Countdown To Utah Football: The 1994 Season
SALT LAKE CITY- The Utes are full steam ahead on the 2022 football season which many pundits nationally and locally feel could be the program’s biggest yet. While we all anxiously wait to see how things actually play out on the field, we thought it would be fun to travel back in time to some of Utah’s other big seasons. Last week Crimson Corner kicked-off our “Countdown To Utah Football” with the 1994 season. To help get a feel for what things were like then for the Utes, host Michelle Bodkin brought on former defensive back Edwin “EG” Garrette who was a part of that historic team.
Through the ’70’s and ’80’s Utah football really struggled to gain any traction. The Utes were primarily a basketball school while BYU took a stronghold of college football in the state under their legendary head coach LaVell Edwards. When Garrette arrived on Utah’s campus, the state primarily bled blue when it came to football, but he and his teammates under legendary Utah head coach Ron McBride were about to change that.
“Everything was BYU, the University of Utah was really a second thought,” Garrette said. “Nobody really cared too much about us and so it was really interesting to see the tide over the course of the three years I was there kind of turn.”
While the 1994 season is much more heralded in Utah football lore, Garrette says they started to get an inkling things could be different in 1993.
“Really, I think the turning tide for the program, at least while I was there, was the 1993 game up at LaVell Edwards Stadium,” Garrette recalled. “We won 34-31 on a 50-yard kick. I think it was one of those things where if you are pushing an object that is immovable and you finally get it to budge it gives you that hope that you know you can move it.”
Confidence Is Key
When going back in Utah football’s history, one of the things that seems to stick out about some of their better seasons is that the players and coaches had a sense before games were even played that the team would be good. According to Garrette the 1994 squad felt pretty confident they would do well before the season started and it only built from there.
“Going into fall camp of ’94- now you have to understand, we had Mike McCoy coming back as quarterback, we lost Jamal and that was going to be a big missing part for us, but we had a pretty good group of running backs,” Garrette said. “We felt good, and then one of the biggest factors when you look at the greatest player I’ve ever played with in Luther Elliss. I mean, Luther was an absolute monster versus everyone. He was a man among boys. Knowing he was back and on the team, having Bronzell Miller coming off the edge and we had a very veteran secondary. We knew that we could compete.”
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The 1994 team would go on to finish 10-2 beating three ranked opponents in #12 Colorado State, #20 BYU and #15 Arizona in the Freedom Bowl on their way to a #8 rank in the Coaches Poll and #10 rank in the AP Poll. Garrette says it wasn’t until the Utes were about ready to take on CSU (their first ranked opponent that year) that they knew something special could be happening.
“That game was a nationally televised game,” Garrette said. “We had them up there, they had a really good team. We ended up slipping up and losing to Air Force and New Mexico later in the season that cost us the conference- Colorado State actually ended up winning the conference but going into that game it was two ranked WAC teams. At the time it was kind of unheard of.”
A Lasting Legacy
Few college football coaches can say they have spent 28 seasons with the same school, but Kyle Whittingham isn’t most college football coaches. Whittingham got his coaching start on Utah’s 1994 squad as their defensive line coach under the tutelage of his father, Fred “Mad Dog” Whittingham who was the defensive coordinator at the time. What makes Kyle Whittingham’s story so incredible is he never left Utah after getting his starting job in 1994, eventually advancing to defensive coordinator himself and finally head coach where he stands today.
“He is the G.O.A.T of the University of Utah,” Garrette said. “Coach Ron McBride is the founding father of that, and Kyle has taken us to the next level times two. You look at the stability of our program and it says a lot about what Kyle is, what he stands for, how he has managed a program for that long which is quite impressive when you look at all the turnover these days in terms of college programs. He’s brought stability, he’s brought respect- not only to the university, but the state of Utah. He’s on the top five list of every current college coach in the country and we owe him a lot.”
Family On Three
A lot of college football programs talk about family, but few have the brotherhood that the Utes have built. Garrette says a large part of that stems from former head coach Ron McBride and the love and understanding he tried to instill in his players while also demanding hard work and effort as well.
“It started with coach McBride,” Garrette said. “Coach McBride is a leader of men. He’s not just a leader of football, he’s a leader of men. He was able to inspire us to do things that maybe we didn’t want to do. When you play meaningful football games, you build that comradery with each other. I think from the point after I graduated, a lot of the guys that played after I met just because I was coming back and forth to different games and events. We’d talk and share stories and a lot of it was centered around coach Mac. Them sharing Mac stories, us sharing Mac stories.”
Those bonds still exist today between coach Mac, his players, and even guys who were before or after that period. All you have to do is look at the number of people who turn out yearly for McBride’s foundation events to understand what Utah football has built and maintained through the years, even after McBride was replaced.
“The fact that we still talk to McBride to this day, we’re still around him, we still talk to his wife and engage in the activities he’s doing in the community, that’s a testament to what type of human being he is,” Garrette said. “There are not too many other players, who played at other colleges that can say they still talk to their coach, I know where my coach is, my coach still cares about me, my coach still asks about me.”
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