SALT LAKE CITY — Utah assistant coach Lewis Powell is well-versed when it comes to shutting down offenses. As a player, he was the defensive player of the game in the Utes’ 17-0 win over Southern Miss in the 2003 Liberty Bowl. His full-time coaching career began with a three-year stint (2012-14) overseeing Hawaii’s defensive line.
Now, in returning to his alma mater, Powell is taking on a different challenge. He’s the Utes’ new tight ends coach.
“He’s doing a great job. There’s a learning curve and he’s gone through most of that learning curve and every day you can see him getting a little more comfortable,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But there’s no doubt there was some learning that had to take place.”
Even so, Whittingham is pleased with how the newest addition to his coaching staff is developing.
“If you’re a teacher, you’re a teacher, and Lewis is doing a good job conveying his knowledge and what’s expected of the tight ends,” he said. “He’s made good progress.”
Powell is enjoying the switch to offense.
“It’s been really good and it actually opened up my eyes to why we do things on defense,” he said. “Being a defensive line coach you know what’s going on back there, you know the coverage, but you don’t know the details.”
Becoming familiar with the fundamentals and techniques on the other side of the ball, Powell explained, has been beneficial.
“Now it opens up a little better for me to see why we do this or why we do that on defense,” he said. “It’s been good, and I’ve been learning a lot.”
Powell noted that the good thing about being a tight ends coach is that he spends time with the coverage, the running routes and the offensive line with blocking and protection.
Besides that, Powell said he’s working with great people. He added that Whittingham is “awesome to work for” and someone he’s familiar with in terms of what’s expected. Another bonus is being around assistant head coach Dennis Erickson.
“You think you know a lot until you meet somebody like coach Erickson,” said Powell, who also expressed appreciation for co-offensive coordinators Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding.
“This, I think, is a good stepping stone for me as a defensive coach or an offensive coach,” said Powell, who noted that former Utah assistants Jay Hill and Ilaisa Tuiaki worked on both sides for Whittingham.
Before becoming the head coach at Weber State, Hill coached cornerbacks, tight ends, running backs and special teams during his tenure with the Utes. Tuiaki, who is now at Oregon State, coached the fullbacks for one season before taking over the defensive line for two years.
“I just hope that I’ll do a good job and get these guys ready, just like those guys did — just recruit hard and make sure these tight ends are ready on game day,” Powell said.
Powell, defensive coordinator John Pease and linebackers coach Justin Ena are the full-time additions to Whittingham’s staff since the Utes capped a 9-4 season with a 45-10 win over Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl. They filled vacancies created by the departures of Kalani Sitake and Tuiaki to Oregon State, as well as Dave Christensen’s move to Texas A&M.
Whittingham said the transition has gone well as Utah’s spring camp enters the home stretch.
“It appears to be good. It appears to be good chemistry and everybody working well together, which has got to happen,” he explained. “The key is egos, or lack thereof, as long as you don’t have any egos that you’re dealing with you’ve got a chance to be a pretty efficient staff and functional staff — and I think these guys that we have here are all in that mold.”
Powell credits previous coaching stints for preparing him for this opportunity. Following four seasons of playing in the Arena Football League, he spent three years with the Utes as a graduate and administrative assistant. Then came the full-time position at Hawaii.
“It was great learning experience for me as a coach,” Powell said. “Being here prepared me real well.”
Powell added that he learned a lot from coaches like Whittingham, Sitake, Pease, Morgan Scalley and Chad Kauha'aha'a.
Going to Hawaii proved to be beneficial as well.
“It was a good preparation, and I learned a lot. Things I had to do on my own as a full-time coach,” Powell said. “Hawaii was an awesome place. Coach Norm Chow is awesome. He took good care of me when I was out there.”
EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said the whole team is continuing to progress after Thursday afternoon’s practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium. … The Utes will scrimmage at the stadium Saturday at 10 a.m. … The public is invited to all outdoor practices and scrimmages. Camp concludes with the Red-White Game on Saturday, April 25, at 1 p.m.