Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley reinstated after investigation into 2013 text, but he faces penalties

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said a few opening words, head coach Kyle Whittingham said a few more, and then, after a tumultuous month for Whittingham’s program, it was defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley’s turn to speak Wednesday afternoon.

Ninety minutes earlier, the athletic department released the findings of Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell’s investigation into a social media post, which referenced a 2013 text message from Scalley that included racist language. The law firm’s findings did not yield Scalley’s termination, but there will be a steep price to pay, both in terms of salary and his coaching future.

On Dec. 9, 2019, Utah announced a contract amendment to Scalley’s two-year deal, which was paying him $820,000 per season. On Wednesday, in a Harlan-penned letter accompanying Husch Blackwell’s findings, it was revealed that the December amendment was a verbal agreement, bumping Scalley to $1.1 million per year, while giving him a head coach-in-waiting tag.

Harlan has rescinded the head coach-in-waiting tag, while Scalley’s contract will revert to 2018 terms, specifically a one-year deal worth $525,000.

This is the second time in Harlan’s two years as Utah athletic director he has had to rescind a head coach-in-waiting tag. Last August, as part of mid-level recruiting violations, men’s basketball associate head coach Tommy Connor’s head coach-in-waiting designation, which was never made public, was rescinded.

“This is a very significant matter,” Harlan said. “We are in charge of young people, we’re in charge of their development and our behavior as leaders always counts. Obviously, the consequences that are here are significant and because the matter is significant.”

Added Whittingham: “I believe we have a very good culture and there’s always room for improvement. We’ve had several good team meetings throughout these last three weeks and we’re always looking for ways to get better. We’re absolutely striving to become better and that will never stop. That’s a moving target we’ll never be satisfied with.”

In his opening statement, Scalley said he was “extremely sorry.” Scalley adamantly denounced racism of any kind, then offered his determination to be part of the solution and change in his community and at the University of Utah. He apologized again, then revealed he addressed the football team Tuesday morning on a Zoom call. He expressed his embarrassment to them, as well as his colleagues.

Visibly shaken, there was a six-second pause, after which he moved to apologize a third time, but couldn’t get through the word “apologize” without his voice cracking.

“I’m particularly mindful of the young men of color whom I have had the blessing of coaching,” Scalley said, his voice still cracking. “I understand that my insensitivity and extreme lack of judgement have caused some, if not all of you to lose trust and faith in me. I sincerely hope that you will give me the opportunity to gain that trust back.”

On June 3, Harlan was made aware of Scalley’s text message, at which time he reached out to Scalley, who admitted to sending the text, then to university leadership, including President Ruth V. Watkins, in determining the next steps. Two days later, Scalley had been suspended with pay, while Harlan announced an outside investigation would take place.

By June 7, the school had retained Husch Blackwell, which began its investigation the next day.

One key question people wanted an answer to in the initial wake of Utah’s June 5 press release was what did Whittingham know and when did he know it.

“It was the week it first came out,” said Whittingham, who went on to further indicate he didn’t know anything about the situation until everyone else did.

According to its three-page report, Husch Blackwell interviewed 35 people including 23 current or former members of the football team. Additionally, it interviewed 15 current or former employees and football program consultants, while nine current or former players did not respond to inquiries.

Husch Blackwell’s findings included that “almost all” current and former student-athletes described being “shocked” when they learned of the allegations, while others contended they did not view Scalley as racist. Furthermore, Husch-Blackwell said most of the student-athletes it interviewed described having a positive relationship with Scalley, characterizing him as “aggressive, emotional, and someone who cares about his players.”

Not everything in the investigation was positive. Two former student-athletes told investigators that, prior to 2013, Scalley used the words “black ass” when addressing a player during practice. That former player was interviewed and confirmed the use of the words during the 2012 football season, but described a different fact pattern than described by the other two student-athletes. Scalley denied that allegation.

Another former player alleged that, prior to 2013, Scalley used the “n-word” toward him at practice. Three other players said they were informed of the incident, but none said they observed it firsthand. No coaches, including Whittingham, were previously made aware of or could corroborate the allegation, which Scalley denied.

A resolution to the Scalley situation comes well before the Utah coaching staff can work with players. According to the NCAA’s six-week ramp-up plan for college football, Utah coaches will be allowed to conduct meetings and walkthroughs with a football beginning July 22. For now, training camp is slated to begin Aug. 5, with the Utes’ opener vs. BYU still scheduled for Sept. 3 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.