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Quinton Ganther’s ‘dream job’ at Utah became a reality. Here’s how and why

The former Utes running back has returned to his alma mater to coach the running backs

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Utah running back Quinton Ganther runs for a touchdown during Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona, Jan. 1, 2005.

Utah running back Quinton Ganther runs for a touchdown during Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona, Jan. 1, 2005. Ganther returned to Utah recently after being named the new running backs coach on Kyle Whittingham’s staff.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

New Utah running backs coach Quinton Ganther admits he’s not a “normal” Utahn. 

But there’s no doubt that he’s a Utah Man.

A month ago, coach Kyle Whittingham announced that Ganther was joining his staff, replacing Kiel McDonald. At the time, Ganther said, “There is truly no place like home.”

Certainly, Utah is home for Ganther, who starred as a running back for the Utes from 2004-05, then was the running backs coach at Weber State from 2014-20.

“Coach Q” spent last season in the National Football League, serving as offensive quality control coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars under former Utah coach Urban Meyer

But when the chance to return to the Beehive State, and his alma mater, presented itself, he jumped at it.

“Utah’s always been my dream job. It’s always where I wanted to be because it’s home,” he said. “This is where I went to school. I can sell it; I understand it.”

Still, right now, Ganther is not exactly settled. He’s living in hotels and living out of his suitcase. Most of his family — he and his wife, Bonnie, have three daughters, Peyton, Samia, and Ryann, and two sons, Cameron and Caleb — are still in Florida.

“That’s been the toughest part for me,” he said. 

Ganther’s oldest daughter is attending Weber State and the rest of the family is expected to join him in Salt Lake City during the summer. 

For his children, Utah is home as well. His younger kids grew up here and they have a lot of friends here. 

“Moving around a family is really tough. You want to get somewhere where you can stick,” he said. “That way, your kids can have a normal life. Utah is a place where they can have a normal life.”

Ganther’s hiring has been so recent that he can’t yet reflect on coming full circle, from Utah player to Utah coach. 

“I’m still new and it’s still fresh. This is my second week in the office. I haven’t been around. I’ve been on the road recruiting,” he said. “I rarely see Kyle. I might see him in passing once a day, if that. We’re doing so many other things.”

“I’m going to make sure that these kids have every chance to get to the next level.” — Utah running backs coach Quinton Ganther on preparing players for the NFL

But Ganther is eager to help Utah’s running backs excel and reach the NFL. 

“I’m going to make sure that these kids have every chance to get to the next level,” he said. “If they don’t make it to the next level, it’s not going to be because I did something wrong. It’s because they just weren’t good enough. I’m going to make sure they understand everything that happens at the next level. And I’m going to coach them to get to the next level.”

First time at Utah

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Utah’s Quinton Ganther runs by BYU’s Nathan Soelberg at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City Nov. 20, 2004.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

A native of Fairfield, California, located outside of Oakland, Ganther earned junior college All-America honors at Citrus Junior College, where he set single-season and career rushing and all-purpose records before signing with Utah in 2004. 

Ganther ran for 654 yards and helped the Utes post a 12-0 record and win the Fiesta Bowl.  As a senior in 2005, Ganther rushed for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns. 

As much as he was able to develop as a player, his time at Utah shaped him as a person. 

“The two years I was here as a player was second-to-none,” Ganther said. “I got to know guys that I would have never met in California. I created relationships that I never would have had. … It was a different aspect for me because Utah showed me what was right and what was wrong.

“I grew up in an environment where my normal was not Utah’s normal,” he continued. “And Utah’s normal was not my normal. So I had to kind of  figure my way out to make it here as a person and as a player.”

This past week, Ganther talked to one of his former teammates, Eric Weddle, who ended up helping the Los Angeles Rams win the Super Bowl last Sunday.

“He was congratulating me, saying, ‘Welcome home.’ I was like, ‘Hey, you’re in the Super Bowl,’” he said. “What a lot of kids don’t understand is, the guys that you grow up with from childhood, you have different goals in life. So you typically go separate ways. But in college, you have something in common. You have the same goals — you want to graduate, you want to play in the NFL. You talk to those guys more.”

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Washington running back Quinton Ganther carries the ball during game against the New York Giants, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, in Landover, Md.

Nick Wass, Associated Press

After his career at Utah, Ganther was a seventh-round NFL pick in 2006 by Tennessee. He spent 2006-10 in the NFL, playing for the Titans, Washington, Seattle and Buffalo. 

‘I never wanted to be a coach’

When his playing career came to an end, coaching wasn’t in his plans.

“I wanted to work in juvenile detention centers and mentor young men,” he said. “There were a lot of mistakes that I made that I didn’t have a mentor or someone to help me out. I just wanted to give back. That was my way of giving back.”

Whittingham convinced Ganther to be a student assistant with the program in 2012. Ganther served in that role while finishing his bachelor’s degree in sociology. 

“They enticed me into coaching because Jay Hill was the running backs coach at the time,” he recalled. “I’m a running back. They had me help Jay out with the running backs. I said, ‘OK.’ They were paying for my school. That’s how it sparked.”

