The biggest loss from last year's Utah football team arguably wasn't all-conference safety Steve Tate, defensive end Martail Burnett or linebacker Joe Jiannoni.

It was longtime trainer Bill Bean.

It's not easy to replace the guy who fixed all the owies.

Bean, who retired July 1, is noticeably absent at practice this year. When he took over as Utah's head trainer in late 1975, Utah's football stadium — and its program — were crumbling. The Utes were coming off back-to-back 1-10 seasons and rats were in the basement. Now the Utes are ranked in some polls and the stadium is a showcase.

Through it all, Bean was there, as comforting as a favorite pillow. If an injury occurred, he was first at the scene, directing the effort.

The man had more answers than a game show host.

Additionally, he had that mixture

of assurance and skill that starts the healing even before treatment has begun.

Clearly, being a trainer is more than taping ankles. In some cases, an athlete can die if not treated quickly and properly.

"I thought about that every day," he said.

Yet nobody died under Bean's watch. Not that there weren't scares. Like the time an opposing player had a seizure near the sidelines after being knocked unconscious. He could have choked on his tongue had he not been reached by the training staff. Or the time a receiver got speared in the stomach and immediately "didn't look right."

Turned out he had a lacerated liver. A shade closer and it could have torn an artery and caused the player to bleed to death.

One player's helmet slipped off and he wound up with a fractured face. He quit the team.

Violent sports are one thing, turning your face into a crash wall is another.

Prior to Utah, Bean worked briefly at Washington State, then for 16 months as trainer for the ABA's Utah Stars. He saw some stuff there, too. Like the time a player lacerated the white of his eye.

"It looked a lot worse than it was," said Bean.

Sort of like some of the Ute teams.

He treated countless dislocations, fractures, contusions, concussions and lacerations, many of which were gross enough to make regular people cringe.

"It was all a lot of fun," he said.

Maybe not so much for the injured players, but you get the idea.

When someone works as long as Bean did, the memories accumulate. Two Olympics, including the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, where he was trainer for the U.S. Nordic team. And the 2002 Games, when he worked the opening and closing ceremonies. Other highlights: The 2005 Fiesta Bowl and the Utes' 57-28 win over BYU in 1988.

You treat 4,000-5,000 athletes in your career, there are anomalies. One of the toughest guys Bean met was when he was working for the Stars. Ron Boone, now a Jazz TV commentator, was what Bean terms "tissue tough."

Boone once sustained a thigh contusion, an injury that can keep players out weeks; he didn't even check out of the game.

Ute skier Jan Bjorkheim had a resting heart rate of 38 — half that of a normal, healthy adult. He could make climbing Agony Hill behind the medical center center look like he was riding an escalator.

As head trainer, Bean didn't work every sport, but he oversaw them all. From a staff of two full-time trainers and one grad student when he arrived, his group grew to five full-time trainers, 12 certified graduate trainers and 30-40 other grad students.

On one hand, a trainer's upclose involvement is fulfilling. On the other side, you have to re-prove yourself with every new coach.

Bean considers former football coach Urban Meyer "the most difficult and the most enjoyable" coach he ever encountered.

"He didn't have an 'off' button," said Bean.

During vacation at Idaho's Red Fish Lake one summer, Bean got a call from Meyer.

"He was ticked I was on vacation," Bean said. "And I'd even told him beforehand I was coming."

But, he said, Meyer "made us much better; he brought big-time football to Utah."

Bean's three-decade career included countless games against college football's great and small. Games at Louisiana State, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas, home contests against Idaho State and Weber State. Twenty or so trips to Hawaii, one to Tokyo and a conference in Jordan.

Not to mention the annual death duel with BYU.

There were also seven-day workweeks that lasted from August to April.

Will he miss it?

"I won't miss the long hours or seeing young athletes get hurt," he said. "But I'll miss the camaraderie."

All those years in the body repair business, and look who's feeling the pain now.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com