Belnap leaves solid program in his wake

Published: Monday, Oct. 20 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

He started as a basketball coach at Weber High School nearly 40 years ago. He'll conclude his career later this month just down the road at Weber State University, where he has served as the athletic director for the past three years.

In between, Dutch Belnap has distinguished himself in a variety of positions, including the general manager of a baseball team, a successful college basketball coach and a vice president of a bank."I've had pretty good breaks all the way through," said Belnap. "It's been a good run, and I've been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities."

Belnap, who turns 65 early next year, is handing the reins of the Weber State athletic program over to John Johnson, who came to Ogden earlier this year after serving as the athletic director at Eastern Washington for five years.

If you ask Belnap why he's retiring now, he quickly reels off a couple of those folksy aphorisms that he's famous for.

"When you're older than the speed limit, it's time to get out" he says, and then, "When the sheriff's posse is hanging a rope on the tree, it's time to move on."

The latter statement implies that Belnap is being forced out of his job, which isn't the case at all. He was hired three years ago to stabilize a Weber State athletic program that was teetering on the edge, with serious consideration being given to eliminating football - lifeblood of most athletic programs.

Belnap helped put the football program - as well as the whole department - back on solid footing and achieved a variety of goals in his short tenure on the Ogden campus.

"I tried to accomplish a few things here, and I think I left it better than I found it," he said.

Belnap doesn't have a hard time ticking off a list of accomplishments during his short tenure, such as getting a Jumbotron and new floor at the Dee Events Center, chairback seating at the football stadium, a new 400-meter track, creating an in-house radio network, starting a $1 million project for new offices, putting a half million dollars into the weight room, starting priority seating in basketball and upgrading the locker room facilities.

Sometimes he wonders why he took the job in the first place.

"I got a brain cramp and decided to come back to athletics," he said. "It was tough but fun."

Perhaps he did it because he had spent most of his life involved in athletics. He says he wasn't the greatest athlete when he was younger but decided to get into coaching, following the path of Dick Motta, who became a successful coach despite not excelling as an athlete.

After coaching at Weber High School for seven years, Belnap worked in the mid-1960s as the general manager of the Ogden Dodgers, managed by Tommy Lasorda, who was recently inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. Belnap recalls Lasorda as "the best promoter I've ever been around." Last week Lasorda paid tribute to Belnap in a radio interview, remembering all the "fun times" he had with Belnap in Ogden.

In 1968 Belnap went to Utah State as an assistant basketball coach to Ladell Andersen, and in 1974 he took over as head coach. In six years, he compiled a 108-58 record, still the best percentage (.651) in Aggie history. Then he abruptly went into the banking business in Ogden, keeping his hand in athletics by doing television commentary for basketball games, before taking over for Tom Stewart in 1995.

Belnap found much of his job involved shaking hands and hobnobbing with boosters, trying to get private donations for the Wildcat program.

"The biggest challenge is trying to maintain 14 or 15 sports with only two revenue sports (football and men's basketball)," he said. "It takes a lot of money. It's like having a 10-gallon leak in a four-gallon bucket - you have to keep bailing."

He said being an A.D. is much tougher than being a coach and compares his job "to those Wac-a-Moles at Chuck E Cheese where you whack them on the head and they're always popping up again."

Belnap has had approximately a $4 million budget to work with, about half that of fellow Big Sky school Montana and perhaps a quarter of the budget at the University of Utah.

"Our finances are fine now - I feel good about the entire athletic program," said Belnap.

Belnap is looking forward to retirement, which is part of the reason he moved up his retirement date by six months. He plans to spend a lot of time doing woodwork, golfing, traveling and "being a sports nut" without all the worries that went along with coaching and being an athletic director. "I won't miss that knot in your gut wondering if your kids are going to perform," he said.

Now Belnap can sit back and watch the fruits of his labors from the stands.

"With John Johnson coming aboard, he's more than capable to take over," Belnap said. "John is certainly going to continue to take us to greater heights."

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