Gordon Monson: When Kyle Whittingham steps down at Utah, this now-wiser man should replace him

Morgan Scalley no longer has the official title, but the Tribune columnist believes he is still the man for the job.

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

Morgan Scalley once was running fast — with at least one jarring stumble — on a slow track.

That track is still slow and will remain that way until Kyle Whittingham decides that he has lifted Utah football long enough. Whittingham has said he’ll walk away from his spacious head coach’s office at Spence’s football complex before he has to limp away. He does not want to be an old ball coach.

More recently, the 62-year-old brought up the possibility — seemingly making it a probability — that he’s nearing the end when he was asked last month about Quin Snyder leaving the Jazz. The Tribune’s Josh Newman discussed this matter in a recent Utah Utes mailbag, also passing along his thoughts on Scalley’s potential successorship.

As a columnist and commentator who severely criticized Scalley for his aforementioned stumble — more on that in a minute — I’ve got my own opinion here.

Back to Whittingham.

There are two problems with the whole idea of his imminent departure.

The first is, he’s making more money now than he ever has and that kind of money is hard for anyone to turn their back on (although he’s already accumulated enough to never run short, including investments in things like condos on islands in the South Pacific). The second is, he’s got the Utes program in better shape presently, in a general sense, than it’s ever been before.

There’s value to leaving on top, but maybe he can yet take the Utes higher.

Oh, and there’s one other issue: He actually enjoys what he’s doing.

So, he’s great at it, he’s getting truckloads of cash for it, he’s winning conference titles with it, whatever that conference will look like in the future, and he likes it.

But he does not want to limp away, or use a walker.

Plus, life has other wonderful things in store for Kyle David Whittingham, when he’s ready for that next step. It’s rightfully his choice when to take it.

Which brings us back to Scalley, another coach ready to take a step or two or three or a thousand — straight into the office Whittingham will eventually vacate.

Scalley was once in perfect position to make that ascent.

He was a great player for the Utes. A smart player. He joined the coaching staff and thrived at everything he learned and taught. He’s an individual who in light of his intelligence could have been proficient at whatever profession he chose. He picked football.

And everybody knows what happened, the rise, the fall, now the climb back.

After becoming a respected defensive coordinator and Utah’s head coach-in-waiting, making over a million bucks a year, the horrible mistake Scalley made came to light two years ago last month. He used a racial slur in a text to a recruit seven years earlier. Not only was he suspended, he had his pay cut in half and the previous lofty and rare designation stripped away. And his reputation took its deserved hit.

Moreover, another former Utah player claimed Scalley used the N-word in a different exchange on him.

At that time, I — and a whole lot of others — ripped Scalley hard. Some rather pathetically made excuses for him.

In full disclosure, I had sung Scalley’s praises for years — for 17 of them, as a player, as a coach, as a man. I liked him and held him in high regard. I endorsed him as a head coach-in-waiting before he actually was anointed that.

When the anointing arrived — in December, 2019, by way of a sweet contract extension — Scalley said: “I’m grateful to be in this position and fully committed to the Utah football family.”

He was admired by most of his players, recruits were lured in by him and effectively coached by him thereafter. At one point, he was considered among the top assistants in college football, a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award during the 2019 season.

As a student and a player, Scalley donated time to charitable causes, including working with disadvantaged kids and fundraising for assorted needs in the community, when he wasn’t busting his hump on the field. Back then, one of his teammates said of Scalley: “He has his head screwed on straight. He knows what he wants and he goes and gets it. He’s the hardest worker on our team. That shows in the classroom. He voices his opinion in the locker room and guys listen because everything he does, he does right.”

A handful of years later, not quite everything.

He used the slur. Seven years later, he paid for it. And then, he apologized for it. He never commented on the additional subsequent accusation from a former Utah defensive back.

What he did say, among other things, was that he was “heartbroken” over the mistake: “I am truly sorry, and I own up to the hurtful effects of my choice. Through my actions and words going forward, I will demonstrate that my use of that slur in 2013 does not reflect or define who I am or what I stand for. My action is indefensible and I will use my voice and position to bring about meaningful and much-needed change.”

He added: “This will never happen again.”

And this: “It’s my job to repair any damage that’s been done.”

People of color have heard after-the-fact apologies like that for many years, some completely sincere, some wholly insincere.

It appears that Scalley’s was heartfelt and genuine.

He’s lived and learned.

He’s worked conscientiously and consistently, by all known accounts, to remember his moments of stupidity, to erase and eradicate them, to gain back the trust of his players, to live up to his words, spoken as they were in sorrow and regret.

Whether his reputation has been fully repaired and restored, that’s up to each of the offended to decide for themselves. From this corner and from many corners I’ve asked among those close to the program in the Black community, Scalley in the interim has not just talked right, but walked right.

Josh revealed in his mailbag his belief that Scalley once again is “the odds-on favorite” to replace Whittingham.

Let’s go further with that.

Let’s say all plain here what two years ago I and others doubted we’d ever be able to say again: Scalley is not only the odds-on favorite to be Whittingham’s successor, he should be Utah’s next head coach.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.