Monson: Utes' pasture isn't green enough for its coaches
All the news about changes on the football coaching staff at Utah might not be good, even though the success that made so many of the assistants marketable is.
Everyone can understand why former defensive coordinator Gary Andersen left for Utah State, because he bounced to become a head coach, an ambition he never covered up before it became a reality.
He always thought he'd make a terrific head coach, and most people who have worked around him agree.
But some of the other losses are less clear-cut.
Former offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig leaving for the same position at Kansas State is a bit iffy. K-State is a Big 12 school and all that, but hasn't Utah proved itself to be a better football program in recent years than the outfit in Manhattan? The 'Cats were 5-7 this season, 2-6 in league. They lured former head coach Bill Snyder back to lead them out of mediocrity, but Utah left mediocrity in its rearview long ago.
Ludwig has said he had his reasons for heading to Kansas State, but whatever they really are, they shouldn't have been overwhelming enough to tear him away - --- short of a promise to replace the 69-year-old Snyder when he leaves again.
If the Utes wanted Ludwig to stay, they should have found a way to keep him. He left, and Utah fans didn't seem to mind, on account of his questionable play calling. But it must pain the program, now that it sees itself as big-ticket, to know it can be raided the way it was without the ammo to hold onto its own.
Former offensive line coach Charlie Dickey, who did a fantastic job at Utah, bolted alongside Ludwig and took the same position at K-State. Why? It's a question with a bad answer, whatever it is, for the Utes.
Former receivers coach Aaron Roderick's departure for Washington is a big blow to Utah for a couple of reasons. First, Roderick was an effective recruiter for the Utes, getting great gains in Southern California's prep and J.C. circles. In that regard alone, he will be missed. Second, the Utes offered him a share of their offensive coordinator position to replace Ludwig, and he turned away from that, after initially accepting it, even though the Huskies hired him as nothing more than their receivers coach.
That's a tire iron to the Utes' head.
It can't be easy for Utah to accept that a potential offensive coordinator in its camp leaves the program hanging to take a job coaching receivers in Seattle. Isn't Ute football bigger than that?
Roderick claims money wasn't the main issue, although he will get more of it at Washington, and he adds that the prospects of sharing the offensive coordinator position with running backs coach Dave Schramm didn't put him off.
"Money's always a factor a little bit," he says. "But it was a small factor. I didn't leave because of money and I'm not leaving because of [being a] co-coordinator. I was fine with that. It was just time to make a change."
He also says he didn't leave because improving on 13-0 would be, well, impossible: "The Utes are going to keep rolling. Kyle [Whittingham] has got this thing going in the right direction . . . no matter who's calling the plays."
So, why is Roderick getting out?
"It just feels like the right thing," he says. "It's impossible for everyone to understand all the specifics of my situation. I've coached my whole career in Utah. I'm young, my family's young. It's a chance to break out and do something new. I had two great choices in front of me."
And the greater one, at least in Roderick's mind, was a lesser position at a worse program in a better league.
That conclusion has to sting the Utes, just like the other decisions by other coaches to leave, far beyond the fact that the best Whittingham could do in replacing his two lost coordinators was promoting from within. That, in and of itself, is either an extremely positive sign about where Utah is or a devastatingly negative one, that a football program that now fancies itself among the nation's elite, having gone undefeated twice in five years, can't keep its own, nor bring in established names to further the momentum.
It can be one of three things: fantastic news, a screaming indictment or bad fortune.
Exactly which it is, nobody's yet quite sure.