Kyle Brennan Excited To Be Back With Utes As Crimson Collective CEO

Jun 15, 2023, 11:58 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – Former Utah Deputy Athletics Director/Chief Operating Officer Kyle Brennan will be back with the Utes as the Crimson Collective CEO after serving as the Athletic Director at Illinois State for the past few years.

Brennan recently resigned as ISU’s AD and was looking to be back at a place that he knew well and knew him right back. Working in an athletic department adjacent role with Utah’s endorsed NIL collective was exactly what Brennan was looking for and he couldn’t be happier to be back in Salt Lake City.

“Utah is definitely home for us and our family,” Brennan said. “This community has been amazing to us and we love it here, so coming back was a great opportunity. I spent 13 years working for the University of Utah and the football program. My wife did as well, and so to have the chance to support that program- to see it succeed is a tremendous opportunity.”

Doing Due Diligence

Brennan’s time at Illinois State came to a rather shocking and abrupt end that he says has taught him the value of being in places where you have the right fit and culture. Brennan said that is what makes coming back to Utah, working to help a team and community he is familiar with, an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“I learned a lot of valuable lessons that showed me how important fit is,” Brennan said. “I feel like my fit is here in Utah. When I resigned that position, it was- it didn’t fit anymore. We had multiple changes in leadership, and I wanted to be in a place where people knew me, knew my character and have a vision to do things the right way. When I resigned that position, I was really thinking that I wanted to come back to Utah because it’s a great place for our family, plus, I am so supported and believe in what Mark Harlan and Kyle Whittingham are doing. It was a great opportunity to come home.”

Obviously, some of the initial accusations from Brennan’s resignation with ISU were serious and needed to be vetted out before handing the keys of the Crimson Collective over to him. Brennan says Matt Garff and company left no stone unturned when they were looking at bringing him on as their new CEO and both sides were satisfied with the findings.

“They talked to people I worked with at Illinois State- my former president at Illinois State,” Brennan said. “They also talked to Kyle Whittingham, Mark Harlan and others here at the U, so they really did a deep dive. I appreciate they took the time to do that because when they did take the time, they found a lot of people who were very supportive of me and this collective and want to see it succeed.”

Kyle Brennan Brings Valuable Knowledge To Crimson Collective

Brennan believes the future of athletic departments lies in name, image, and likeness and collectives making this new venture an interesting one that he can hopefully help set a good precedent for as everyone navigates through the nuances.

“What is happening in college athletics, not just from the standpoint of change, but also just a massive deviation from the model that we’ve had before,” Brennan said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for institutions to have a lot of success. This is one time where we can have a great impact on winning and losing, so I think to be a part that part of the industry is going to be helpful to me and my career as I move forward. NIL is becoming the number one issue that all of us have to deal with, and so, for me, I’d already worked for a collective at Illinois State. I was very interested in it and love the donors here at Utah, so getting back and reacquainted with them and working with them on this is going to be a joy.”

A big part of what makes Brennan such a great fit as CEO of the Crimson Collective is his proven record in gathering donations and fundraising at the athletic department level and understanding how to navigate talking to the same people for similar, but different things.

At Utah alone before he moved on to ISU, Brennan was responsible for gathering a $15.6 million gift to start the lacrosse program in 2017. Brennan helped negotiate new multimedia rights and department-wide apparel contracts that exceeded the prior contracts by $20 million while also helping Crimson Club Annual Fund revenue reach historic levels.

“A lot of our donors- not all of them, will be the same people,” Brennan said. “Mark Harlan is raising money for a new baseball stadium for example, but we are also trying to raise money for this collective and it’s from the same people. We really have to work collaboratively together to understand who we are going to be talking to, when we will talk to them, what we are going to be asking for so that our efforts here at the Crimson Collective don’t undermine the efforts of the athletics department and the university as they try to raise money. That being said, this is fundraising. It’s similar to what you do in athletics, so the skills translate. What’s even more important than the skills is the people we know.”

