Davis High football coach Ryan Bishop has never known another way. He was raised with Southern Utah pride pulsing through his veins. His father, Jack, paced the sidelines for the Thunderbirds from 1978-82, and again from 1986-95 before overseeing the program as the athletic director.
As such, it was inevitable that Bishop eventually furthered his education in Cedar City. There, his fervor for the game of football, and specifically coaching, heightened. This experience isn’t unique to Bishop, with many Utah high school coaches traveling down the same path. Overall, 30 out of the 103 current coaches in the state attended Southern Utah University.
“If you’re not affiliated and (don’t) know the history and background, I would think it (was surprising),” Bishop said. “Fortunately for me, having grown up in that atmosphere and seeing the coaches and all the great men to come through, and having an opportunity to come through myself, I’ve really tried to stay in touch with those guys.”
Collectively, the SUU pipeline has a combined 244 years of head coaching experience, 1,549 wins and 2,701 games coached. In addition, 16 coaches have totaled 67 state semifinal appearances, 13 different coaches have advanced to the championship game, and 10 have accounted for 17 state titles.
“I’m proud of it. I loved my time down in Cedar,” said Bingham coach Dave Peck, who was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at SUU from 1979-82. “I’ve got a lot of good friends still from my days of being at Southern Utah. I’m proud to be a graduate.”
The inordinate amount of former Thunderbirds donning headsets, which is frequently referred to as the SUU Coaching Factory, is commonly attributed to Steve Lunt.
Lunt, who was inducted into the SUU Hall of Fame in 2012, is most recognized for his work as the director of Intercollegiate Athletics, but he was also chairman of the Department of Physical Education and an assistant coach in football, baseball, basketball and wrestling.
“He did a great job of getting kids involved with different things and giving them experiences that would help you when you start coaching,” Box Elder coach Robbie Gunter said. “So, when you got into (high school coaching) it wasn’t the first time dealing with a lot of the things you have to deal with as a teacher and coach.”
“I thought when I was there, Steve Lunt and all those guys pushed you so hard in the classroom — they held you to such a high expectation of excellence,” Pine View coach Ray Hosner added. “I think from that moment of them feeding that into your head, you look at as: we can’t take any shortcuts, and as long as we’re doing it for the kids, we’ll always be in good shape.”
Many of the graduates didn’t intend on pursuing careers in the coaching field but realized it was an opportunity to stay connected with the game. That trend is ongoing. This year, four coaches join the pipeline in their first year of coaching: Copper Hills’ John Teuscher; Altamont’s Anthony Wilcox; North Sevier’s Colton Johnson; and Weber’s Matt Hammer.
“The guys that went and played football there, you know, it’s not a big Division I powerhouse, but guys like me were able to go and play there and have a great experience,” Gunter explained. “A lot of us, our way to get back and still stay a part of that is to coach. Most of the guys that I know were not that elite athlete, but loved the game as much as anybody."
After nearly 40 years of dedication to Southern Utah, Lunt continues to mold the brotherhood by updating coaches around the state on the progress of former graduates.
“Coach Lunt does a great job of keeping us all updated and who’s doing what and who’s moved where,” Peck said. “I’m really familiar with what’s going down just because of his efforts. I think Dr. Lunt is the reason everybody knows there’s so many high school coaches from Southern Utah.”
“It’s fun because I can say, ‘Hey this guy was older than me and played down there at this time or this guy came through at the same time as me,’ ” Bishop added. “So, that’s kind of what’s been fun; to watch them have success, but to know where they fit in over the years.”
With each win and every new championship banner yet to come, the legend intensifies. For the coaches, however, each accolade is a steady reminder to never forget their roots.
“We’re all proud to be T-Birds, that’s for sure,” Hosner said.
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