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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jon Huntsman, Sr, delivers an emotional speech at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Huntsman Cancer Institute's new wing, the Primary Children's & Families Cancer Research Center, in Salt Lake City, Friday June 6, 2014.
The money men top Utah’s most influential sports list

Spence Eccles, Jon Huntsman Sr. and Jim Laub transforming in-state college athletics

First Published Aug 09 2014 07:23 pm • Last Updated Aug 10 2014 06:18 pm

In early May, the University of Utah broke ground for construction of a basketball practice facility. Nine days later, Utah State unveiled its venue for basketball practice and volleyball competition.

Those developments came nine months after Utah opened a new football complex. The building boom has become one of the biggest stories in collegiate athletics in the state.

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Jim Laub, Spence Eccles and Jon M. Huntsman Sr. share the billing as the co-Most Influential Person in Utah Sports in 2014.

Laub provided the lead gift for USU’s Wayne Estes Center, Eccles helped to fund Utah’s Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center and Huntsman was instrumental in the development of the Utes’ Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Center, scheduled to open next spring.

Laub, 64, the president and CEO of Cache Valley Electric, suggested that the basketball/volleyball venue be named after Estes, an Aggie basketball star who was killed nearly 50 years ago. "I literally had tears in my eyes," said USU athletic director Scott Barnes.

Utah’s football complex honors Eccles’ wife, Cleone, who died in April 2013, four months before the project’s completion. Spence Eccles, who will turn 80 this month, said he believes the building’s "impact will be significant and long lasting."

The same can be said of Eccles and Huntsman. "The university is a different place in a lot of ways because of those folks – and so is the community," said Utah athletic director Chris Hill.

Huntsman, 77, founder of the Huntsman Chemical Corp., targeted the basketball facility as necessary for the Ute program "to remain relevant," he said.

With the Aggie administration, Laub "picks his spots" in making suggestions, Barnes said, and is insightful. Similarly, Eccles and Huntsman are "very passionate," Hill said, "and they’re just like everybody else — when the Utes are playing, they want us to win. At the same time, they know we have jobs to do, and they’re supportive."

See the full list of Utah’s most influential people on the list below.


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kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

The Top 25 Most Influential People in Utah Sports in 2014.

No. 1 Jim Laub, Spence Eccles and Jon M. Huntsman Sr.

See story above

No. 2 Dennis Lindsey

Utah Jazz general manager

Previous ranking No. 1

Lindsey’s makeover of the Jazz is in full force. He fired Tyrone Corbin and hired Quin Snyder in the franchise’s first coaching search since the Jazz started playing in Salt Lake City in 1979. His drafting of Donte Exum and Rodney Hood in the first round received outstanding reviews. Lindsey kept forward Derrick Favors with a contract extension in October, but had to pay more to retain Gordon Hayward after allowing him to enter free agency.

No. 3 Scott Barnes

Utah State athletic director

Previous ranking No. 4

As chairman of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee in 2014-15, Barnes has created a national profile unlike that of any previous USU athletic director. He also may have accomplished more on his own campus than any predecessor, with new facilities. “I don’t think Scott Barnes gets the credit he deserves,” said USU basketball coach Stew Morrill. “In the eight years he’s been here, it’s amazing what’s transpired on our campus.”

No. 4 Bronco Mendenhall

BYU football coach

Previous ranking No. 2

Mendenhall drew some criticism for pronouncing BYU’s 8-5 season a success after losing to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl, having missed opportunities for a significant road victory in 2013. Yet the Cougars’ victory over Texas in September resonated through college football. The loss contributed to coach Mack Brown’s resignation, which resulted in 103 coaching moves around the country, including Taylor Stubblefield’s arrival at Utah.

No. 5 Kyle Whittingham

Utah football coach

Previous ranking No. 3

For the first time since the early years of his tenure, Whittingham faces questions about his job status, with the Utes having gone two seasons without a bowl appearance. Whittingham has responded with another shake-up on his offensive staff, hiring Dave Christensen as coordinator. Utah’s level of recruiting is improving in the Pac-12 and Whittingham’s program should have some traction, if he can get to a bowl game and earn a contract extension.

No. 6 Gail, Greg and Steve Miller

Miller Sports Properties

Previous ranking No. 7

The Jazz’s presence in the Utah sports market may have been best illustrated in July when 8,000 fans attended an open practice during the team’s summer camp. Greg Miller, as CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, has given more direct responsibility for the sports operation to his brother. Steve Miller has continued to build the Tour of Utah, the high-level cycling event that concludes Sunday in Park City.

