It’s been the unofficial plan for a while, but now it’s official.

Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley will be the Utes’ new head coach when Kyle Whittingham retires, athletic director Mark Harlan announced Monday morning.

“Coach Whittingham has built Utah football into one of the nation’s elite programs through a strong culture, tradition and exceptional student-athletes, and he has been clear about his intentions of continuing to lead this incredible Utah football program as we move into the Big 12 Conference and into the new expanded College Football Playoff,” Harlan said in a released statement.

“However, we must plan for the future, and Coach Whittingham and I both strongly believe that that future lies with Morgan Scalley. Morgan has played a critical role in our success through his embodiment of our core values and his leadership, and I have witnessed first hand his growth as a coach and as a person over the last several years. He is an elite coach who has been trained by the best — Coach Whittingham — and whenever it is time for Morgan to take the helm, I have no doubt that our program will continue to have success.”

Scalley’s new $2 million contract with the university restores his “head coach in waiting” title that the longtime Utes assistant had held previously before it was rescinded in 2020 after Scalley “inadvertently texted a racial slur to a recruit in 2013 while exchanging texts with another coach,” per an external investigation.

Morgan Scalley’s online presence a reflection of a Utah Man who loves his family, faith, football and fun

Once Whittingham retires and Scalley takes over as Utah’s head coach, his annual base salary will increase to $5 million per year, which is in line with Whittingham’s base salary this year. Whittingham’s last publicly available contract amendment, signed in 2022, pays him $5 million in salary in 2024, plus bonuses.

Scalley, who played safety for Utah from 2001-04 and was a captain of the Utes’ undefeated 2004 team, has coached under Whittingham for nearly two decades, getting his start in the coaching world as an administrative assistant before rising to safeties coach in 2008 — Utah’s next undefeated season.

In 2016, Scalley was elevated to defensive coordinator and safeties coach, replacing the retiring John Pease. Utah’s defense has been a consistent calling card under Scalley, and the Utes were the Pac-12′s best rushing defense in five of the last eight years. In 2019, Utah finished second in the nation in total yards allowed, and led the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for loss three times.

“Utah football and Utah athletics have always been home to me and my family, and I am honored to receive this distinction,” Scalley said in a released statement.

“I want to thank President Randall, Coach Whittingham and Mark Harlan for the trust they have shown in me, and I remain committed to my continued growth as a coach and person, and as a member of the amazing University of Utah community. Our staff is excited to start a new era of Utah football in the Big 12 this fall under Coach Whittingham and to continue the traditions that have become a part of our proud history.”

Why Utah announced the succession plan now

Scalley’s new contract — which included the raise that makes him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the sport, per ESPN’s Pete Thamel — and restores the “head coach in waiting” title, was signed seven months ago, on Nov. 23, 2023.

Paying dues paid off for the Utes' Morgan Scalley

That’s a significant date, with Utah and Scalley coming to an agreement on a new contract just weeks after USC fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. According to reports from Thamel and 247Sports’ Steve Bartle, the Trojans tried to hire Scalley away for the same position in Los Angeles, but the longtime Ute stayed put in Salt Lake City.

Whittingham, 64, signed a contract extension through the 2027 season and has not announced a timeline for when he will retire — and likely will not publicly.

As of late, he’s led the Utes to new heights as a program — back-to-back Pac-12 championships in 2021 and 2022. Even with the change of entering a new conference, the Big 12, after a decade-plus in the Pac-12, he’s shown no sign of slowing down yet.

“Right now I’ve got a lot of energy,” he told the Deseret News’ Doug Robinson in January. “I have a lot of excitement about the job. As long as I get up in the morning and am excited about it ... We’re going into the Big 12. It’s a new challenge.”

Though Whittingham — who is tied for the fourth-oldest active FBS head coach entering 2024 — is still at the top of his game, everyone retires eventually, and naming a successor publicly gives a clear direction for the program. This is especially important in recruiting, giving the program a sense of stability and quieting any negative recruiting from other programs about Whittingham’s retirement.


It’ll be tough for anyone to follow Whittingham, who has guided the Utes through two conference changes as head coach, an undefeated season and Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in 2008 and back-to-back Pac-12 championships, while making regular appearances in the top 25.

Morgan Scalley, Sione Pouha and Alex Smith celebrate their victory
Morgan Scalley, Sione Pouha and Alex Smith celebrate their victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, AZ., Jan 1, 2005. | Jeffrey D. Allred

Harlan and Whittingham feel that Scalley, who has learned from Whittingham for over two decades as a player and coach, is the best choice to not only retain much of the Utes’ current staff, but to continue Utah’s success and culture.

“Morgan Scalley is an exceptional football coach and his naming as the head coach in waiting at the University of Utah is a testament to that,” Whittingham said in a released statement.

“It is a distinction he has earned not only because of his outstanding coaching abilities, but also because of his selfless dedication to the program as well as to the Utah athletics family. The culture and tradition within Utah football is a point of pride for our staff, and when the time comes for a transition in the leadership of our program, we know that Morgan will carry on those traditions the Utah football way.”

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