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Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley to retain position, but no longer head coach-in-waiting

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Utah Defensive Coordinator/Safeties coach Morgan Scalley walks around the field prior to Utah and UCLA playing a college football game in Salt Lake City at Rice Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is no longer the Utes’ “head coach in-waiting.” That verbal agreement from athletics director Mark Harlan was rescinded, along with other sanctions announced by the school on Wednesday. It followed a three-week suspension that followed news that Scalley used a racial slur in a text message in 2013.

While Scalley “will remain in his position on the football staff” after an independent investigation conducted by the Kansas City law firm of Husch Blackwell, he’ll do so with a reduction in pay — reverting to his 2018 one-year compensation of $525,000 instead of a multi-year extension that raised his salary to $1.1 million annually.

Scalley is also engaging with leadership from the university’s “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” team. He’s expected to “participate in regular and on-going diversity and inclusion education.”

In a letter written by Harlan and head football coach Kyle Whittingham, the leaders explained their decision.

“We have thoroughly evaluated all of the information available to us to determine the most appropriate conclusion and path forward. The racist language used by Coach Scalley is inexcusable and harmful to all, particularly to those communities identified in the report,” it read. “We believe, and expect, that he will learn and lead, while owning his past conduct, to rebuild trust, reconcile harm caused and make a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes.”

Harlan also announces that $100,000 directed to Scalley’s compensation will now go to the department’s U.T.A.H. Group (United Together Against Hate), a student-athlete organization founded in 2019.

In an accompanying report filed by Husch Blackwell investigators, the following determinations were made. The report includes objectionable language below.

• Scalley acknowledged that he inadvertently texted a racial slur to a recruit in 2013 while exchanging texts with another coach. The coach’s recollection of that event is consistent with Scalley’s. • Almost all the current and former student-athletes interviewed described being shocked when they learned about Scalley’s use of the racial slur from media reports. Most of the current and former student-athletes interviewed did not report ever hearing Scalley or any of the other coaches use racial slurs or make derogatory comments. Numerous student-athletes explained that they do not view Scalley as racist. • Two former student-athletes reported that, prior to 2013, Scalley used the words Black ass when addressing a player during practice. The former player was interviewed and confirmed the use of the words during the 2012 football season but described a different fact pattern than described by the other two student-athletes. Scalley denied this allegation. • Several former student-athletes reported Scalley making comments about their hair, appearance, or clothing that they believe implicated racial stereotypes and demonstrated a lack of interest in understanding them. Scalley denied treating any of his players differently due to race. • Most of the student-athletes interviewed described having a positive relationship with Scalley. He was characterized as a tough coach who pushes players hard on the field. Student-athletes also described him as aggressive, emotional, and someone who cares about his players. • The employees interviewed agreed that Scalley is known for being a tough coach who holds players accountable. Members of the coaching staff described him as direct, loving, smart, firm, knowledgeable, and intense. He was also described as someone who jokes around and likes having fun. • Several coaches and former and current players said Scalley can be intimidating and intense in his coaching style. It was reported that Scalley yells frequently and may verbally attack the players before apologizing. Scalley denies that he verbally attacks players. • One former student-athlete alleged that, prior to 2013, Scalley used the N-word toward him at practice. Three former student-athletes stated that the former student-athlete informed them of this allegation while they were on the football team. None of the former student-athletes interviewed about the alleged incident said they observed it. None of the coaching staff, including Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, or leadership consultants were previously aware of or could corroborate this allegation. Scalley denied the allegation. • One employee alleged during his interview, and two other employees corroborated, that Scalley made a racist joke regarding Polynesians and Native Americans at practice in 2018. Scalley admitted telling the joke. • Scalley stated that his players are not just names to him. He provided numerous examples of players from all backgrounds with whom he has had a close relationship and whom he has mentored athletically, academically, and personally.

Scalley, who has been on Utah’s coaching staff for 12 years and served as defensive coordinator for three seasons, was suspended by Harlan on June 5. Harlan explained that two days earlier he was made aware of a social media post referencing a text message by Scalley that included racist language seven years ago.

“Coach Scalley and I have spoken. He is very contrite and acknowledged that the text was sent and that it did include a derogatory and painful word,” Harlan said in his announcement. “The use of any form of racist language is not only antithetical to our policies and our values, but it is an affront to all of us, especially our African American community members. While the review of this matter is being conducted, I have placed Morgan on suspension effective immediately.”

Scalley accepted the decision and vowed to use the time to reflect on how to listen and grow from the situation.  

“I am completely against racism and this will never happen again,” he said.

In an initial apology, Scalley acknowledged he had made a terrible mistake infusing the racial slur in the 2013 text message.

“This language is offensive and hurtful to not only the African American community, but to all. Immediately after sending it, I apologized to the recipient and his family,” Scalley said. “I am also heartbroken over the potential breach of trust with my fellow coaches and with the young men in our program, both past and present. I am truly sorry, and I own up to the hurtful effects of my choice.”

Moving forward, Scalley vowed to demonstrate that his use of the slur “does not reflect or define who I am or what I stand for. My action is indefensible and I will use my voice and position to bring about meaningful and much-needed change.”

Whittingham, at the time, expressed disappointment and shock about Scalley’s use of the racial slur.

“I take very seriously the hurt, pain and anger felt by African Americans and the power of words to inflict or deepen that pain,” Whittingham said. “Although this incident is inconsistent with the character and conduct of the person I have known and worked closely with for more than two decades, Morgan’s use of racist language is a very serious matter and I am supportive of the suspension while a more thorough outside review is conducted.”

In December, Whittingham announced that Scalley had “agreed to terms” on a contract amendment. He was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach and led a defense that ranked among the best in the country.

“We are excited to announce that Morgan Scalley will continue to be a part of Utah football for years to come,” Whittingham said. “Morgan’s impact on our program as both a player and a coach has been invaluable to our success.”

Scalley, a former All-America safety for the Utes and a captain on the Fiesta Bowl championship team, noted that he was fully committed to the Utah football family.

“I sincerely appreciate coach Whittingham and Mark Harlan for their trust and belief in me,” he said of he contract amendment agreement. “I love this place, my family loves it here, and I am excited to continue working with our staff and players to build something special at the University of Utah.”

Scalley’s current contract, which runs through Jan. 31, 2021, includes terminations for cause, terminations without cause, and voluntary terminal termination by the coach.

It includes several provisions such as “any conduct toward student-athletes that is demeaning or abusive and/or fails to protect the health, safety or well-being of the student-athletes.”

The athletic director has “administrative authority to permanently or temporarily suspend (the) coach with or without pay for cause.”

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