Kyle Whittingham is firmly entrenched as the University of Utah’s football coach for probably as long as he wants the job.
Down the road at BYU, his buddy, Kalani Sitake, faces an uncertain future after posting a mediocre 20-19 record in three years on the job in Provo. Media Day came and went last month without a contract extension for the likable leader of the Cougars, whose deal reportedly expires after the 2020 season.
At Utah State, Gary Andersen is back for another stint because, frankly, Utah State’s most powerful boosters wanted him to replace the man who replaced him, Matt Wells. He knows the landscape in Logan and should flourish again where he is clearly more comfortable than he was at Wisconsin and Oregon State.
What about the coordinators and assistant coaches at the state’s three Football Bowl Subdivision programs? Which of those men are on the rise in the profession? Who’s on the fast track?
Funny you asked. We were wondering the same thing. So here is The Salt Lake Tribune’s inaugural ranking of the state’s top 10 FBS assistants, based strictly on the likelihood of their someday becoming head coaches:
1. Morgan Scalley, Utah defensive coordinator
Entering his 12th year as a full-time coach and his fourth season as defensive coordinator, Scalley has all the makings of a future head coach with his outgoing personality and aggressive style.
The fact he makes $820,000 annually (having received a 56-percent raise in February) is a limiting factor – likely preventing him from accepting an FCS job, as former Ute offensive coordinator Troy Taylor did in moving to Sacramento State last December. And his credentials of having played and worked only at Utah could work for or against him in his pursuit of a job at another school.
So the next question is how well positioned Scalley would be to succeed Whittingham, 59, who recently signed a contract extension through the 2023 season but won’t necessarily stay that long. Scalley will turn 40 in October. Whittingham was 45 when he took over Utah’s program, although the Utes were not yet at the Power Five level.
2. Jeff Grimes, BYU offensive coordinator
Sitake’s controversial dismissal of then-offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, one of the most popular figures in BYU sports history, after the horrendous 4-9 season in 2017 resulted in the hiring of Grimes, who turns 51 in September, two days after the Cougars complete their season-opening gantlet of Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington.
Grimes came to Provo with a hefty price tag, by BYU standards, and lofty expectations. Athletic director Tom Holmoe said after the offensive staff hirings that this is the highest-paid BYU coaching staff ever.
So far, so good. Grimes mostly righted the offense, gave it a little more flair than Detmer was able to, and had it purring at the end of the 2018 season with the insertion of freshman quarterback Zach Wilson.
Well-spoken, smart and disciplined, Grimes has all the earmarks of a future head coach. He looks the part, which is always a part of the equation. If that happens, it won’t be at BYU, however. Holmoe reiterated last March when Mark Pope replaced Dave Rose as the leader of the basketball program that head coaches of all BYU sports must be members of its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
3. Jim Harding, Utah assistant head coach/offensive line coach
Harding’s record of recruiting and developing offensive linemen makes him a head coaching candidate, based on a reward for his performance as an assistant. His tenure as co-offensive coordinator (with Aaron Roderick, now on the BYU staff) produced mixed results, but Harding is considered a solid, consistent staff member.
As a line coach, though, he lacks the high profile that's typically required to generate interest from schools with head coaching vacancies.
4. Ed Lamb, BYU assistant head coach/special teams coordinator and linebackers coach
A former BYU defensive back who is also not LDS, Lamb gave up the head coaching position at Southern Utah University of the Football Championship Subdivision (2007 to 2015) to join Sitake’s new staff at BYU. Presumably, Lamb, 45, took the job for more money (BYU coaches’ salaries are not made public) and to better position himself for an FBS head job. That tactic looked brilliant when the Cougars went 9-4 in 2016 and lost four games by a total of eight points — Lamb’s name surfaced for openings at UTEP and other Group of Five schools.
However, the 2017 season possibly derailed that ascension; still, Lamb is highly respected in the profession, and by Sitake, who often credits the versatile assistant for being the brains behind the operation.
5. Ilaisa Tuiaki, BYU defensive coordinator/defensive line coach
Tuiaki, 40, has a low-key, self-deprecating personality and probably lacks the charisma and commanding presence of a Scalley or a Grimes to one day rise to a head coaching position, at least at the FBS level. He’s also perceived as a guy who Sitake brought with him from Oregon State for friendship’s sake, and not his coaching resume. Those perceptions have proved to be inaccurate.
Tuiaki has produced beyond expectations at BYU, even if he’s reticent to take credit. The first-time defensive coordinator led a group that was 24th in scoring defense (21.4 ppg) last season, the second time in three years he’s had a top-25 defense at BYU.
6. Sharrieff Shah, Utah cornerbacks coach/special teams coordinator
Shah has a nontraditional background in the profession, having come from full-time work as an attorney and a side job as a reporter for Ute radio broadcasts. He’s entering his eighth season on the Utah staff, though, and matches some of the credentials of Jay Hill, who moved from Utah to Weber State and has become very successful. Shah, 48, is known for making a good impression in recruiting and would have the speaking ability to deal with booster groups.
7. Aaron Roderick, BYU passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Roderick’s journey from his playing days at BYU to his coaching stints at Snow College, SUU and Utah before his return to his alma mater is well-documented. Perhaps with an eye on his future in the business, he has remained upbeat and positive regarding his treatment at Utah, where he was co-offensive coordinator twice before a demotion and a dismissal. If he’s bitter at all, he hides it well.
At BYU, where he was an “offensive consultant” in 2017 before joining Sitake’s offensive overhaul prior to last season, he’s been responsible for developing promising QB Zach Wilson and has been credited by Wilson as being a “fellow football junkie.” Roderick, 46, is probably in line to be promoted to OC if Grimes ever decides to move on.
8. Justin Ena, USU defensive coordinator
Ena made an interesting career move, from coaching Utah's linebackers to coordinating USU's defense. He traded a Power Five job for a Group of Five position because, as Whittingham said, “Assistants aspire to be coordinators and coordinators aspire to be head coaches.”
Ena has broad experience, having played or coached at all five FBS or FCS schools in Utah, and would be a good prospect for an FCS job at some point.
9. Andy Ludwig, Utah offensive coordinator
Ludwig is listed this low because of his perceived lack of interest in a head coaching job at age 55, although he was involved in Nevada’s search in December 2016. Like Scalley, his $820,000 salary enables him to be choosy about his next stop. Unlike Scalley, Ludwig’s low-key style seems better suited to his remaining a career assistant. He’s cooperative in media interviews, but doesn’t crave any spotlight. Otherwise, his extensive Power Five experience and adaptability to different programs would make him a good candidate.
10. Mike Sanford Jr., USU offensive coordinator
Sanford will become an interesting test case in the profession, regarding how long it takes him to get another head coaching opportunity. He stepped into a seemingly good situation at Group of Five member Western Kentucky, but was fired after only two seasons with a 9-16 record.
Before then, as an offensive coordinator, Sanford was viewed as a rising star.
He’ll have a chance to revive his career at USU, with complete freedom from coach Gary Andersen to implement an offensive scheme. Sanford, 37, likely would have to prove himself again as a Power Five coordinator to get another shot as a head coach.