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Monson: Utah football owes Spence Eccles a thousand wins

Published August 17, 2013 3:37 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's new football palace is … well, palatial.

How's this for a head-on word collision: Adequately palatial.

It's a space vast and posh enough to include just about anything and everything the modern college athlete needs and a lot of what he doesn't. It's essentially a $32 million rumpus room meant to make football coaches and especially players feel right at home. E. I. DuPont's home. And apparently this is the kind of residence where winning lives if Utah wants to make any kind of mark in the Pac-12. Losing resides a few ramblers down the hill.

Picture more colliding images: Duffy Daugherty living in William Randolph Hearst's castle. Lou Holtz moving into Fallingwater. Ara Parseghian dwelling at Monticello. Knute Rockne hanging at The Breakers. Think of Winterthur with a whistle around its neck.

Exactly where the new Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center ranks on the Taj Mahal sliding scale of football chateaus is up to the beholder, but it's pretty darn nice. It had to be.

In these days of sports excesses, nice is absolutely necessary. You can't expect any self-respecting 18-year-old quarterback who threw for 5,000 yards at Whooopty Frickin' Dooo High in Woodland Hills to sign up and settle for some slum of a locker room without leather cushions and custom flooring and paneled walls and nearby whirlpools and eateries and backlit displays and lounges with high-tech gadgetry and a hundred big screens and team rooms that resemble commercial theaters, can you?

Of course you can't. That'd be barbaric — and foolhardy, at least if you want to win.

The EFC, then, is a glorious place that would make pure academicians puke. So many dollars spent on frivolity. But do we have to drag out the old quote from Bear Bryant again? Yeah we do: "It's kinda hard to rally around a math class." It's also kinda hard to rally around a team that finishes at the bottom of the Pac-12 every year.

So yes, the new place is overkill. But it's vital overkill, designed to recruit better players. There are no victories without those better players, and there's no interest in the program, no crowds, no lucrative spillover of cash, no donations, no … fun without victories.

Getting and keeping those better players happy and motivated and well-tended to once they arrive is, in the Utes' case, a spendy job, an expensive reality. It's not bad for the coaches, either. Kyle Whittingham's office has more amenities than a luxury condo, including a secret escape hatch that leads him out a private exit to his parked car, away from bothersome hordes of fans, reporters, paparazzi and such.

It must make Whitt feel good when he walks around the new digs. The man lived in and worked out of a trailer for the past year. His players and future recruits now have a place to congregate, to gather themselves, to build not just their physical strength and their mental strength, but also a whole bunch of team togetherness and camaraderie.

It's remarkable what Utah football owes Spence Eccles. He might not be Phil Knight, but he's the best the Utes have. And the manner in which the great facilitator wants to be repaid for his financial contributions is … uh-huh, winning.

Whittingham is fully aware. On the back end of this feel-good deal for him is the certainty that with the fancy facilities now provided, there is more pressure to make a strong upward move in the Pac-12. He bought in. Now he has to deliver. Another season or two of mediocre play by his team, and that luscious new office of his will belong to somebody else.

Another problem for Whittingham and the Utes is this: As swank as the new football center is, it's still a middle-rung building compared to the rest of the wealthy Pac-12. USC moved into a new place last year. Arizona has a beautiful new center going up. Oregon takes technology and luxury to new heights with its new football resort. Ten of the 12 schools in the league either have built new monuments to college football superiority or are doing so.

Everybody in the Pac-12 seems to have had a universal truth dawn on them: Kids love cool stuff. Football players love cool stuff. If you want them in your program, you better build something that blows their mind.

So that's what the Utes have done.

They had to in order to compete in fast company.

Spence's place might not be quite as nice as the Vanderbilts', the Rockefellers' or the Knights', but it's sweet enough to put Utah football in a nearby neighborhood, a neighborhood grand enough, given adequate coaching and direction and effort, to hand the Utes a chance to win.

Now we'll see if they do.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson. —