Gordon Monson: A fond farewell to Kurt Kragthorpe, a sportswriter’s sportswriter

Yes and no.

That was Kurt Kragthorpe’s answer to darn-near every question. And it was his explanation for why the challenge of being a longtime sports columnist for The Tribune was for him, at times, so great.

A proper point of view was buried deep.

He considered everything in his search for it. Every aspect, every side of every issue before cracking open his computer. And his panorama/perspective was expansive enough to find room for so much of that everything, for both the affirmative and the negative and all points in-between. And that’s a compliment, not any sort of criticism for waffling, for being irresolute.

Kragthorpe put a wrap on his 42-year journalism career, 30 of those years at The Tribune, after Utah lost to Texas in the Alamo Bowl the other night. He has one more piece to write — his farewell column on Sunday.

His brief tenure as the Utes beat writer was the bookend to a vast and varied span of writing that started as a fresh-faced reporter for the Daily Herald in Provo, then continued when he was a student at Utah State, working for Logan’s Herald-Journal, afterward bumping to the Deseret News, covering among other things, the Utah Jazz.

When he came in 1990 to The Tribune, he covered just about every aspect of sports in Utah. Over the span of a decade, he was the sport section’s editor before becoming a columnist, as well as a feature writer, a projects writer, an Olympics reporter (he covered seven Olympics, spanning from Sochi to Nagano to Beijing to Rio). He was a generous mentor to other writers, and, at last, the Utes beat guy.

Could he report on whatever needed to be covered?


Did he ever shy away from or turn down assignments?


Those assignments, some hatched from his own imagination, varied from dressing up like mascots at games, traveling thousands of miles for a series on every level of professional baseball in the Angels organization, analyzing golfers and golf swings and golf events of every kind, from the Masters to the Shamrock Meats Open, freezing his tail at those Winter Games, and taking long and sometimes harrowing bus rides to report on athletes and events at Summer Games.

College football was his favorite sport to cover, and yet, he says, because of tight deadline pressure, “I would look forward to the games, and then wish they’d get over quicker.”

When Utah played Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Kragthorpe and a photographer traveled by car to Tuscaloosa to tour the football facilities there and write about the Crimson Tide aura. On their way back to New Orleans, they stopped in Eutaw [pronounced Utah], Alabama, to report on that collision of nomenclature.

The biggest compliment I can pay him is this: Kurt was and is — he’s not dying, after all — a pro’s pro.

He could and would do it all.

And much to the glee of Tribune editors and managers, he could and would do it on the cheap. He sometimes drove to games or interviews that were hundreds and thousands of miles away, if he thought he could save the company a couple bucks. On the road, I more than once saw him after late games ended, as I was aiming to settle into my comfy hotel room for the night, pull his carry-on roller bag off into the darkness, often toward the airport where he planned to sleep before catching an early flight back home.

Kurt was and is legendary for such frugality.

I once booked a hotel room in Houston during a Jazz playoff series against the Rockets that was favorable geographically for a mere 59 bucks a night. When I checked the reviews online for the joint, the first one proclaimed, “Do not stay at this hotel. It is dirty and dangerous. I did not feel safe here.” I booked it anyway.

And when I bragged to Kurt about my inexpensive accommodations, I said, “Let’s see you beat that.” He said, “I already did. I’m staying at a motel down the street — for $39 a night.” A motel he shared with rats and roaches.

You would have thought the cash was coming straight out of his pocket, not the company’s.

No matter what dump he stayed at, the copy he produced was top-drawer, well written, well researched and well reported. You could count on it.

And for three decades, The Tribune did.

His all-time favorite story was the aforementioned one about the Angels, for which he traveled to places such as Burlington, Iowa, Little Rock, San Bernadino, Tempe, Orem, Salt Lake, and Anaheim.

He won a national Associated Press Sports Editors award for that series of pieces.

A few decades ago, he played in a celebrity golf tournament at Jeremy Ranch, playing alongside CBS’s Jim Nantz, in a foursome behind Bobby Knight’s. Kragthorpe proceeded to hit what he called “a perfect shot” straight down the middle of the 12th fairway without noticing that Knight was standing there, addressing his wayward shot from the 13th, a parallel hole. Kurt’s perfect shot darn-near beaned the mercurial former basketball coach. Nantz couldn’t wait to inform Knight, who was often combative with the press, that the shot that nearly killed him was struck by a sportswriter. His response: “That’s OK, evolution will take care of him.”

Krags got a laugh out of that.

And considering he comes from a coaching family — his father, Dave, coached football at schools such as Idaho State, Montana, BYU and Oregon State and was the athletic director at Utah State; and his brother, Steve, was a coach and coordinator at Tulsa, Louisville and LSU — he could see the vantage points of those he was compelled to cover, commend and/or criticize.

His vast knowledge of Utah sports was unmatched.

Kragthorpe won much acclaim from peers, but that’s not why he did what he did the way he did it.

That came via a call from within.

Maybe, at times, you agreed with him — yes — and maybe, at times, you disagreed with him — no — but, either way, Kurt Kragthorpe was worth reading.

As he tucks away his computer — he does plan on writing a few scattered golf articles in the months and years ahead — the sportswriter says he’s reflected upon his life’s work, and wished he’d done this a little more and that a little less.


“Like a golfer, you replay all your shots and you wonder how you could have done them better,” he says. “What I liked about my job is, you always woke up everyday with a chance to do it better. Now, I have to live with what I’ve done.”

That living should be more than good.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.