won their first Pac-12 game.
Football: October 29, 2011 vs. Oregon State – 27-8
Men’s Basketball: January 5, 2012 vs. Washington State – 62-60 in OT
Women’s Basketball: January 7, 2012 at Washington – 49-36
Gymnastics: February 12, 2012 at Arizona State – 196.150-194.000
Baseball: March 16, 2012 at USC (first Pac-12 game) – 1-0
Softball: April 28, 2012 vs. Oregon State – 8-6
Women’s Soccer: September 23, 2011 at Oregon (first Pac-12 game) – 2-0
Men’s Tennis: April 21, 2012 at Arizona – 5-2
Women’s Tennis: April 7, 2012 at Washington – 6-1
Women’s Volleyball: September 13, 2011 at Colorado (first Pac-12 game) – 3-0
Three sports teams have won conference championships or at least a division title. Football has taken the Pac-12 South Division Title in each of the last two seasons.
The Red Rocks are a national gymnastics powerhouse. In their nine seasons in the Pac-12, Utah gymnastics has won three Pac-12 Championships. The first one in 2014, second in 2015 and their last one was in 2017. The Pac-12 Championships this season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Baseball had a magical season in 2016 after finishing last in the Pac-12 with a 7-22-1 record during the previous season. In 2016, Utah baseball won the conference title with a 19-11 record despite their overall record being 26-29. The Utes went 1-2 during the NCAA Tournament with a win over Ole Miss but lost to Boston College and Tulane.
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