No. 7 Dell Loy Hansen

Real Salt Lake owner

Previous ranking No. 5

Hansen would have been ranked higher if RSL had completed a remarkable sequence of events coinciding with his increased involvement with the club. The team won the 2009 MLS Cup championship, soon after he initially invested in RSL, but lost in the 2013 final in his first season of full ownership. Hansen is widening his influence in the Salt Lake Valley by pledging to fund a Fairpark stadium that would house a minor league team owned by RSL.

No. 8 Gordon Hayward

Utah Jazz guard

Previous ranking No. 8

Hayward may not have fully embraced the leadership and offensive responsibilities offered to him last season, but his importance to the Jazz’s future was cemented when the team matched the four-year, $63 million offer sheet he signed with Charlotte as a restricted free agent. Fans will demand much of Hayward as the team’s highest-paid player. Hayward is hoping to make the U.S. National Team’s roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain in September.

No. 9 Chris Hill

Utah athletic director

Previous ranking No. 11

Now that Larry Krystkowiak’s basketball program appears to have some staying power, Hill can take satisfaction in the rebuilding of what historically is Utah’s flagship sport. The next issue is solidifying the football program, which has taken hold on the campus in this century, but has struggled to become established in the Pac-12. Another losing season would mean Hill’s facing a tough decision about the future of coach Kyle Whittingham.

No. 10 Tom Holmoe

BYU athletic director

Previous ranking No. 6

Holmoe drops in the rankings because of BYU’s relatively weak schedule in the school’s fourth season of football independence. Generally, however, Holmoe has succeeded in piecing together schedules under difficult circumstances, making a breakthrough with November bookings of Pac-12 opponents. The outcome of an NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits given to football players will affect the perception of Holmoe, one way or another.

No. 11 Joss Christensen, Ted Ligety, Sage Kotsenburg

Olympic gold medalists

Previous ranking: No. 13 (Ligety)

Homegrown Utahns made an impact in the 2014 Winter Olympics like never before, and three products of Park City Mountain Resort were the headliners. Christensen led a U.S. sweep in the ski slopestyle event, Ligety claimed the giant slalom ski title to further establish himself as a world-class performer and Kotsenburg became a phenomenon during and after the Games, earning the first medal presented in 2014 in snowboard slopestyle.

No. 12 Kyle Beckerman

Real Salt Lake midfielder

Previous ranking: NR

RSL’s captain led the team to the MLS Cup final in December and seemingly never stopped playing. He joined the U.S. Men’s National Team preparation for the World Cup almost immediately, and became a surprisingly big contributor as the team advanced from group play in Brazil. Beckerman’s value to RSL has been reinforced by the team’s 8-1-7 record with him and 1-3-2 mark without him (and goalkeeper Nick Rimando) in 2014.

No. 13 Larry Krystkowiak

Utah basketball coach

Previous ranking No. 24

Krystkowiak earned this ranking via a recognition of where the Utes once were and where they appear to be going. As of the summer of 2011, the prospect of the Utah basketball team’s having a .500 record in Pac-12 play sooner than the football team was inconceivable. The Utes’ recruiting performance has been impressive, resulting in a likely top-four preseason ranking in the conference. Krystkowiak received a five-year, $7 million contract in April.

No. 14 Garth Lagerwey

Real Salt Lake general manager

Previous ranking: NR

Lagerwey’s inclusion on this list is overdue. His building of RSL’s roster was overshadowed by the work of former coach Jason Kreis, who had a strong presence. Lagerwey succeeded in maintaining a championship-level team, amid salary cap issues that forced some moves after the 2012 season. His choice of Jeff Cassar as Kreis’ replacement also has worked out well, even if Cassar is not among RSL’s record four selections in these rankings.

No. 15 Noelle Pikus-Pace

Olympic silver medalist

Previous ranking NR

This additional Olympian’s slot could have gone to snowboarding gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington of Salt Lake City or to Park City’s Steven Holcomb, who earned two bobsled bronze medals. Pikus-Pace merited the distinction because of her compelling family story, as her medal-winning performance was voted the “Moment of the Games” in the Best of U.S. Awards. She will be inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation in October.

