Utah athletic director Chris Hill emphasized Monday his decision to give Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham a raise wasn't in reaction to any schools that might try to lure away his coach, but simply a result of what Hill believes he must do to keep Utah at a level consistent with other schools in the Pac-12 in the coaching salary arms race.
Whittingham, who has been mentioned as a possible target for Arizona State and Penn State, agreed to a contract amendment two weeks ago with Utah that increases his salary from $1.7 million to $2 million. He also received a year extension on his contract to five years.
"We did what is fair," Hill said. "He has done a good job, and we want to make sure we keep him competitive. We're a member of the Pac-12 now and not a second-class citizen. That might still be a cultural shift for people, but we are building a new facility, and we are doing what we need to do to be competitive and what is right for the staff."
While he wouldn't address the coaching rumors directly, Hill said he is accustomed to seeing Whittingham's name as a prospect for other schools.
"I have a good relationship with Kyle and if you have a good coach, people are going to look at him," he said. "That is what you want. If you don't have a good coach, people aren't going to look at him. If it were two years ago, and you are moving from a non-BCS league to a BCS league, that is different. But we're in a BCS league now, and we plan on being good."
Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow and offensive line coach Tim Davis have spent the majority of their recruiting time wooing offensive linemen, a spot the Utes are prioritizing this year since they will lose seniors Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen.
The coaches' powers of persuasion paid off Monday, with Alexandru Ceachir, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman out of Santa Monica College, committing to the Utes.
Ceachir had considered Colorado as well, but decided to go with the Utes because of the connection he formed with Chow and because he feels he will have a chance to play immediately.
"Coach Chow is a great person I'm glad to play for him," Ceachir said. "He was one of the first persons to talk to me, so that means a lot."
Ceachir has an interesting story since he has a limited background in football. He was introduced to the sport through a club in Moldova.
While the experience didn't teach him all the nuances of the sport, he and his family were intrigued enough that they decided Ceachir should come to America with the hopes of continuing in the sport.
He found a spot at Santa Monica College and has thrived enough to attract the interest of Utah as well as other schools.
Now he said he hopes to enroll at Utah as soon as possible so he can continue to improve.
"It's only my second year really playing football I need to improve in everything," he said. "Every day, I want to improve in a lot of things."
Ceachir is the sixth offensive lineman to commit to the Utes, who have commitments from 15 players altogether.
Utah tackle honored
Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been named a winner of the Morris Trophy, along with USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
The trophy goes to the outstanding linemen in the Pac-12 conference and is considered a "players' award" because defensive linemen vote for offensive linemen and vice versa.
The 6-foot-3, 325-pound Lotulelei was a first-team All-Pac-12 player after finishing the regular season with 38 tackles.
This and that
Utah safety Eric Rowe has been named a second-team Yahoo! Sports Freshman All-America player and a first-team Freshman All-American by CFN/Scout.com. Rowe started all 12 games for the Utes in 2011 and had nine pass breakups and 10 passes defended. He is Utah's fourth-leading tackler with 66 stops and also has one interception. â¦ The Utes will resume their bowl practices Thursday.
P Utah vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 31, noon, El Paso, Texas TV • Ch. 2