For taking a stand with her own team’s fans, Jazz owner Gail Miller is Most Influential in Utah sports in 2019

(Lennie Mahler | Tribune file photo) Gail Miller, owner and chairman of The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies announces during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder she will transfer ownership of the Utah Jazz and Vivint Smart Home Arena to a family-owned legacy fund Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Left of Miller is her grandson, Zane Miller.

Gail Miller is the kind of leader who speaks when something needs to be said.

One of those moments came in March, when Miller took the microphone at center court prior to a Jazz game. She denounced a fan’s behavior that had triggered an exchange with then-Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook on the sideline earlier that week.

Saying she was “extremely disappointed” about the incident at Vivint Smart Home Arena, the Jazz owner began her three-minute speech by saying, “This should never happen. We are not a racist community.”

Miller's statement was well received throughout the NBA and, importantly, by Jazz players including Donovan Mitchell. Her strong presence at a critical moment for the franchise makes Miller the Most Influential Person in Utah Sports in 2019, as judged by The Salt Lake Tribune sports staff. Miller also was ranked No. 1 in 2009.

“In this business, to have your owner [be] so forward and so out there to back us the way she did, and to back Russell, that's amazing,” Mitchell said. “She's been open and honest, and in my two years knowing her, that's one of the things I respect.”

[Read Rowland Hall senior Mia Vinding’s “Ten overlooked figures in Utah sports”]

The 2019-20 season will mark the 35th year of Miller's significant involvement in the franchise, starting with a 50-percent purchase in 1985 by her late husband, Larry H. Miller.

Gail Miller is credited by the team’s basketball operation for being highly supportive, signing off on player contracts and the expansion of the staff in an effort to build an NBA contender. She helped spearhead the recent renovation of Vivint Arena and the Zions Bank Basketball Campus, and was was the driving force behind putting the franchise into a Legacy Trust that will keep the franchise in Utah for generations to come.

2. Dennis Lindsey/Justin Zanik, Utah Jazz administrators

Previous ranking: No. 2

Recently promoted to general manager, Zanik joined Lindsey (now the vice president of basketball operations) in producing what is being heralded as one of the best offseasons of any NBA team. The Jazz traded for guard Mike Conley and signed free agent Bojan Bogdanovich moves designed to improve their offense. The Jazz generally are projected top-three finishers in the stacked Western Conference, along with the two Los Angeles teams.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey begins the team's season-ending press availability followed by the coach and players at the team practice facility on Thursday, April 25. 2019.

3. Kyle Whittingham, Utah football coach

Previous ranking: No. 6

Whittingham delivered the program's first Pac-12 South championship in 2018, overcoming an 0-2 start in conference play and the loss of two key players in November. The Utes are the official preseason pick for the Rose Bowl, after four NFL prospects deferred their pro careers to make a major push for a Pac-12 championship this season. In February, Whittingham was awarded a new five-year contract, worth more than $4.1 million. He turns 60 in November.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.

4. Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz coach

Previous ranking: No. 3

The Jazz again overcame a slow start due to a front-loaded schedule and won 50 games in 2018-19, although they ran into a difficult first-round matchup with Houston and were eliminated in five games in he first round. Having built the Jazz into one of the NBA's top defensive teams, Snyder will have more offensive options than ever in his sixth season in Utah and his creativity should emerge.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder prior to Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Rockets in Salt Lake City, Saturday, April 20, 2019.

5. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz guard

Previous ranking: No. 1

Mitchell improved in his second NBA season and remained a face of the franchise and a community fixture. He’s known to attend college football and basketball and has become one of the foremost ambassadors of Utah among professional athletes who ever have played here. Mitchell also addressed fan behavior, endorsing the words of team owner Gail Miller and writing, “When we all stand up and speak up, change happens.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz speaks with the media following their season-ending game at the team practice facility on Thursday, April 25. 2019.

