It was a good week to be football coach Kyle Whittingham, who inked a contract extension that will keep him on Utah's sideline through the 2023 season. Twenty-two wins shy of becoming the Utes’ all-time winningest coach, Whittingham will look to pick up some additional W's en route to defending Utah's Pac-12 South division title. Ute Insiders Dirk Facer, Brad Rock and Trent Wood discuss Whittingham’s new deal and what to watch for during spring camp, which opened Monday. There are new faces and holes to fill. They also break down the Runnin' Utes' final week of the regular season. Can they beat the Trojans and Bruins at home and lock up a first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 tourney? That and more on this week’s episode.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Dirk Facer: On this edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast, we talk about Kyle Whittingham's new contract, discuss spring football, look at the basketball teams and visit with Steve Pine about the NCAA Tournament coming to Salt Lake. That and more on the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast.
Welcome to another edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. Just reminder for all the latest on the Utes, go to Deseret news.com. Dirk Facer here in our swank Salt Lake City studios. I'm the Utah beat writer for the newspaper and I'm joined by my colleagues Trent Wood and Brad Rock, the 'Rock Monster,' and we're glad to talk some Utes with you this week. Let's jump right out with football guys. Before they even took the field for spring football Kyle Whittingham got a contract extension through 2023. Brad, good move by the Utes?
Brad Rock: Absolutely a good move. I mean, Kyle Whittingham hasn't won a championship yet, but they took that step last fall, getting the Pac-12 championship game, and you know he will always be competitive with his teams. He's never going to embarrass them. I don't know about the next level but he made that step that he's never been able to get to.
DF: You know it was a priority for Mark Harlan, who said at least in the press release that he wanted to get this done. Trent, you're a little younger than us. They also mentioned this would be good for recruiting and it would be good for players to know that the coaches that are recruiting them will be the guys that are coaching them on the field. Do you buy that argument?
Trent Wood: Yeah, Most recruiting now is all about coaches. It's less about schools and people don't go to their dream school as much, they go where the coaches that they like are. And he's going to be there for a long time so they know that if they go, they're at least going to be coached by Kyle.
DF: Does that mean, guys, that they need to roll this contract over every year now? Because a five-year deal now is pretty much the life of a college athlete. You know if you count a redshirt year, whatever they do with redshirts now, but is this going to need to roll every year so that the next generation doesn't say, Oh, he only has four years after, only has three years after? What do you guys think?
TW: It feels like that. It feels like it's more beneficial to your program if you have a coach who has a large extension, and you keep adding to it, because then there's a stability.
BR: Yeah, the only thing you wonder is what would they have done with Joe Paterno when he got into his 80s? I know that was a huge deal. Hey, how do you roll this over? It was before all of that scandal and people wonder what are they going to do about rolling it over? So when you get to a certain age you start saying well, is he going to be here anyway? Because he's going to retire at some point. Then I think it's kind of academic.
DF: I think coach Whit is 59 years old now, turns 60 this year and that. Do you think this is his last job?
TW: Yeah, I can't see him coaching anywhere but Utah. It's what he is.
BR: I think it's his final job but I think it could go on indefinitely. I mean, they get that. Dennis Erickson is back coaching again. I just think that they love this stuff. And once they get their groove and they like their staff. I don't know if we'd put a five-year limit on Coach Whit, but I think Trent is right, he's here for good.
DF: And you put the five years on and he's not gonna be that old. It's easy for me to say because I'm getting to be that old. But you know, I think you can be around. Trent, from a younger guy's perspective, do kids want to play for a proven winner and a guy who has been around for a long time or are they more excited to play for maybe a young up-and-coming coach?
TW: I feel like with college football especially, kids want to win. That's why Alabama recruits so well is because people know they go there, they're going to win. And so with Kyle Whittingham, people know they're going to win. They might not know that they're going to win championships. But they know that they're going to win. Whereas if you were to replace him, nobody knows what Utah football would be without Kyle Whittingham. He's been there so long and has been part of every growth that it has, that I don't know if bringing in an up-and-coming coach would change recruiting in a positive way.
