The original BCS busters: Looking back at Utah's Fiesta Bowl championship season
Jeffrey D. Allred
SALT LAKE CITY — While reflecting on the 2004 season at Utah, former head coach Urban Meyer was looking at a picture of Alex Smith in the Fiesta Bowl.
“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago,” Meyer said.
As the Utes prepare for their 10th season since breaking into the now-defunct Bowl Championship Series, memories of that historic campaign and the 35-7 Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh remain vivid.
The original BCS busters look back on their accomplishments with great fondness. They went 11-0 in 2004 and capped things off with a Jan. 1, 2005, win before an exuberant, mostly red-clad crowd at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
“It’s gone quick,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “In a way it seems like it was just yesterday.”
Whittingham, who was the Utes’ defensive coordinator that season, served as co-head coach in the finale — sharing duties with the Florida-bound Meyer.
“It was a special thing to see our players be able to accomplish what they accomplished. College football is all about the players,” Whittingham said. “That will never change, and to see our players work as hard as they did with the focus and just the tenacity of how they approached that game was great to be a part of.”
All-America safety Morgan Scalley noted that distractions were never an issue. He explained that the team had great leadership and "dang good coaches that understood the deal."
“That year was just special for a lot of different reasons,” said Scalley, who is now Utah’s recruiting coordinator and safeties coach. “We had a great core group of guys on our team and obviously a good amount of talent, a lot of them ended up playing in the NFL. But the biggest part about that team was just how special the guys were.”
Meyer, who went on to win two national championships at Florida and is now at Ohio State, wholeheartedly agrees.
“It was every coach’s dream. Every coach in America, right now, is talking about a brotherhood — creating a family atmosphere — and that was a very unique, incredible family atmosphere,” Meyer said. “It was a dream. It was not hard to coach that team. That was the easiest year I’ve ever had coaching a team because the players ran the show.”
Meyer recalls how the Utes went from being a team that was still kind of splintered in 2003 to a squad that had 100 guys pretty much on the same page the next season, a feat that he acknowledged is practically impossible and happens very rarely.
Defensive lineman Sione Pouha, who went on to play for the New York Jets from 2005-12, said the coaching change from Ron McBride to Meyer involved a transition that some players adapted to quickly and others needed time in order to do so.
"We were going from something that we were used to, to something different," Pouha said.
Meyer considers Utah’s program the “melting pot of America” because of the different cultures and backgrounds — Polynesians, African-Americans, Mormons, non-Mormons, Hispanics, married players, etc.
“You have a taste of everything there and to see all of them put that completely aside and become brothers,” he said, was pivotal.
Steve Fifita, defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, noted that it was rare to be on a team like that. They would gather for barbecues every weekend and at least 90 percent of the guys would show up and hang out.
“That was a special team,” said Fifita, who is now an assistant coach at Idaho State. “You don’t run across teams that are that close, and we all still keep in touch.”
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