No. 16 Bill Manning

Real Salt Lake president

Previous ranking No. 14

In the franchise’s 10th season, RSL has succeeded in creating a soccer culture and widening its following. Real has become a fixture in the Utah sports market, growing beyond its initial niche. The team’s average attendance this season exceeds the listed capacity (20,213) of Rio Tinto Stadium and is up 5 percent over last year. RSL’s success in ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and local TV ratings makes Manning one of the league’s top executives.

No. 17 Jeff Robbins

CEO, Utah Sports Commission

Previous ranking No. 12

The Utah Sports Commission’s 2013 performance was tough to duplicate, after the U.S. Men’s National Team played two soccer games in Sandy. Yet Robbins and his staff continue to make an impact, supporting an expanded Tour of Utah, landing a presenting sponsor for the Web.com Tour golf event and bringing back the AVP Beach Volleyball event to Liberty Park this weekend. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus headlined the Governor’s State of Sport Awards in April.

No. 18 Dave Rose

BYU basketball coach

Previous ranking No. 21

The Cougars rose in their third West Coast Conference season, finishing second in the standings and reaching the tournament championship game before losing to Gonzaga. BYU received a No. 10 seed in Rose’s seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in nine seasons, losing to Oregon with star guard Kyle Collinsworth sidelined by a knee injury. In an unusual circumstance for BYU, transfers from four-year schools will play big roles in 2014-15.

No. 19 Quin Snyder

Utah Jazz coach

Previous ranking NR

Snyder has not coached an NBA game yet, but even in the summer league, he inspired belief in an offensive system that should be fun to watch, at the very least. His specialty is player development, and former Jazz players who worked with him in Atlanta last season have raved about him this summer. Snyder is charged with steadily improving a team that finished 24 games out of a Western Conference playoff spot in 2013-14.

No. 20 Kaycee Feild

Rodeo world champion

Previous ranking No. 22

He’s the only Utah athlete with an I-15 billboard heralding him as a hometown (Payson) product, and he remains an elite performer in his event, bareback riding. Feild won his third consecutive world championship in Las Vegas in December, finishing the season with $239,465 in earnings. Field, whose residence is Spanish Fork, has a huge lead in the 2014 standings, having won more than $130,000. The cowboy’s goal is to “do things nobody’s done before.”

No. 21 Rob Cuff UHSAA executive director

Previous ranking No. 19

In 2013-14, the Utah High School Activities Association created a sixth class of football competition, brought the Class 4A and 5A state basketball tournaments back to the Huntsman Center and introduced unified sports, pairing athletes who have developmental disabilities with partners in soccer and track and field. Cuff provides stability to a staff in transition, with the retirements of key figures. The UHSAA administers competition among more than 140 member schools and 85,000 students.

No. 22 Quincy Lewis Lone Peak basketball coach

Previous ranking No. 15

Lone Peak’s 2013-14 team lacked the national cachet of the previous season’s club that earned a No. 1 ranking and was widely chronicled, but Lewis and guard TJ Haws earned a fourth straight Class 5A state championship. The Knights earned this one by beating Bingham in double overtime in the quarterfinals and surviving a tough semifinal battle with Davis before routing Pleasant Grove in the title game, behind Haws’ 29 points.

No. 23 Greg & Megan Marsden

Utah gymnastics co-coaches

Previous ranking No. 23

Not surprisingly, the gymnastics program delivered Utah’s first Pac-12 championship in the school’s third year of membership. The Utes won the conference meet, highlighting a season that ended with a seventh-place finish in the NCAA meet, as they barely missed the Super Six finals. The program’s marketing phenomenon continued with record average attendance of 14,376 — winning the NCAA’s women’s all-sports attendance award for a fourth time.

No. 24 Matt Wells

Utah State football coach

Previous ranking NR

Having lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury, USU stood 3-4 in the middle of Wells’ first season. The Aggies responded with five straight wins to earn a berth in the Mountain West’s inaugural championship game and Wells was named the conference’s coach of the year. USU lost to Fresno State in the title game, but beat Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl to finish 9-5. In April, Wells signed a contract extension through 2018.

No. 25 Trevor Lewis

Los Angeles Kings forward

Previous ranking NR

The Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup triumph was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for Lewis and anyone involved in Utah hockey, but they did it again in June. The Salt Lake City native scored the winning goal in an elimination game and helped the Kings win three Game 7s on the road before they defeated the New York Rangers in five games in the final. Lewis is making plans for another public display of the Stanley Cup in his hometown.



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