Utah Utes mailbag: Is Morgan Scalley still the likeliest successor to Kyle Whittingham?

Plus: Future Pac-12 football scheduling, how might the basketball team use its last scholarship, and more

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah football defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley at a Rose Bowl media session in Los Angeles, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

We are deep into the true doldrums of the college football offseason, that stretch of May and June where spring practice is no longer visible in the rearview mirror, but conference media days in July have not yet come into focus.

Aside from recruiting, there generally is not a whole lot going on right now. That is, until the 62-year-old head coach of the program you cover is asked about Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder stepping down, and he uses part of his answer to, out of nowhere, give an offhand comment about his own career potentially coming to an end soon. We will start this Utes mailbag right there.

Do you have a question for Utes beat reporter Josh Newman? Send it to him via a tweet, direct message him on Twitter, email him at jnewman@sltrib.com, or leave it in the comments section at the end of this article and he will answer them in his weekly mailbag.

Q: “Is Morgan Scalley the odds-on favorite to replace Kyle Whittingham when the time comes?” – @benwilkinson

A: When will Whittingham retire? Who will take over when he does? And will it be Scalley, a native of Salt Lake City, an All-American safety for the Utes during the Urban Meyer years, and the program’s defensive coordinator since 2016?

Before actually answering the question, let’s rewind back to Monday afternoon, which was a day after Snyder resigned. Whittingham did a small media availability following the Coaches for Charity Golf Tournament in Sandy, during which he was essentially asked if he could understand the mindset of why a coach would want to step away from the job.

“There comes a time when you need a new voice and a new leader,” Whittingham said. “Obviously, he felt that was time for him right now, and I’m getting close to that in my career.”

Anybody paying close attention to Utah football should have been a bit surprised by that quote because, frankly, Whittingham really does not address his future publicly. Questions swirled late in the 2021 season about what his future might look like, and he sidestepped them all. A public acknowledgment on Monday that the end is coming — even if we all know it inevitably will — qualifies as noteworthy.

Assuming Scalley is still on staff when Whittingham decides to retire, yes, I believe the 42-year-old is the odds-on favorite to be the successor. There is no language in Scalley’s latest contract, signed in April 2021, that labels Scalley as the head coach-in-waiting, but that hardly matters.

The educated guess here is that Whittingham retires and Scalley ascends to head coach at the same time. Easy, clean, no coaching search. A native son, a man synonymous with Utah football remains in charge.

If Scalley becomes head coach, common sense and human nature dictate that it will not be met with universal praise. He was suspended in June 2020 after admitting he used a racial slur in a text to a recruit in 2013. Scalley was reinstated as defensive coordinator, but took a pay cut and had his head coach-in-waiting tag rescinded by athletics director Mark Harlan.

While that suspension remains worth mentioning in a situation like this, I don’t suspect that it — or any potential blowback — would stop Harlan from promoting Scalley. People around the program feel he has paid his penance. Scalley received public support from a number of former players at the time, respect for him in the locker room has remained strong, and he is still a highly valued recruiter.

Whittingham’s contract runs through 2027.

Q: “Do we have any insight into whether Utah football thinks they may still bring in any 2022 eligible players from the transfer portal before the season? Seems like with the several players that left, there would be some open spots.” - @justincraig40

A: The cliche move here is to say that coaching staffs are always portal-diving, always have their collective ears to the ground, always looking for personnel that can help the team improve. All of those things are true.

But it’s early June. Summer session is underway, players are on campus, fall camp is less than two months out. So at this point, save for a late qualifier or two, Utah’s roster is probably pretty close to being in stone.

That said, every staff worth its salt should have a few spots open right now, because you never know what might happen, no matter how unlikely someone walking through the door at this point might be.

If you’re looking for things of concern to nitpick in terms of the roster, personally, I still think the wide receivers’ room feels light. That’s not to say the top of that depth chart is not capable, but there are definitely questions — and that includes Devaughn Vele’s validity as a No. 1 receiver, simply because he hasn’t performed in that role yet.

