Utah Utes football: Veteran Pease puts retirement on hold

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 12 2009 12:17 a.m. MDT

John Pease, center front, came out of retirement to coach Utah's defensive line. He coached in the NFL for 19 years and has nearly as much college experience.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Most folks, when they turn 65 years old, look forward to retirement because of the opportunity to perhaps play a little golf, sit back in their rocking chair, and generally take it easy.

Not John Pease.

The longtime football coach with 19 years of NFL coaching experience, and nearly as much college experience, has returned to the coaching profession this year as Utah's defensive line coach.

At Ute practices, he's the guy with the thinning gray hair and the slightly hunched-over gait who roams the field like the Energizer bunny.

After retiring from the NFL in 2005, Pease has returned to Utah, where he played in the early 1960s and coached in the 1970s.

So far, it's working out great.

"John has a very impressive coaching resume," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's been at the highest level for a lot of years, and we're very fortunate he was able to accept the position. He's a huge asset to this staff."

"It's fun," Pease says. "A lot of people my age retire and play golf and sit at home, but not me. I hope I have something to contribute. I have a lot of energy left."

Pease played linebacker on Utah's 1964 Liberty Bowl team with the likes of Roy Jefferson, Ron Coleman and Pokey Allen. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the U. and also coached collegiately at Fullerton Community College, Long Beach State and Washington, as well as a year at Utah in 1977.

In 1983, he went to the USFL for three years before joining the New Orleans Saints, where he coached the defensive line for nine seasons. Then he joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as the defensive line coach for six years and as the defensive coordinator for two. Then it was back to New Orleans for a couple of years before he retired in 2005.

Pease came back to Utah, where he had a condo and lived part of the year with his wife, Chris. He couldn't get football out of his blood, so he used to attend Ute practices as what he called "a senior adviser."

"He wasn't on the field, but he was a good sounding board for me," says Whittingham.

Whittingham had first met Pease five or six years ago through a mutual friend. Pease used to come to summer camps and then hung around practices for a couple of years.

When Gary Andersen left for Utah State last year and Kalani Sitake was promoted to defensive coordinator, the first person Whittingham thought of to coach the D-line was Pease.

"He's been a good friend of the program," said Whittingham. "He has a wealth of knowledge. He's been there and done that."

So what is Pease's motivation for coaching in the hot summer sun when he could be relaxing with his feet up?

"What I love is this," he said, looking over the Ute practice field earlier this week. "I love practices and I love seeing kids grow. I see a freshman come in and he's homesick, and by the time he's a senior he's a polished, well-spoken graduate. That's really the fun of this game."

Pease feels the Utes' defensive line is making progress and will be even better than it was last year.

Unlike a year ago, when Utah had question marks at a couple of positions on the D-line heading into the season, this year it's one of the team's strongest positions. Right now, Pease said he has six solid players in Koa Misi, Derrick Shelby, Eliapo Kenapa, Lei Talimaivao, Sealver Siliga and David Kruger, with others pushing them.

"I really like them," Pease said. "They're all really good kids, hard workers, very willing. Seeing them improve really makes me happy.

Pease used to play racquetball regularly and enjoys golf, mountain climbing and hiking. He also gets a lot of exercise riding his bike to and from practice from his downtown condo when he doesn't ride TRAX.

"Just don't make me sit in the house and be quiet," he says. "I have no use for quiet time."

The fact that Pease is old enough to collect Social Security doesn't concern Whittingham.

"He is so energetic," he says. "His energy is legendary in the NFL from the stories you hear. He has more energy than anybody out here except maybe (Morgan) Scalley."

So how long will Pease, who turns 66 in October, continue to coach after this year?

"You never know what will happen, but we've got him now and plan on him sticking around for a few years," said Whittingham.

Pease agrees.

"I can do it as long as Kyle wants me. Or until they dig up a hole during a drill and roll me in it."

John Pease

* Played for Utah in 1963-64, was graduate assistant in 1968-69 and linebackers coach in 1977.

* Coached college football for 15 years, including five years at Washington.

* Coached in the USFL for three years and in the NFL for 19 years, including 11 seasons with New Orleans and eight with Jacksonville, where he was the defensive coordinator.

* He and his wife, Chris, a Utah alumna, have two daughters and four grandchildren.

* Turns 66 in October.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com

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