DF: He's going to leave an indelible mark on the program. He's 22 wins away from surpassing the great Ike Armstrong, who any of us, obviously don't know him other than the fact that we've heard stories about him, and he's the guy that set the bar at Utah football. Talk to Coach Whit about this and he kind of downplays the significance of it, but it's a big deal. Don't you think, to be able to when you retire say I was the winningest coach in University of Utah history? It's a big deal.
BR: I think it matters to him. I think it'll be funny when that happens because we will go up to the players and will say what about that mark — Ike Armstrong — and they'll go oh yeah fantastic and they've never heard the guy's name until you ask that question. But Whit knows who he is. That's how coaches do, they set goals for themselves, they may not tell everybody about it, but that's what they do. That's how they stay motivated.
DF: And you know it's interesting because at the football meetings a year or two ago I took a picture of Ike Armstrong with me and I asked some of the coaches in the Pac-12 who was tougher. Because if you've seen pictures of Ike Armstrong, he kind of looks like Ronald Reagan but he kind of looks like a mean cuss too. He didn't take a lot of guff from people. But it's kind of interesting because Kyle Whittingham is kind of a no-nonsense guy and it's kind of interesting maybe that the two winningest coaches in university history are tough guys.
BR: Yeah, Urban Meyer was a no-nonsense guy too. I don't know if you'd put him in — you know he never really hit me with the same mode of guy like you said, Ike Armstrong and Whit. But those that played with him said he was pretty serious too. But I like the tie-in, Dirk, I think it's good.
DF: Trent, what do you think if you're looking at Kyle Whittingham's resume what stands out? Is it the Sugar Bowl?
TW: I think it's the consistency more than any wins. I think it's that they haven't been bad. They had the two not great years when they got to the Pac-12, but other than that they've been consistent which is really hard to do in college football. There's not a lot of programs that are consistently good to great.
DF: There really isn't. Brad, you and I were around, obviously, for the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Those are two special seasons in this community, obviously. Do you think back to that as Whit's crowning achievement, winning the Sugar Bowl, going undefeated, and voting the Utes No. 1 in the nation, finishing No. 2 in the AP poll, things like that?
BR: Yeah I think the Sugar Bowl I had to be it. But one thing that — you know this is kind of along with Trent — but for him to make that transition to the Pac-12 and not just get embarrassed for a few years. You know, they had a couple of five- and seven-win seasons. But I think that's phenomenal that he was able to take this in and go in with these Mountain West players. And the first year, because of some crazy circumstances almost had a shot to win the South Division. But I think that's something we kind of forget about, that he was able to maintain a very high level with players, probably the lowest level of talent and depth in the conference when they came in.
DF: Yeah, you know, that is one thing I remember when the transition was made. Chris Hill and almost every coach said it wasn't just a leap from one side to the other. It was like jumping over the Grand Canyon, you know, going from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. And, you know, it took a long time for anybody to win a championship. I mean, even the gymnastics team, it took a while. But you know, it's ironic that baseball was the team that broke through and won the first title of all the teams.
BR: We've talked about this with my friend from the Arizona Star in Tucson. I mean, when Utah came in, I remember I'm going yeah, Utah can play in this conference. They play real well out of conference. And this guy from the Arizona Star said, hey you know the Wildcats have been in the conference over 30 years and haven't been to the Rose Bowl. So he said, Brad, it's not going to happen quite the way you think it might.
DF: Well let's jump into spring football, guys, talking about maybe expectations. You know the Utes, after last year, a lot of the preseason early, early predictions have Utah maybe going to the Rose Bowl this year. Do you guys buy that?
BR: I do. You know, I can't predict they're going to the Rose Bowl but I think there's a possibility they could. USC is just sort of in turmoil all the time. Washington lost some key players. And Utah, in spite of the guys that they did leave, which was a small but really significant group, they have a lot back and their depth is the best they've ever had as a program. So I think if they play well they've got a shot at it.
