From the time he left the Utah football program after the 2018 season as a graduate assistant, Chad Bumphis knew he wanted to return someday.

It happened earlier this month, perhaps sooner than expected, and in an unexpected way. 

Now, Bumphis is the Utes’ new wide receivers coach, having taken on a big responsibility at a position that recently lost a pair of experienced players, Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua, who have transferred.

“We have a lot of guys that can help us. My job right now is to find out where they can help us the most. The biggest thing right now is, it’s an open playing field,” Bumphis said. “You’ve got two guys who’ve played a lot of football but we’re going to rotate guys. Everybody right now has an opportunity to show what they can do during spring ball. It’s a wide open.

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“You have guys that have waited a long time for a real opportunity to play. You can’t ask for anything more,” he continued. “You have a new opportunity with a new coach and open spots. All you have to do right now is to buy into what we’re selling and make plays. You have the opportunity that you’ve been wanting.”

For Bumphis, 31, returning to Utah and being part of coach Kyle Whittingham’s staff has been a career goal he’s been seeking for a while. 

After spending a year at Utah, he was hired as the wide receivers coach at Austin Peay. Then, in February, he was hired for the same position at Central Michigan.  

Two weeks after taking that job, Bumphis found himself interviewing for the receivers coach position at Utah that had opened when Guy Holliday was let go

“What’s funny for me is, I had been in touch with coach Whitt, updating him on how my career was going, and where I was, because I knew at some point I wanted to be back here,” Bumphis said. “I always stayed in touch with him.

“When I got the Central job, he congratulated me. He told me to stay in touch. Two weeks later, this job came open. I reached out to him and some of the guys on the offense. It worked out. That Thursday, I interviewed and on Saturday morning, I was on a plane. It worked out just like I wanted, basically.”

For now,  Bumphis’ wife, Nataly, is in Nashville, preparing for the move to Utah. 

“I was getting settled in Michigan, thinking I was going to be here for a while. It’s been a wild ride. You don’t expect it.  And — bam! — this opportunity happened and I jumped on it.” — Chad Bumphis

“She’s been through it. Her dad is a longtime college football coach,” he said. “I was getting settled in Michigan, thinking I was going to be here for a while. It’s been a wild ride. You don’t expect it.  And — bam! — this opportunity happened and I jumped on it.”

Whittingham had a list of candidates for the position he was interested in and Bumphis, of course, was on that list. 

“We were on a little bit of a time crunch with wanting to get the position filled by spring ball,” Whittingham said. “Even more ideally, several days ahead of spring ball to get the coach up to speed. It was more important to get the right guy than the timing of it. Certainly, the timing was a factor.”

A handful of receivers, including Britain Covey and Solomon Enis, were around in 2018 when Bumphis was a grad assistant. In fact, Whittingham asked them what they thought of Bumphis during the hiring process and he received strong recommendations.  

“It’s been nice to have someone that you know while also having a fresh new face that brings fire to the room,” Covey said. ‘We really respect him, partly because you watch his highlights. He’s walked the walk.

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“He’s very practical. He reminds me of my first receivers coach in 2015, coach (Taylor) Stubblefield, in terms of his technicality of things. Very good with footwork and hands. Very technical. That’s kind of what I live for. I love that aspect of the game and receiver play. He’s just hilarious. He’s young enough to where he can go out there himself and show you himself what he wants you to do. It’s been great.”

Bumphis was accomplished as a player. He was a slot receiver at Mississippi State from 2009-2012. Bumphis holds the school record for receiving touchdowns (24), is No.  2 in career receiving yards (2,270) and No. 3 in receptions. 

New Utah receivers coach Chad Bumphis holds the Mississippi State record for receiving touchdowns (24), is No.  2 in career receiving yards (2,270) and No. 3 in receptions.  | Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

After his college career, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins and spent some time in the NFL. 

Bumphis’ experience is closely tied to his coaching style, which he describes as “very energetic,” adding that he uses his youth to his advantage. 

“I’m not far removed from what they’re going through,” he said. “I tell them to come talk to me. There’s nothing you can say or do that’s going to surprise me at this point. So very relatable, energetic. I run around with them and I try to have fun. I’m going to coach them hard but love them just as hard. We’re getting better. We’re building those relationships and they’re starting to trust me and see that I only want the best for them. It’s working out.”

Covey is thrilled to have Bumphis back at the U. 

“I understood what kind of program it was, the kind of program I was coming back to, the way the guys work, everything that’s expected of the guys. Literally it was what I was used to, the same program I had in college. I was really familiar with it. I got to know the guys that were still here. It was a no-brainer. It was exactly what I was looking for.” — Chad Bumphis

“It’s great to have him for spring ball. We got the right guy,” he said. “I know we did. I can’t tell you how excited we are as a receiving corps for this year because he brings that fire into the room.”

Bumphis’ competitiveness is something that has lit that fire within the receivers. 

“He’s got a good understanding of what we’re trying to do. He’s the most competitive person you’ll meet. You lose a rep in practice and he’ll go running after you to the 5-yard line, throw his hat on the ground and start jumping up and down,” Covey said. “He’s really competitive. I think there are times when we aren’t having a good day that he gets so frustrated that he wants to put the cleats on and go out there and hit someone. It’s pretty fun to have someone that gets fired up like that.”

Utah receivers coach Chad Bumphis, center, gets hands-on during a spring practice at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Such technical instruction is one of the things Ute receivers appreciate about their new position coach. | University of Utah Athletics

Another thing that Covey loves about Bumphis is his ability to teach very technical aspects of the game. 

“He was a great slot receiver. I’ve always thought that short guys make great wide receivers coaches because they could never rely on crazy athleticism to be great players,” he said. “When you get someone who has that athleticism and height like Solomon (Enis), and you can teach them the technical side, they’re way better than anyone without those could ever be. They exceed everyone’s expectations, including their own. That’s what he brings to the table that I’m really excited for.”

It was the people — on the staff, in the program, at the university and Utahns in general — that drew him back to the Utes, Bumphis said.

“I understood what kind of program it was, the kind of program I was coming back to, the way the guys work, everything that’s expected of the guys. Literally it was what I was used to, the same program I had in college. I was really familiar with it. I got to know the guys that were still here. It was a no-brainer. It was exactly what I was looking for.”