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Red All Over: How Utah’s athletic department has operated in the wake of Ty Jordan’s death should not go unnoticed

Ty Jordan was laid to rest on Wednesday after services at AT&T Stadium, which included a large University of Utah contingent present

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes running back Ty Jordan (22) runs the ball for Utah, in PAC-12 football acton between Utah Utes and Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

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It should not go unnoticed that in the wake of Ty Jordan’s death, the University of Utah athletic department has handled things exceptionally.

I say that because after the murder of Lauren McCluskey, and the ensuing debacle involving the university side of campus, as well as the University of Utah police department, there were surely some hard lessons learned by everyone.

The McCluskey situation aside, Utes AD Mark Harlan and football coach Kyle Whittingham have been around the block a few times in their respective professions, but the death of a student-athlete is not a common occurrence, at Utah or anywhere else.

Everyone over there wisely handled the initial news on Dec. 26 with care, and that’s what it’s been since. The establishment of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship was expected, and while it came as no surprise that Whittingham and his wife, Jamie, stepped up with the first publicly-known donation, my initial reaction to it being $100,000 was that commitment felt above and beyond.

As for Jordan’s funeral on Wednesday in Arlington, the adults did right by the players. Any player that wanted to be present at AT&T Stadium was there, whether they flew on the team charter from Salt Lake City, or came from their homes elsewhere.

For what it’s worth, Utah was able to foot the travel bill to the funeral, which is permissible under NCAA regulations.

Maybe what I’m talking about here is ultimately minor, but it’s been on my mind, how the people in charge of Utah’s athletic department have operated in the face of devastation.

Good on them.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Interesting set of circumstances now for the Utah basketball team, which had the Oregon State game late Wednesday night postponed, then had the Pac-12 alter three other home games. No. 17 Oregon will come to the Huntsman Center Saturday night instead of Sunday afternoon, Colorado will come in Monday instead of March 6, and Stanford shows up Thursday instead of Wednesday. My main takeaway from those changes is Utah’s regular-season finale is now scheduled for Feb. 27, which gives it 11 days until the Pac-12 Tournament starts. That space will undoubtedly be used for makeup opportunities. In addition to the Oregon State postponement, the Utes also need to make up the Dec. 22 postponement at Arizona State.

• UCLA star forward Chris Smith tearing his left ACL on New Year’s Eve vs. Utah is a brutal shame on at least two fronts. One, Smith is right in the conversation as the best player in the Pac-12. Two, he removed himself from the NBA Draft last summer in a year where he could have been picked somewhere in the 40′s. A strong senior season now would have put him firmly in the first round. Smith has the option to return again as a senior in 2021-22 thanks to the NCAA freezing the eligibility clock, but that’s likely little solace.

• The best team in the Pac-12 right now is Oregon, which we did not quite expect, but should not be all that surprised by. The Ducks have also avoided major COVID-19 issues within their program, which is really half the battle right now. If you’re healthy, you can play and if you can play, you give yourself a chance to win. UCLA and Arizona State, the two projected league favorites in the preseason, have not enjoyed such luxuries thus far.

• Starting to wonder what spring practice will look like, what the 2021 college football season will look like, and if either will operate as normal. The 2020 season will end with Monday’s College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Ohio State, but the COVID-19 pandemic will not end with it. On a normal calendar, Utah spring practice would begin in roughly two months, but that remains to be seen. The Utes’ opener is slated for Sept. 2 vs. Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Your questions

Q: “Who should Utah’s starting five be? In Josh Newman’s opinion? Does it include Rylan Jones? He’s a savvy, smart, tough, gritty defender, but I’m beginning to think there is no lineup that should include Rylan and Plummer at the same time.” — @Utebuntu

A: The starting five should be Rylan Jones, Alfonso Plummer, Timmy Allen, Mikael Jantunen and Branden Carlson, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is Utah’s best lineup.

If you’re looking for a viable lineup from this roster that does not include Jones and Plummer, that’s going to be tough. Jones is firmly entrenched, and as long as Plummer continues to play at least some defense and offer decent shot selection, he’s not going anywhere either.

I continue to believe Pelle Larsson has stud-type DNA, but he’s young and does not appear ready to take on a larger role. Mostly the same thinking applies to Ian Martinez, so here we are.

Jones and Plummer are the backcourt, with Larsson, Martinez and in some situations, Timmy Allen, are your other options.

Q: “Any shot Utah finds an additional game? The team needs live reps. My concern being they find another team with a NET of 300.” — @rkdavidson13

A: This completely-fair question I received Monday has been made moot given the Pac-12 scheduling changes.

However, for posterity, no, Utah was not going to come up with a non-conference game on short notice, and everyone is going to have to get over it.

Yes, Weber State and Dixie State have long layoffs and theoretically could have played the Utes, but, and I’ve covered this previously, how does Utah benefit from taking on another opponent with a NET of 175-ish or worse? They’ve had enough of those already as it stands.

Short answer, there is no benefit. It’s Jan. 6. Unless Utah is going to find a top 75-100 team willing to play them in the middle of their own conference slates, the concentration should be on the Pac-12 schedule. Plain and simple.

Q: “Is there any chance, even of the smallest degree, that Larry pulls a Gary Anderson and finally accepts that he’s failed as a head coach and resigns from the position?” — @CB_Ute

A: I was going to skip over this entirely given the tone, but it got me thinking.

Whatever you think of Larry Krystkowiak and his tenure as Utah head coach, I have a very hard time classifying it as a failure.

Krystkowiak has a .576 winning percentage in nine-plus seasons here. The program was in absolute tatters when he arrived in 2011, but it only took two seasons to get it going. He has five 20-win seasons, two NCAA Tournament berths, and three trips to the NIT. Furthermore, his program is clean, which should count for something.

In fairness, two NCAA Tournaments in nine seasons is not nearly good enough at this level. The program has not been to any postseason since 2018, a streak that will continue if it doesn’t get moving this winter. The transfer situation is well-documented, although I do think Krystkowiak gets hammered a little too much for that.

I’d be surprised if Krystkowiak resigned, and to call the last decade a collective failure is simply unfair.

Random musings

• Adding roasted red peppers to most any sandwich, wrap or even pizza immediately makes it better. This is a statement of culinary fact. Speaking of pizza……..

• I’ve come around on The Pie, which reminds me of Pizza Hut, and I really like Pizza Hut. No complaints based on our order last weekend.

• I was up in Yalecrest not long ago and came across a dog whose tail was dyed pink. That poor dog’s owners should be arrested.

• I finally started The Queen’s Gambit earlier this week. It’s awesome. FYI, I am the self-appointed King of getting in on wildly-popular Netflix and Hulu original shows way after the fact.

• Are the Knicks good? I don’t know, but I do know the franchise had no fewer than three chances in the last 15 years to hire Tom Thibodeau as its head coach. Better late than never? I guess?

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