SALT LAKE CITY — Anyone seeking a business-class seat in college football coaching need look no further than the offensive coordinator position at Utah.
There’s always space available on that flight.
Sacramento State announced the hiring of Ute offensive coordinator Troy Taylor as its head coach Monday. His replacement will mark Utah’s 10th variation and ninth individual since 2008. Some have had the position more than once. Few have moved the offense far.
As often as that position is available, you’d think it was a fast-food gig. Such changes always bring questions. For instance, why the endless turnover? Taylor was Utah’s OC for two seasons. In Kyle Whittingham’s reign, that’s about normal. Andy Ludwig lasted four seasons. Then came the parade: Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick, Norm Chow, Brian Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Dave Christensen, Taylor.
And you thought the Trump Administration had turnover.
Roderick was a coordinator twice, once splitting duties with Schramm. Johnson had a season by himself and shared a season with Erickson. The constant was that the Utes were always wobbly in their passing game. Sometimes it was scheme, sometimes talent. In 2011 and 2012, the Utes ranked last in the Pac-12. Subsequent years they were 10th, 12th, 11th, 9th, 7th and 11th.
Taylor expressed excitement at returning to his home area to coach. It was a strange move in some ways. Outgoing Sacramento State coach Jody Sears earned a reported $175,000. Taylor’s salary was $525,000 at Utah, with an $87,500 bonus, according to USA Today.
Which means Taylor couldn’t have been sublimely happy at Utah.
Or that Whittingham wasn't sublimely happy with the offense.
One explanation is that Taylor wants to be a head coach. He hasn’t done that since leading Folsom High in California in 2015. But life as an offensive coordinator can’t be simple under Whittingham. Many of the best athletes still reside on defense. Of 20 former Utes listed on NFL rosters by ESPN, 16 either played defense or offensive line in college.
Is it inability to move the ball or is Whittingham holding back the offensive output with his conservative tendencies?
“Bottom line is scoring points,” Whittingham said in March. “That’s the most important thing for an offense … it doesn’t matter how you get it in the end zone.”
As much as Utah talks about improving, it hasn’t been in the top 30 nationally in total offense since 2005. This season the Utes were a respectable sixth in the conference in total offense and fourth in scoring.
But as the regular season wound down, so did the output. Part of that was the injury to starting quarterback Tyler Huntley, though Jason Shelley had some fine moments. Utah stalled in the early going against both BYU and Colorado — trailing the Cougars 20-0 at halftime.
The Utes gained just 188 yards in a 10-3 loss in the Pac-12 championship game against Washington.
It’s unlikely Utah will ever become an offensive juggernaut under Whittingham. He doesn’t like “track meet” football. He prefers to keep games pedestrian, the outcome manageable.
Given his success with great defenses, that’s understandable. Jim Fassel had catchy offenses at Utah in the 1980s, but couldn’t consistently win. Still, it’s not hard nowadays to spot the difference when high-potency offenses like Washington State’s, Washington’s or Oregon’s appear.
With the money being handed out to coordinators nowadays (LSU’s Dave Aranda makes $2.5 million, per USA Today), keeping them isn’t easy. But keeping them from going to a Big Sky Conference team that went 2-8 last year shouldn’t be terribly hard, even if it is home for Taylor. The Hornets were winless in conference play.
The ladder to the top is as easily reached as a coordinator at a Power Five school as head coach at an FCS program.69 comments on this story
Whittingham needs to stabilize turnover if he is to consistently contend. There were too may ups and downs and too few games to tell if Taylor was the long-term solution. But slightly better offensive production would have been enough to get the Utes to the Rose Bowl. They couldn’t generate a touchdown in the championship game.
Taylor seems a good coach, savvy and occasionally daring. Whether such a coach can flourish in a defensively dominant system is debatable. He managed it during Utah’s undefeated October. Now Whittingham’s job is to find someone else to make his offense soar. And to make sure that coach is happy enough to make it last.