Utah Utes football: Sharrieff Shah doesn't regret trading in the courtroom for the gridiron

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah says he is happy to work with athletes on the football field. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah says he is happy to work with athletes on the football field. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It didn't take long for those close to Sharrieff Shah to render a verdict.

The decision was swift.

After more than a decade as an attorney, Shah was encouraged to accept an offer to become the cornerbacks coach at the University of Utah.

"Everybody said you should have been doing this a long time ago. Everybody said that," Shah noted. "It's an opportunity that I probably should have maximized a long time ago. I realized that God's time was the best time and this time was now."

Before accepting Kyle Whittingham's invitation to join the staff, Shah wanted to pray about it and speak with his wife, his father and other members of his family to see what their collective opinions were.

Sharriff Shah (Courtesy University of Utah) Sharriff Shah (Courtesy University of Utah)

Shah wanted to do his homework. He had been offered a coaching position at Utah before, but this call from Whittingham was different.

"He said: 'Listen, I'm going to make this offer for the last time Sharrieff. I want you to come coach for me,' " Shah recalled.

After making sure the timing was right for everyone, Shah decided to switch careers. He's not exactly entering an unknown realm, however.

Shah has spent the past 12 years as the sideline reporter for Utah football radio broadcasts on flagship station ESPN 700AM. The former star safety for the Utes, who was a Sports Illustrated Defensive Player of the Week in 1991 after making 12 tackles, a school-record four sacks and two forced fumbles against Oregon State, has also remained close to the program with motivational talks to the team throughout the Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and Whittingham regimes.

Tuiaki Eliasa (Courtesy University of Utah) Tuiaki Eliasa (Courtesy University of Utah)

Although he longed to be even more involved, Shah wanted to make the most of his education as well. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1993 and followed it up with a master's degree in 1995 and juris doctorate in 2001.

"I've always wanted to be here," Shah said of coaching football. "It just felt like since I put my family through so much going to law school, I better at least maximize the value of this law degree."

Shah was a commercial litigator for Parsons, Behle and Latimer from 2001-06 and a trial attorney for Siegfried and Jensen from 2006-11.

The decision to swap suits for sweats, Shah explained, has been smooth. He made the move in February.

"This is truly a blessing," Shah said after a spring practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "No regrets whatsoever."

Dan Finn (Courtesy University of Utah) Dan Finn (Courtesy University of Utah)

His wife, Jennifer, often asks if he misses going to court, or putting on a tie.

Shah's response?

"Baby, I don't."

That's not to say, however, that it's all in the past.

"The only thing I really miss about the law is the people that I served and the people that I practiced with," Shah said. "I'm such a people person and I love the people that I took care of. That's what I miss more than anything."

Shah, though, prefers the football field over a courtroom.

"It's a different level of excitement and adrenaline. That's what I can say, honestly. I certainly couldn't yell at the judge and I couldn't get after the jury on a bad verdict," Shah said with a laugh. "But if one of my kids misses a deep ball I can tear (into him) and it makes me happy sometimes. Maybe not for him, but it makes me happy. But it's done with so much love that these guys respond. These boys respond. It's been such a competitive and good spring."

And a lot of fun, he added — even if the work hours are consistent with practicing law.

"Football is so much more gratifying because you can see some of the fruit of your labor," Shah said of the hard work involved such as film study, individual drills and preparation, and kids learning concepts on the field.

Law, he continued, offers different challenges.

"Sometimes you can prepare for months and years on a case and you get a bad outcome and you feel so deflated. There's no level of gratification. There's nothing, just a hole, and you just move to the next case," Shah explained. "… So I suppose when you juxtapose them like that, I'm a lot happier on the football field."

Shah is one of three new full-time assistants on Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's staff this spring. Offensive line coach Dan Finn and fullbacks/tight ends coach Ilaisa Tuiaki are the others. Whittingham said they've meshed in well with returnees Jay Hill, Brian Johnson, Chad Kauha'aha'a, Aaron Roderick, Morgan Scalley and Kalani Sitake.

"I think the staff has very good continuity and works well together," Whittingham noted. "I'm very pleased with how the new coaches have handled themselves."

Both Finn and Tuiaki are former graduate assistants at Utah. Finn went on to coach at Idaho and San Diego State, while Tuiaki is fresh off a stint at Utah State.

Both appreciate returning to the Utes.

"Things are going well. It's been a smooth transition for myself and my family and we just hit the ground running. I love it," Tuiaki said. "I felt that there would be a fairly smooth transition because I was here before. I know what coach Whittingham expects."

Tuiaki is enjoying the players he's coaching.

"I love them. They're a good group of kids," he said while praising their hard work and toughness. "We've meshed well. I've appreciated the way that we've been able to work together."

Finn is having a similar experience. He noted that it's been pretty easy to step right in and move things along.

"This is a great situation for me and my family and I'm really excited about it," Finn said before explaining his approach to the job. "I just think you've got to go in there and earn your kids' respect and their trust. As long as you know what you're doing and you can teach them what you want them to do, I think you're going to be OK."

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said Thursday's practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium was "good work" with a lot of corrections on mistakes made throughout the course of spring. … The Utes close out spring ball with the Red-White Game on Saturday at 1 p.m. … Senior defensive back Reggie Topps, who was suspended earlier in camp for a undisclosed violation of team rules, is out indefinitely. Whittingham added that there would be no update in "the near, foreseeable future."

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