John Pease, popular Utah football assistant coach, dies at 77

Pease, a 1964 Utah graduate, served three different tenures as a Utes assistant, including 2015 as defensive coordinator

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) John Pease, the Utes' defensive line coach, gives directions during practice, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010.

John Pease, a former University of Utah running back and linebacker from 1963-64, who later became a hugely popular assistant coach across three stints with the Utes, died on Monday. The Pittsburgh native was 77 years old.

“John Pease was one of my favorite people, ever,” longtime Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “He was my friend. It was an honor working with him, learning from him and knowing him. He impacted the lives of countless people and will be missed by all. The Utah football family lost a great one and we send all our love and condolences to his wife, Chris, and his loved ones.”

Four years after his college career ended with the Utes in 1964, Pease returned to Salt Lake City as a graduate assistant from 1968-69. He later served as Utah’s linebackers coach (1977), assistant head coach and defensive line coach (2009-10) and defensive coordinator and defensive line coach (2015).

In between, Pease was the University of Washington’s defensive line coach (1978-82), then served as an NFL assistant coach for 19 years between the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Football is the greatest team game in the world because the object is to hit someone on every down,” Pease said during fall camp in 2015. “There’s no other team game where the object is to hit the one in front of you. I enjoy it. Football players are always moving toward something. They’re not passive. They’re not afraid. They’re emotional. It’s an emotional game and emotional kids play it. I love that.”

While retired in 2008, Pease attended coaches meetings and served as a consultant for the Utes, who finished 13-0 and routed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. As a result, Whittingham pulled Pease out of retirement to coach his defensive line. Pease was the team’s defensive line coach from 2009-10 and helped the Utes to back-to-back 10-3 seasons.

He retired again following the 2010 campaign due to a couple of minor health issues, only to come out of retirement once more in 2015 to serve as Whittingham’s defensive coordinator.

Utah’s 2015 team finished 10-3 and won a share of the Pac-12 South for the first time, while finishing No. 2 in the league in total defense and No. 1 in rushing defense at 108.6 yards per game. That figure was good enough to rank the Utes No. 6 nationally.

Pease’s final retirement followed the 2015 season and paved the way for Morgan Scalley to take over as defensive coordinator.

“John Pease was such a treasured member of our Utah Athletics family, who continued to have a special presence around our football program after his retirement,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Coach Pease’s family and friends during this very difficult time.”