6. Jeff Robbins/Fraser Bullock, Utah Sports Commission/Salt Lake 2030

Robbins and Bullock are at the forefront of Utah's latest Olympic bid, potentially making them important for the next decade. They co-chair the Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee that has received the U.S. endorsement for 2030 Winter Games. Robbins is president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, a group credited with bringing 53 events to the state in 2018 with economic impact of $184 million.

Previous ranking: No. 7

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Utah Sports Commission President and CEO Jeff Robbins watches the United States vs Olympic Athletes from Russia hockey game at Gangneung Hockey Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics on Feb. 17, 2018.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Fraser Bullock, the former SLOC leader in 2002 who now serves as co-chairman on the Salt Lake Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee (OEC), at his home in Alpine on Friday July 5, 2019.

7. Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, Utah Royals FC

Previous ranking: NR

The U.S. women's soccer team captivated the country during its recent run to the World Cup championship, and three members of the Utah Royals FC were integral members. Nearly 16,000 fans attended the Royals' homecoming game for the three players. Sauerbrunn made the NWSL's Best XI team last season for the sixth year in a row and Press scored a goal in the Americans' semifinal victory over England.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor, Jackie Biskupskie, pose with Royals FC, and US National Women's soccer team members, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O'Hara, and Christen Press, during a ceremony honoring them for their part in the US National Women's World Cup win, at the City and County Building, Monday, July 22, 2019.

8. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz center

Previous ranking: No. 8

Gobert repeated as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018-19 and made the All-NBA third team, further establishing himself as a unique performer in the league. Gobert is a Jazz fixture, anchoring one of the league's best defensive teams, and will have an even bigger presence in that regard now that the Jazz have traded forward Derrick Favors and built more of an offense-oriented roster. That will give Gobert more responsibility.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz speaks with the media following their season-ending game at the team practice facility on Thursday, April 25. 2019.

9. Dell Loy Hansen, Real Salt Lake owner

Previous ranking: No. 5

Hansen maintains a strong position in the sports landscape as the owner of the Real Salt Lake empire, featuring three teams — in Major League Soccer (RSL), the National Women’s Soccer League (Utah Royals FC) and the United Soccer League (Real Monarchs). Hansen’s organization responded to RSL coach Mike Petke’s recent on-field conduct by keeping him away from the team for two weeks, without pay.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen announces that the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) will field a team in Utah for the 2018 season.

10. Kalani Sitake, BYU football coach

Previous ranking: No. 10

Sitake responded to a 4-9 season, one of BYU's worst performances in nearly 50 years, with a bounce-back year of 7-6 that included an upset at Wisconsin and a bowl victory over Western Michigan. His hiring of coordinator Jeff Grimes and other offensive staff members had a positive effect and the Cougars appear positioned to keep improving with sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson. A front-loaded schedule will test BYU in Sitake's fourth season.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake in Provo, Saturday Oct. 27, 2018.

11. Tony Finau, PGA Tour golfer

Previous ranking: No. 14

Finau failed to make the weekend rounds in the U.S. Open, but otherwise has continued his strong performances in major tournaments with a third-place finish in the British Open and a tie for fifth in the Masters in 2019. He's the world's No. 13-ranked player. Finau's story of developing his game in Salt Lake City's Rose Park neighborhood has resonated with golf fans and the Polynesian community, as his charitable foundation makes an impact.

(David J. Phillip | AP file photo) Tony Finau hits on the second hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament April 11, 2019, in Augusta, Ga.

