The TribUte: Kiel McDonald leaves a hole in the Utah football staff, Quinton Ganther runs through it

Ganther played for Utah in 2004 and 2005, played five seasons in the NFL, and was later running backs coach at Weber State

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Every coaching hire matters.

But the vacancy Kyle Whittingham had to fill at running backs coach this week felt especially important.

Kiel McDonald had grown into the position since arriving in 2017, coaching multiple All-Pac-12 running backs, including Zack Moss and Tavion Thomas, while earning a reputation as an ace recruiter. McDonald, as you may know, was the primary recruiter for the late Ty Jordan, who was a Freshman All-American and the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2019.

To replace McDonald, who is now the running backs coach at USC, Utah announced on Wednesday the hiring of Quinton Ganther. An ex-Ute (2004-05), a seventh-round NFL draft pick in 2006, five years in the NFL, seven seasons as the running backs at Weber State under another ex-Ute, Jay Hill, and last season as an offensive quality control coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars under Urban Meyer.

When McDonald departed, Ganther was a name that immediately popped up as an option, and maybe an obvious one given the 38-year-old’s credentials, but this hire was especially important given the makeup of Whittingham’s running backs room for 2022.

Thomas is back for one more season after rushing for over 1,100 yards and a program single-season record 21 touchdowns. Micah Bernard is in line for an increased role in 2022 as a fourth-year sophomore, while Chris Curry will be in the same boat as a fifth-year senior. Much-hyped freshman Jaylon Glover will make his collegiate debut, redshirt freshman Ricky Parks has a ton of intrigue.

After Utah ran the ball on 58% of its offensive snaps in 2021, this is the room Ganther inherits. It is talented, it is experienced at the top, it is inexperienced beneath Thomas and Bernard, although talented and seemingly capable.

Was Ganther an obvious choice to replace McDonald? With that much talent in his newly-inherited position room, we’re about to find out.

Other things on my mind

• One major topic of discussion after the Rose Bowl was the lack of a pass rush. If you watched the second half of Utah-Ohio State, you may have noticed that Mika Tafua didn’t look like himself. On Wednesday, at the end of an Instagram post that was essentially a thank you and a goodbye to Utah, Tafua slid in there that he played the final three games with a sports hernia. Credit to him for gutting it out, that can be a rough injury.

• The Utah women’s basketball team has had five straight games postponed, so it picked up a Friday matchup vs. UC Riverside. The kicker: The game is at the practice facility, not the Huntsman Center, which is set up for the gymnastics team’s showdown with Oklahoma. You do what you have to do when you’ve been through what the Utes have been through lately.

• Every team in the Pac-12 South has legitimate reason to be optimistic, except for Colorado, which saw 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard hit the NCAA Transfer Portal on Thursday. Yes, Arizona fans, especially Arizona fans, should be feeling optimistic.