Utah taps DC Scalley as Whittingham’s successor

Sports

The University of Utah formally named defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley as the successor to longtime football coach Kyle Whittingham, the school announced Monday.

While no retirement date has been set for Whittingham, Scalley’s most recent contract calls for him to become the school’s next coach whenever Whittingham decides to step down.

The contract includes a starting salary for Scalley of at least $5 million per year if he’s elevated at the end of the 2024 season, per the contract. That number increases by $100,000 each subsequent year, topping out at $5.4 million after Jan. 16, 2028.

Scalley is entering his 17th season on the Utah staff and was a star player at the school.

“Obviously, this is a program that’s always meant the world to me,” Scalley told ESPN. “I played here, grew up going to games here. I love this program and where it’s headed, and I have a lot of respect for the coaches that have made it what is.”

There’s no definitive timeline set for Whittingham to step down. He turns 65 in November. He’s entering his 20th season as head coach and is the all-time winningest coach (162-79) in school history.

The contractual formalization of Scalley as the next Utah coach marks the second time that athletic director Mark Harlan has designated Scalley in such a role. In July of 2020, the school rescinded that title, which had been agreed to months before, and cut his salary by more than half to $525,000 annually after an outside investigation into his use of a racial slur in a text message seven years earlier.

An outside law firm review interviewed 35 people and found a majority of former players were surprised at the reports and had a positive relationship with Scalley. As part of his agreement to return to the staff, Scalley has taken part in regular and ongoing diversity and inclusion education.

“I hurt a lot of people and learned so much,” Scalley said. “Education leads to understanding, and that leads to empathy and meaningful action. I think sometimes to really know where you stand, you have to hit your personal rock bottom. I’m grateful that [Harlan] and the administration worked with me through that difficult time. I’m particularly grateful to the players, who showed so much love and grace.”

Scalley is entering his ninth season as Utah’s defensive coordinator, and the contract also includes a raise that will pay him $2 million in 2024, which puts him among the highest paid coordinators in the sport. He’s slated to make $2.1 million in 2025 and $2.2 million in 2026 as the defensive coordinator, per the new contract, if Whittingham is still the head coach. He made $1.5 million in 2023.

He has earned a reputation as one of the best coordinators in the country, as USC expressed interest in hiring him last year and Texas, Oregon and Florida were among programs that expressed interest in prior years.

Scalley said he’s elated that Utah has reciprocated his loyalty, crediting president Taylor Randall, Harlan and Whittingham for bringing him along.

“I just can’t say enough about how [Whittingham] has mentored me and believed in me,” Scalley said. “I’ve put a lot of time and sacrifice into this journey and am excited for the journey that’s ahead and appreciative for the administration’s belief in me and our vision going forward.”

The move by Utah does not come as a surprise, as viewed by the school’s contractual moves. After having his pay cut to $525,000 in 2020, the school boosted back Scalley’s salary to a reported $1.1 million in 2021 and then $1.4 million in 2022. The contract in 2022 included both a rollover and a significant buyout with no offset clause — $4.2 million — that would have made it expensive for Utah to bring in a coach from the outside.

The school said in its news release that the new employment agreement it announced Monday was signed Nov. 23, 2023.

“Coach Whittingham and I both strongly believe that that future lies with Morgan Scalley,” Harlan said in the statement. “Morgan has played a critical role in our success through his embodiment of our core values and his leadership, and I have witnessed first-hand his growth as a coach and as a person over the last several years.”

Scalley’s consistent success led to the outside interest, including authoring the country’s No. 2 total defense in 2019. Utah has had the Pac-12’s top rush defense five times in the past eight years.

“There’s some things you just can’t put a price tag on,” Scalley said. “My family is entrenched in Salt Lake City, and we’ve proven we can win at a high level where we’re situated. I always said if given the opportunity, I would never leave. I’ve been true to that.”

Over the course of his time at Utah, Scalley starred in the Mountain West as a player and has coached in that league, the entirety of Utah’s stint in the Pac-12. He will coordinate the defense in the Big 12 next year. He has also been the program’s special teams coach, recruiting coordinator and has coached the safeties since being hired full time in 2008. Scalley served as a senior captain on Utah’s 12-0 team in 2004 that blew out Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 4 in the country under Urban Meyer.

“The university has been where I’ve spent most of my life, so I want to be able to give back and continue the tradition and give the community and the state something to be fired up about,” he said. “You can recruit here, you can win here and it’s home.”

Utah is considered the favorite to win the Big 12 in 2024 — the Utes return eight starters on a defense that finished in the top 15 in total defense last season. Scalley said he sees the program as having the ability to someday win the national title.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so,” he said. “We can recruit and particularly locally, you got to be able to recruit linemen and you can do it locally. We’ve shown the ability to go out to Texas, to Florida, to California and get skill players. And we’ve got a fan base that’s passionate about winning, and you can do it in Salt Lake City.”

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