12. Mark Harlan, Utah athletic director

Previous ranking: No. 13

Harlan will always be able to say that the first head coach he hired at Utah, director of skiing Fredrik Landstedt, won a national championship in 2019. Beyond that, Harlan established a strong campus presence in his first year, following through on the expansion plans for Rice-Eccles Stadium, awarding pay raises to football coach Kyle Whittingham and his top assistants and expanding the athletic department's staffing.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) University of Utah athletic director Mark Harlan talks about the new stadium expansion, during a news conference, at Rice-Eccles stadium, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

13. Tom Holmoe, BYU athletic director

Previous ranking: No. 11

Holmoe oversees a broad-based athletic department that ranked No. 29 in the Learfield Directors' Cup standings in 2018-19. His hiring of basketball coach Mark Pope, the first newcomer to that position since Holmoe's first year on the job, appears to have rejuvenated a program that is dealing with NCAA sanctions related to impermissible benefits from boosters to former player Nick Emery, affecting the school's image.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe listens as BYU basketball coach Dave Rose talks about his career.

14. Nathan Chen, figure skater

Previous ranking: No. 15.

Having grown up in Salt Lake City, Chen continues to bring attention to his hometown with his world-class skating achievements. He became a two-time world champion and three-time U.S. national champion in 2019, breaking records in the World Championships for free skating and total score. The 20-year-old Chen is attending Yale University, while building toward the 2022 Olympics in China, where he'll be a big story.

(Toru Hanai | AP file photo) Nathan Chen of the United States performs his men's free skating routine during the ISU World Team Trophy Figure Skating competition Friday, April 12, 2019 in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan.

15. Craig Smith, Utah State basketball coach

Previous ranking: NR

Smith may have done more to revive interest in a program in his first season than any coach in the state since Urban Meyer with Utah football in 2003. The Aggies went 28-7, winning regular-season and tournament titles in the Mountain West and bringing big crowds back to the Spectrum. USU is positioned for another nice season in 2019-20 with sophomore center Neemias Queta deferring his NBA career and Sam Merrill as a senior guard.

(John Locher | AP file photo) Utah State head coach Craig Smith yells toward the court against Saint Mary's during the second half of a NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, in Las Vegas.

16. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah basketball coach

Previous ranking: No. 12

Utah's basketball program claims the best record in Pac-12 play in three-year and five-year periods, while finishing in the top four of the conference each of the past five seasons. That consistency is offset by Krystkowiak's missing the NCAA Tournament for three straight years. Having lost or dismissed six scholarship players since the start of the 2018-19 season, he's in a rebuilding stage with seven freshman, three sophomores and one junior.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak speaks with the press during media day at the Ute basketball practice facility on Sept. 26, 2018.

17. John Hartwell, Utah State athletic director

Previous ranking: NR

Utah State joined Michigan, Kentucky, LSU and Cincinnati as the only schools to finish in the AP Top 25 in both football and men's basketball in 2018-19. Hartwell's hiring of basketball coach Craig Smith from South Dakota turned out brilliantly; we'll see if the return of Gary Andersen as football coach pays off as well. Hartwell is starting his fifth as the Aggies' AD after working at Troy University in Alabama.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Utah State University introduced John Hartwell as its new vice president and director of athletics at the Wayne Estes Center in June 2015 in Logan.

18. Tom Farden, Utah gymnastics coach

Previous ranking: No. 17

With the retirement of co-coach Megan Marsden in April, Farden received the title of head coach after nine years at Utah. Farden's program remains immensely popular, with the Utes having sold 9,830 season tickets in 2019 while averaging 14,892 fans for home meets, leading all of women's college athletics in attendance. Farden's 2020 roster likely will be missing star gymnast MyKayla Skinner, as she pursues a U.S. Olympic team berth.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Tom Farden talks about his position as a co-gymnastics coach with Megan Marsden, at a news conference at the Huntsman Center, Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

19. Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper

Previous ranking: NR

This is Rimando's 20th and final season in Major League Soccer at age 40, and he will retire as the best goalkeeper in the league's history He has won two MLS Cup titles, including one with RSL in 2009. He became a six-time All-Star this season and has made 22 appearances with the U.S. Men's National Team. Along with midfielder Kyle Beckerman, Rimando long ago became established as a face of the RSL franchise.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Nick Rimando, his wife, Jacqui, daughter Benny and son Jet were celebrated on the home pitch Saturday, July 13, 2019, at Rio Tinto Stadium for completing his 500th MLS regular-season game against the San Jose Earthquakes in San Jose. Rimando is the all-time MLS leader in wins, shutouts, games played and saves more than any other MLS goalkeeper.

