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Brad Rock: Retirement of Ute Manny Bowen puts him in a club of questionable Utah sports figures

Linebacker Manny Bowen chats with a teammate after a University of Utah football practice at the Eccles Football Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
Linebacker Manny Bowen chats with a teammate after a University of Utah football practice at the Eccles Football Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Manny Bowen isn’t the most famous sports figure in Utah. He never played a down for the Utes. But he’s still in an exclusive club.

The Oh-Never-Mind Club, wherein members seldom end up looking good.

Two days ago, the Penn State graduate transfer informed coach Kyle Whittingham he was taking “a business opportunity he felt was too good to pass up.” It was also two nights before the first day of fall practice. That left Whittingham — and more importantly, Bowen’s teammates — hanging.

These things happen. It doesn’t make Bowen a traitor. But a deserter?

He did wait until the season was upon them and then retired.

Apparently pursuing the Rose Bowl wasn’t in his plans.

There are dozens of reasons to leave a team, even when someone is a projected starting linebacker. He apparently didn’t love football enough to go through another season. But other issues can be part of a decision: problems with the coaching staff, undisclosed injuries, homesickness, burnout or, yes, an unbelievable job opportunity.

He does have his college degree.

But business opportunity isn’t the most convincing explanation. Donnie Tillman, the Utes’ best returning basketball player, officially left this week for UNLV. He said his reason was to be near his ailing mother. That left the Utes hurting, but he also gave notice by entering the transfer portal.

Bowen waited until the whistle blew.

“It surprised us completely,” Whittingham said.

The Utes were thin at linebacker on Wednesday morning. By the time practice rolled around, they were already taking on water at that position. Utah had lost seniors Chase Hansen and Cody Barton, the team’s leading tacklers. But with Bowen arriving from PSU and Francis Bernard back to start, at least the first string was nailed down.

Actually, just taped down.

That leaves redshirt sophomore Devin Lloyd — slotted as Bernard’s backup — as the likely replacement. Other names being mentioned include former Stanford running back Sione Lund, juco transfer Trennan Carlson or redshirt freshman Andrew Mata’afa. None is likely to have a better year than Bowen, a four-star recruit who started at PSU.

Bowen is an engaging and goal-oriented interviewee, prone to tweeting inspirational messages such as “The most unproductive thing created by man is an EXCUSE!”

Second-most unproductive thing: leaving just as the production begins.

The strange thing with Bowen was that there were incidents at PSU that also hurt the Nittany Lions. He was suspended from the 2017 Rose Bowl for a violation of team rules. The next year the same thing happened, causing him to miss the Fiesta Bowl.

“The best way to predict your future,” he recently tweeted, “is to build it yourself.”

Who could have predicted this?

The move makes Bowen a full-fledged member of the Oh-Never-Mind Club. Others include former Jazz forward Gordon Hayward,who waited until the free agent market had thinned before signing with Boston, and Rick Majerus, who had already left Utah, but later accepted the coaching position at USC, only to resign five days later. The enigmatic Majerus said the switch was health-related, but also that his mother influenced his decision.

John L. Smith torpedoed Weber State by accepting the football coaching position, only to leave for Arkansas right after spring ball ended.

There are plenty of national flip-floppers. Billy Donovan held two press conferences after leaving the Florida basketball program to coach the Orlando Magic, but the next day returned. Most famously, Bill Belichick accepted the New York Jets’ top job, only to announce at his press conference he was leaving. A month later he became New England's coach.

In all cases, it left a team scrambling. Bowen accepted a challenge, reneged, and is taking a different path. It’s his right to choose. But during spring football, he told reporters, “For this season, obviously, there are big goals in mind. But right now my main focus, what I need to do, is prove myself to me.”

He’s the only one likely to be impressed.