Another question remains at cornerback. It’s Clark Phillips III and JT Broughton outside, it’s Malone Mataele inside, and beyond that, there are a lot of assumptions about depth. Faybian Marks, injured and lost for the season late in 2021, being ready for camp would help matters. After Marks? A lot of unproven pieces.

Q: “Not sure if you wrote about it yet, but since the Pac-12 is scrapping divisions, what conference scheduling model would you prefer? Pod model?” - @iampangean

A: Yes, I would get on board with a pod model for the Pac-12 because it feels like the most equitable solution in terms of what to do about scheduling without divisions.

I like what the ACC is looking to do with its “3-5-5″ scheduling model, which would see each team have three permanent opponents within the league that would be on the schedule every season. The remaining five ACC games would be rotated between the other 10 conference opponents each year. The end result would be each team would play every other ACC team at least once every two seasons.

The Pac-12 is still at nine conference games, so its pod model would have to look a little different, but using the ACC as an example, my big question here is, which three teams would Utah be playing every year?

Utah-Colorado is a manufactured “rivalry” based on geography, but the Utes playing the Buffaloes every year is a mortal lock, so that’s one. Do they then get Arizona and Arizona State? One of the Arizonas and one of the Los Angeles schools? Is Utah-Oregon going to be an every-year thing?

Possibilities are plentiful, but whatever happens, I love everyone getting rid of divisions. For the Pac-12 specifically, if the league wants to be in the College Football Playoff mix, sending its two-best teams to its conference championship game instead of the two division winners is a good start.

Q: “Which Utah basketball is a more desirable coaching spot, Jazz or Utes?” - @NoPitStops

A: I had to stare at this for about 45 seconds before I decided this person was serious.

This is not a Jazz vs. Utes question, this is an NBA vs. NCAA question, and the answer is the same every time. While there may be a small handful of exceptions with elite college head coaching jobs, the NBA is the more desirable coaching spot.

NBA coaches are dealing with grown men, not teenagers. NBA coaches are not dealing with classes, tutors, or especially recruiting. NBA coaches are paid handsomely, private flights and hotel accommodations are top tier.

There are another handful of exceptions here, but once someone cracks an NBA coaching staff, you really don’t see that person ever opting to take a college job.

You remember the Utes coaching search of 2021, right? Where Jazz assistant Alex Jensen, a former Ute, considered it before sticking with the NBA? And Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant, another former Ute, also removed himself from consideration?

There’s never been a question which coaching gig is better.

Q: For the final hoops roster spot, what do you think Craig Smith should prioritize?” - @coreyc04

A: You wrote this question in a manner in which you assume Smith and his staff will fill that 13th and final scholarship for 2022-23.

I am working under the assumption that Smith’s second roster is set. It is June. The 2022 recruiting cycle is over, but is there a transfer portal gem to still be unearthed? In theory, yes, but it’s late to be expecting such a thing, especially someone who Smith believes can help his team.

I learned a long time ago that college basketball rosters aren’t truly set until school starts, guys are in classes, and the semester/quarter is actually rolling, but in this case, unless Smith has an international kid he’s waiting on, or a late JUCO qualifier he’s hiding well, I think we’re about set for 2022-23.

For the purposes of this exercise, what should Smith prioritize if he’s still looking for a piece? You can’t have too much size, but this Utah roster doesn’t have enough.

Branden Carlson is a proven, veteran commodity, but after him, questions. Keba Keita can be a defensive presence immediately, but the Wasatch Academy product is raw and has not played a ton of high-level basketball yet. What Smith can get out of Wisconsin third-year sophomore transfer Ben Carlson immediately will be of great interest in the early going.

Carlson playing big minutes will take some pressure off of Keita, who is likely not ready yet to shoulder a huge load.

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