SALT LAKE CITY — To anyone who complains about playing time or coverage schemes, this season, Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah can always say: "So sue me."
Seriously. He can handle that.
As the Utes move toward this week's season opener, there are several coaching differences at Utah, including the addition of Shah. But he's not merely an ex-player on Kyle Whittingham's coaching staff. He's also an attorney, sideline reporter and player agent.
What, was astronaut school filled?
One thing seems obvious about "The Sheriff": His suit-wearing days are over.
"I told my wife I always wanted a job where I can wear sweatshirts and shorts every day," Shah says. "Little did I know it would be this job."
Although Shah modestly notes his good fortune being hired by the Utes last February, it was really no accident. Whittingham has been trying to get him out of the courtroom and onto his staff since becoming Utah's head coach in late 2004.
The Utes knew Shah was nothing if not motivated. He studied English and got a bachelor's degree in political science. He got a master's in exercise and sports science and considered medical school. But he had been thinking of law since age 9, so in 2001 he got his Juris Doctorate.
His only detour from the success train was a neck injury his senior season at Utah that derailed any hopes of playing pro football. But Shah is never short on ideas. In 1996 he became a certified NFL player agent, where he guided, among others, his brother Karim Abdul Jabbar (now known as Abdul Karim-Al Jabbar). He spent five years as a commercial litigator for the Salt Lake firm of Parsons, Behle & Latimer and five more as a trial attorney with Siegfried & Jensen.
Shah moonlighted for three years as an analyst for KUTV and KJZZ and spent 12 seasons as a sideline reporter for ESPN 700, the Utes' flagship radio station. The first two times Whittingham approached him about a career change, Shah refused. But last February he finally relented, though not before pointing out that he had never coached.
"Coach said, "I've been doing this for 30 years; I know coaches and I know people, and who can become a coach,' " Shah says.
All he needed thereafter was some consulting.
"I prayed on it and I talked to my wife about it, counseled with my father, and at the end of the day I had a real settled feeling about it and went forward."
In reality, the transition hasn't been all that big. Just like in law, Shah spends many hours preparing, sometimes getting only three hours' sleep.
"You go all night if it gives you a better chance of being successful on the field," he says. "You don't want to be surprised, so you look up all your opponents' tendencies."
Shah says that in both football and law, it's disturbing to find you didn't cover every possible angle and suddenly you're off balance. "Someone has an objection and now I'm surprised and reeling, and I don't know what to do about it. But if I watch one more game (film) and know that a guy's going to run a combination route, I won't be surprised by it. So it's such a parallel to law."
Including the need for an occasional audible.
"Objection, Your Honor," Shah says, mimicking a courtroom exchange.
Clearly, Shah has a lot of options. But after a self-described "circuitous" career path, he says he's found his calling.
Asked whether he has any regrets about his career change he says, "Noooo, no, no. I told my wife that for the next 25 years I will not change professions. She said, 'At least I can rely on that.' I'm not going anywhere. I hope it's (all) here (at Utah), but absolutely I'll be coaching."
That's not merely a commitment.
You might say he's under oath.
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