Soon, Ganther fell in love with coaching. 

“When I started to see how things work on the coaching side, I was like, ‘Wow, this is what I need to do.’ Instead of working in juvenile detention centers, I can do the same exact thing but I can do it through football,” he said. “That’s encourage, teach, be an example. It’s given me a broader way of doing what I really want to do.

“Football saved everything with me. I don’t want to get into my story too much but my life was terrible in a way, growing up. Football allowed me to have success and it’s given me a platform to help kids change the trajectory of their lives.” — Quinton Ganther

“My passion is helping kids get to where they need to go without making the same mistakes that I did. I made a lot of mistakes along the way.”

From his own experience, Ganther knows how football can help young men develop on and off the field. 

“Football saved everything with me. I don’t want to get into my story too much but my life was terrible in a way, growing up. Football allowed me to have success and it’s given me a platform to help kids change the trajectory of their lives.”

The Weber State years

In 2013, Ganther earned the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship with the Seattle Seahawks. 

A year later, Hill was hired as the head coach at Weber State, and Ganther joined the staff as the running backs coach. Ganther spent seven seasons in Ogden.

During that time, the Wildcats won three consecutive Big Sky championships and four straight trips to the FCS playoffs. Weber State finished in the top 10 nationally in each of his final three seasons. 

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Weber State running backs coach Quinton Ganther talks to running back Josh Davis on the sidelines. Under Ganther’s watchful eye, Davis became a two-time FCS All-American.

Robert Casey, Weber State

Under Ganther’s tutelage, Josh Davis received All-America honors in 2018 and 2019. 

Ganther said his years at Weber State provided an “amazing” experience. 

I will love Jay until the day that I die. He is a great human being. Jay allowed me to be myself,” he said. “I’m a little different from the Utah norm. I have a lot of passion. I hold guys accountable. Jay allowed me to be myself. He didn’t try to change me.

“That’s allowed me to go out and get some kids and it also allowed me to be comfortable enough to not only get the guys that were in my position, running backs, he allowed me to coach every position. You see something wrong, you say something. That’s just the way it was with Jay.”

Inheriting talent at running back

After a shaky start, running back Tavion Thomas had a tremendous season for Utah in 2021, rushing for 1,108 yards and a single-season school-record 21 touchdowns. 

Micah Bernard, Chris Curry and Charlie Vincent also return while four-star prospect Jaylon Glover joined the program in January. 

Ganther loves the talent that he’s inherited. 

“The thing with me is, I’m going to try to push and get every ounce of everything they’re capable of out of them,” Ganther said of the running backs group. “I don’t want any of them to get comfortable. I don’t want Tavion to think he’s made it and get comfortable and that he doesn’t want to work. Something like that happens if the next guy up is as productive, I’m not going for it. I want it to be high competition.

“When you get to the NFL level, you can’t get away with certain things that you can get away with in college. Your bad day could possibly be your last day. I have to train these guys to understand that you have to bring it every day.”

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Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas scores against Ohio State in the 108th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California, on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. New running backs coach Quinton Ganther is eager to have Thomas back in 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Ganther sees all of Utah’s running backs as NFL prospects.

“It’s on me not to screw it up. I will always put it on myself because they’re kids. They don’t know what they don’t know,” he said. “They make mistakes and do stupid things. It’s on me to correct that. I always put that on me. If they’re not NFL guys, I’ve failed them. It’s my fault. I will always stand on that.”

With spring ball approaching, Ganther knows what he wants to accomplish during that time. 

“I have to make sure that they understand that I don’t care who or what is on the field, we will be the dominant group. We’ll be dominant. We’ll do everything right and we’re going to do things that the NFL looks for as far as the competitive nature, the finishing, the things like that. I don’t ever want a kid to come back and say, ‘Coach Q didn’t like me.’ Or ‘He gave me the raw end of the deal.’”

Embracing Utah’s culture

Last season, Ganther was extremely busy working for the Jaguars, so he didn’t have time to watch Utah’s season,which resulted in the Utes’ first Pac-12 championship and first appearance in the Rose Bowl.

But he knows all about the program’s culture. 

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University of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham poses with team captains Jessie Boone (79) Spencer Toone (9) Steve Fifita (94) Quinton Ganther (13) Aug 10, 2005.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Utah is a great place. To be able to play in the Rose Bowl and to win the Pac-12, it says something about our culture. What you understand with us and other Pac-12 schools, our culture is our culture,” he said. “We are what we are. You have so much turnover in the conference with coaches and players leaving and chasing the next best thing and coaches trying to take the next biggest job. But we’re not doing that.

“Coach Whitt is here because he’s not chasing money. What else is there for him to do but enhance this program? That’s what sets us apart from other schools across the country. It’s no longer about the kid. It’s about coaches that get paid more here or get a title here. But coaches should always be about the players. That’s what I think coaches lose sight of. That’s what separates us from other programs. We make it about the kids.”

For Coach Q, the chance to return to Utah is “a blessing.” During this hectic transition period, it hasn’t sunk in yet. But he does appreciate the return to a place he calls home. 

“This,” Ganther repeated, “is my dream job.”