20. Heather Olmstead, BYU women’s volleyball coach

Previous ranking: NR

Olmstead is entering her fifth season as BYU's coach with a phenomenal .901 winning percentage, after leading the Cougars to the NCAA's Final Four last December in a 31-2 season. The former Utah State player was an assistant coach at USU, Utah and BYU before taking over the Cougar program. Mary Lake returns to BYU for her senior year as a second-team All-American with international experience this summer.

(Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics) BYU women's volleyball coach Heather Olmstead.

21. Fredrik Landstedt, Utah director of skiing

Previous ranking: NR

Landstedt’s job is underrated. The expectation for those immersed in supporting the ski program is for Utah to win national championships, and Landstedt delivered in his first year, earning the NCAA men’s and women’s title in Maine. “People care about the team and think it should win,” said Landstedt, a native of Sweden who moved to Utah last summer partly because New Mexico’s program was being eliminated after the 2019 season.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) University of Utah ski coach Fredrik Landstedt produced a national championship team in his first year on the job. Landstedt was photographed at the Spence Eccles Ski Team Building in Salt Lake City on April 1, 2019.

22. Mark Pope, BYU basketball coach

Previous ranking: NR

Pope is bringing his incurable enthusiasm up University Parkway from Orem, where he posted a 77-56 record in four years as Utah Valley University's coach, including a 34-24 mark in Western Athletic Conference play. His job is to provide a jolt to a BYU program that leveled off in recent years under Dave Rose. The return of forward Yoeli Childs, who had been expected to stay in the NBA draft, gives Pope a chance to succeed.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) BYU announces Mark Pope as its new head basketball coach during a press event at the BYU broadcasting building on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

23. Jay Hill, Weber State football coach

Previous ranking: No. 21

Hill's impact at Weber State is best illustrated by how the Wildcats were disappointed to advance only to the FCS quarterfinals for a second straight year, losing to Maine in Ogden. The former Utah player and assistant coach has brought stability and success to WSU, with a 27-13 record in Big Sky Conference play over five seasons. The Wildcats are picked third in the league in 2019 and expected to earn another playoff bid.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Weber State Football head coach, Jay Hill, encourages the crowd to attend the football game next Friday, during a break in the action between Brigham Young Cougars and Weber State Wildcats, at the Dee Event Center in Ogden on Dec. 1, 2018.

24. Gary Andersen, Utah State football coach

Previous ranking: NR

Andersen did enough in his first four-year term as USU's coach and made enough influential friends to give himself another head coaching opportunity, only 14 months after leaving Oregon State in in the middle of the 2017 season, with a 7-23 record for 2½ years. With a 52-54 lifetime record at three FBS schools, he can move above .500 with a good season in 2019, when the Aggies will feature senior quarterback Jordan Love.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) USU coach Gary Andersen goes in-depth on life back in Logan inside the Jim & Carol Laub Athletics-Academic Complex.

25. Beth Launiere, Utah volleyball coach

Previous ranking: NR

Entering her 30th season as Utah’s coach, Launiere has adapted well to Pac-12 competition, producing one of the athletic department’s most consistent programs. The Utes made a late surge to earn a 2018 NCAA Tournament bid and won a first-round match, and Launiere hopes to have a Top 25 team this season with stars Kenzie Koerber and Dani Barton returning. Launiere has become proactive in addressing her case of Crohn’s disease, encouraging others with a message of healthy living and life balance.

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) University of Utah head volleyball coach Beth Launiere watches during a practice at Crimson Court on December 5, 2017.

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