The University of Utah football program did a favor for fans, players, recruits and itself by naming defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley the head coach in waiting on Monday. There’s no longer a mystery about who will run the program if the 64-year-old Kyle Whittingham retires.

Not that there was any doubt. It was never a secret. And it was formalized months ago but made public this week. The school noted in its news release that the new formal agreement with Scalley was actually signed Nov. 23, 2023.

The boss himself articulated the reason for the move.

“The culture and tradition within Utah football is a point of pride for our staff,” said Whittingham, “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.”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Paying dues paid off for the Utes' Morgan Scalley
Morgan Scalley named Kyle Whittingham’s successor at Utah
A look at Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley’s new contract

By every measure, it ain’t broke. The Utes have won two Pac-12 championships and finished in the national rankings six times in 10 years, including No. 12 in 2021 and No. 10 in 2022. Discounting the messy 2020 season caused by the pandemic, they’ve averaged a little more than nine wins per season since 2014. This is the golden age of football; no other era comes close.

Whittingham, the school’s all-time winningest coach, is approaching his 20th season as head coach. He’s indicated that he has considered retirement, which is why there’s a clause in his contract that names him a “special assistant” if he retires before the contract expires.

During a 2022 charity golf event, while addressing the resignation of Jazz coach Quin Snyder, he said, “There comes a time where you need a new voice and a new leader,” he said. “Obviously, he felt like that was the time for him right now. And I’m getting kind of close to that in my career.”

Scalley a reflection of a Utah Man who loves his family, faith, football and fun

The transition would maintain the stability that has been a hallmark of Utah’s rise in the football world. The Utes did make an outside hire when they signed Urban Meyer as head coach in 2003. He made sweeping changes in the coaching staff but did retain Whittingham, and now the Ute coach will hand off to Scalley. Whittingham has been on the Utah staff for 32 years, which is almost unheard of in the coaching profession. He has been the head coach for 19 years — second longest tenure in today’s coaching ranks.

Scalley, a former All-American safety for the Utes, has never coached anywhere else. He joined the Utah staff in 2007 and has been there ever since. As noted in a 2016 Deseret News profile, he began at the bottom of the coaching ladder, working all the grunt jobs — study hall duty, coordinating the weight and training rooms, overseeing the comings and goings of missionaries and writing letters to them, watching over newly arriving players, organizing leadership retreats. He carried a variety of titles: administrative assistant, graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator, safeties coach, special teams coach.

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Scalley and Whittingham both come from the defensive side of the ball. They were both voted conference Defensive Players of the Year during their playing days. Both served for years as special teams coordinators and defensive coordinators.


Scalley is a more emotive, demonstrative version of Whittingham. He is a humorous, boisterous, wise-cracking, energetic, gung-ho sideline presence — and very popular among players. No one can argue with his record. He has overseen a Utah defense that ranks among the best in the nation. Of the 56 Utah players who have been drafted since Whittingham’s first draft class in 2006, 17 have been defensive backs. All but one of them was coached by Scalley. Per ESPN, USC, Texas, Oregon and Florida have all shown interest in hiring Scalley in recent years.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

Perhaps this was a preemptive move by the Utes. It also occurred just as the school is about to transition from the defunct Pac-12 to the Big 12. The Utes awarded Scalley an updated contract that includes a starting salary of about $5 million if he takes over the job at the end of the 2024 season. The amount increases by $100,000 each year, topping out at $5.4 million after Jan. 16, 2028.

The school was so committed to Scalley that its 2022 contract with the coach included a buyout clause worth $4.2 million, a burn-the-boats move that meant it would be expensive to hire another coach as Whittingham’s replacement.

Loyalty has its rewards.

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