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Runnin’ Utes, Gonzaga bid fond farewell to Donny Daniels, who is retiring at season’s end

Daniels has been the Runnin’ Utes’ director of player development the past two years, after nine seasons as an assistant coach at Gonzaga. He was part of Rick Majerus’ staff at Utah from 1989 to 2000

SHARE Runnin’ Utes, Gonzaga bid fond farewell to Donny Daniels, who is retiring at season’s end
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University of Utah director of player development Donny Daniels, shown here during his time with the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2016, is retiring at the end of the season in 2021. Daniels will turn 67 in August, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

For the last 43 years, Donny Daniels has had one of the best seats in the arena in college basketball. In the next six months, he is going to do absolutely nothing.

And enjoy every minute of it.

Daniels, who has served as the University of Utah’s director of player development the past two years, a position created just for him when he rejoined the program after nine seasons at Gonzaga as as assistant coach under Mark Few, is retiring when the Utes’ season ends.

“I have always enjoyed my time here. The people are outstanding. We won when we were here. So we had a great time — Final Four, championships. And I have always had a special place in my heart for Salt Lake City, and the people of Salt Lake City.” — Donny Daniels

This time, he means it, after having “quasi-retired” in 2019 when he moved on from Gonzaga. He’s also serious when he says he has no plans for the next half-year, or so.

“I will take it easy, try to formulate an idea of what I am going to do,” said Daniels, who turns 67 in August. “The No. 1 thing is to wake up in the morning, and from there everything will be OK.”

Daniels was recognized last Saturday after the Utes crushed Arizona State 98-59 for his contributions to the program. He was on the staff at Utah under Rick Majerus from 1989-00 and helped engineer what many refer to as the glory years of Utes basketball.

The Utes had at least one NCAA Tournament win in each of his last six seasons during his first stint.

“It is the only place I would have come back to (after leaving Gonzaga),” he said last Saturday in a Zoom meeting with reporters. “I have always enjoyed my time here. The people are outstanding. We won when we were here. So we had a great time — Final Four, championships. And I have always had a special place in my heart for Salt Lake City, and the people of Salt Lake City.”

Daniels, who plans to continue to live in Utah, said he has always loved photography and would like to become more involved in that hobby as a retiree.

“My kids are scattered around the country, so I definitely want to go see them and be involved with them a lot more, and just try to stay as healthy as I can and just try to enjoy the rest of my time,” he said.

Daniels left Utah in 2000 to become the head coach at Cal State Fullerton, the school for which he played from 1974-76. He was an assistant at UCLA from 2003-10, then joined Gonzaga’s staff and was part of a dynasty that recorded five 30-win seasons, two Elite Eight appearances and a runner-up finish in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

“He is one of the finest people that I have come across in coaching, and I have the utmost respect for him, and (respect) for the fact that he wanted to come back and help this school. He has always had Utah very close to his heart,” — Larry Krystkowiak

He said he will cherish the relationships he built along the way, from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to Spokane, then back to Salt Lake City.

“One thing I have tried to do is never have a bad day. Like I said, I have been associated with some great coaches, hall of fame coaches,” he said. “I have had the best seat in the house for 43 years. You can’t beat that. And I have been very blessed in my career, and by the people I have met along the way.”

Daniels was inducted into the Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame in Atlanta in May 2019, recognized for being a part of five Finals Fours — Gonzaga in 2017, UCLA in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and Utah in 1998.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said Daniels “is one of the finest human beings” he has met in the game.

“He has always got time for everybody. He has got one of the biggest hearts that I have come across in coaching. Really, no ego,” Krystkowiak said. “He has a lot of things that you look for in human traits.”

Krystkowiak said Daniels has been a “sounding board” for Utah’s players the past two seasons.

“He is one of the finest people that I have come across in coaching, and I have the utmost respect for him, and (respect) for the fact that he wanted to come back and help this school. He has always had Utah very close to his heart,” he said. “And this is where he will retire. The fact that he wanted to come back here and lend a hand is pretty dang cool. … Everybody that knows Donny Daniels knows that he is real. I think he’s got a lot of characteristics that a lot of us basketball coaches would like to have.”