1 of 2
Amy Donaldson
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins watches Utah's football practice Tuesday afternoon.
I think it’s huge for our players to see the president of the university here, taking a genuine interest in what they’re doing. It was a very positive experience for our players. —Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham

SALT LAKE CITY — It isn’t often that someone steps into the Utah football team’s post-practice huddle and commands more respect than the team’s head coach.

In her second day on the job, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins did just that. Her goal was simply to let the coaches and players know that she understands the tremendous demands of being a student-athlete, and she appreciates the way they represent the U.

“Athletics is a pretty important part of a university,” she said after spending a few minutes chatting with former Utah head coach Ron McBride. “We’re lucky to have a great program with coaches of high integrity and character. So it’s fun to be a part of it.”

Watkins came to Utah in 2013 as the senior vice president for academic affairs when she was chosen by the Utah Board of Regents to succeed David Pershing in January. Tuesday was her second official day leading the state’s flagship university, and she was enjoying her new duties. “It’s been a great transition,” she said, “I think very much facilitated by the fact that I’ve been here for nearly five years, and I know the place pretty well.”

She and her husband Bob, who accompanied her Tuesday, are, in fact, regulars at Utah’s home games and many of their away contests.

“Showing up matters,” she said of why she decided to deliver her message of support in person. “It’s a demonstration that you care, that people are important to the well-being of the university.”

The young men huddled around her after practice were surprised and encouraged by her visit. “It was great to meet her,” said wide receiver Samson Nacua. “She said she supports us, and that’s what we need. … It was nice of someone in her position to make an effort to come out and see us, really nice.”

Head coach Kyle Whittingham said it allowed the players to hear directly from the face of the university that their hard work matters.

“I think it’s huge for our players to see the president of the university here, taking a genuine interest in what they’re doing. It was a very positive experience for our players.” Cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said it was a significant kindness on her part.

“It shows that there is a level of commitment there in the administration,” he said. “You usually hear, ‘Oh, everyone in the administration appreciates what you do and they’re backing (you).’ But when the president comes to practice, and says what she said, it just gives you a special level of respect. … She acknowledged the hard work the boys do, and she acknowledged the coaches. It was really nice to have her.”