Brennan On Navigating Uncertainty In NIL With IRS

Last week, the IRS gave some indication they may start cracking down on NIL collectives that are registered as 501(c)(3)s and the Crimson Collective fits that bill. Brennan doesn’t seem too concerned early on, partially due to the fact that he’s confident the Crimson Collective is going about being a 501(c)(3) the correct way, while he also acknowledges the rapid change in rules with college athletics isn’t anything new to him. If they have to pivot, they’ll figure it out.

“As I understand it, it was an IRS memo and not an actual ruling, but it does reinforce that very important point that the collective needs to be done the right way,” Brennan said. “We feel strongly that our charter is set up in a way where it’s primary check-in is to promote and support charities as opposed to simply paying student-athletes. Secondly, I’d say that college athletics changes every five minutes, and we have to be nimble and able to pivot at any moment, so change is nothing new. Now you’ll see everyone adjust accordingly based on things that maybe happen with the IRS or with NCAA rules.”

Continuity & “The Utah Way”

When the Crimson Collective was officially launched in late April, one of the biggest talking points was figuring out how to do NIL in a way that fits with Utah’s culture and won’t be disruptive. That is a big part of the reason why the Crimson Collective opted to go the 501(c)(3) route.

“This collective is truly set up to be one that serves charities and the community,” Brennan said. “We’re making sure that we are using the funds from these donors to promote the great work these charities are doing, and bring more support to these causes that make our community better. We’re empowering our student-athletes when our student-athletes are involved in promoting charities throughout our collective. We provide valuable life lessons with service and work for them. Potentially, these experiences could be translated to a resume as these young people prepare for life after sports and provides them with some income as they are busy with school and football. Finally, we engage our fans and want to find ways for all of our fans to contribute and be a part of this.”

Not only does Brennan believe the Crimson Collective is doing everything they can internally to be a good representation of what it means to be a Ute, but he thinks the continuity that happens within Utah’s athletic department has been a contributing factor to figuring out how to manage NIL in a way that is conducive to the culture that has been built.

Just before this interview took place, the University of Utah announced a contract extension for Athletic Director Mark Harlan that will keep him with the Utes through 2028. It’s moves like that, that Brennen believes have helped Utah stay steady, even with the rapid changes happening around them.

“I think that has been the hallmark of Utah Athletics, is consistency,” Brennan said. “It starts with Chris Hill- 31 years as the AD and did a tremendous job. Got us to the Pac-12, hired Kyle Whittingham, hired Urban Meyer, hired Rick Majerus and the list kind of goes on. From there, Mark Harlan has taken the ball and taken it to another level which is what we needed him to do. Now he’s been here for at least five years and with an extension, can be here longer and that’s the kind of consistency you need to be successful. Obviously, when you look at Kyle Whittingham and his consistency both in winning and his time here, I think sets real good stability. I think it all goes together- if you have a stable athletic department and football program, NIL can come and fortify that. If you don’t have a stable program and you don’t have a stable department and you don’t have long term leadership that is consistent, then you can have things that go wrong. I think NIL coming in when you don’t have strong leadership can start to undermine what you’re doing as a department and football program.”

Brennan’s Early Vision For The Crimson Collective

Needless to say, Brennan is excited to hit the ground running for the Crimson Collective and already has some ideas as to what needs to be done and where he wants to take it early on in the process.

“The first thing I’m doing is talking to people,” Brennan said. “Getting with our donors who have already given, finding out what is motivating them, and what their experience has been like. Second is to talk to all of the staff at Utah and understand how things are working, and how we will be working together. In order for this to be successful, there needs to be collaboration. From there, we are going to start building a pipeline of our donors and having some great events for people to come to and be a part of. We can help charities and our student-athletes which is really appealing to our donors. I think another thing we’d like to work on is our presence on social media. We haven’t done a lot on that front yet and they want us to turn it up a bit so people have a weekly/daily understanding of what we’re doing and the successes we’re having.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports


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Kyle Brennan Excited To Be Back With Utes As Crimson Collective CEO