DF: What do you think, Trent, do people need to pump the brakes a little bit? Because that senior class they lost, they lost some very significant pieces. Besides the position players, look at the specialists. They lost two All-Americans there. These losses are huge.
TW: And coaches as well, which we like to gloss over, but they lost some really good coaches. But when you look at the Pac-12 South, I feel like they have to be the favorites. I think that's the thing that makes me think they at least can get back to the conference championship game. Because, like Brad said, USC, nobody knows what they are; UCLA was so bad in Chip Kelly's first year. Yeah they're going to improve, but enough that they can be better than Utah? I don't know. And Arizona and Arizona State, I don't know if anybody ever believes that they're the best team in the division. So it just feels like Utah, with the players they have, should be the favorite to win the South.
DF: Right, and that'll be interesting. Funny they can't get past Arizona State for whatever reason. They always have trouble. Do you guys think that Herm Edwards is building something there? Obviously recruiting-wise they took a quarterback that Utah wanted, got him away, and seemed to have a good recruiting year. And they beat the Utes pretty soundly on the field, but obviously didn't get enough wins to get it done. Do you buy Arizona State as a contender?
TW: ASU is one of those teams that they should dominate every year, right? Like in theory, ASU should be the best team in the South, if not right behind USC. But I don't know if I can believe it until they actually do it.
BR: I think that's true, Trent. I've always looked at Arizona State and said this is a school that recruits itself. This is a school that people come to just because they want to be there, and so they're always going to have talent level of very high in the rest of the conference and, as you said, maybe USC, they're in a different universe as far as who wants to go there. But I don't think you ever overlook Arizona State and that was a program, when Utah came in, I thought, yeah, Utah can beat those guys and they can beat Arizona. And then they got there and they couldn't.
DF: For whatever reason, there's always a matchup problem or something, you know, some people say it's the speed, some people say it's this or that. But Utah is so immersed in the Pac-12 now that I don't think those arguments are valid because Utah has depth and speed just like everybody else. But what about the hiring of Andy Ludwig, bringing him back to the program? Obviously he was there back in the Mountain West days, but is that an advantage, if you're going to replace the offensive coordinator, at least if you're Coach Whit, to bring a guy you're familiar with into the program?
TW: Yeah, and he's shown that he can have success at various programs in various leagues across the country. So he's an experienced coordinator who has proven that he can have an offense that works. And then, yeah, there's a familiarity. But I feel like more his experience is more encouraging to me.
BR: I think it's a pretty big advantage. And the reason I say that is because not every offensive coordinator is going to be able to work with Coach Whit. And they can bring in guys with their ideas. But you know, it's Coach Whit and it's a Coach Whit team and it's Coach Whit defense, which is the No. 1 thing. And Andy Ludwig knows that coming in. He's well aware of that. And so that's going to eliminate one area right there. I think sometimes coordinators — I don't know about Troy Taylor, but they talk the game and they say yeah, I'm on board and then we're going to do this too. And then they get there and go, Oh, wait, you know, defense really is what drives this team. And it might be a little frustrating. But that won't be a problem with Ludwig because they knew going in.
DF: Just to plug, our colleague Doug Robinson did a nice feature on Andy Ludwig on DeseretNews.com and we encourage people to read that. It's good read and, you know, Andy Ludwig, Bonneville High guy, local guy with the Utes when they have had success before. So I think it was a good strong, higher. Maybe continuity, if nothing else, it'll be interesting to see if that happens. Because he knows Coach Whit, Coach Whit knows him, and like you said Brad, defense-first with the Utes. But they need some offense and a lot of fans will go back to that Pac-12 championship game, 10-3 loss to Washington. A little more O would have maybe produced some roses around here.
BR: Yeah, it seems it seems a little crazy to me, Dirk, I mean, Trent was talking about Utah winning the South and I thought yeah, they could win the Rose Bowl. That sounds a little crazy. But then you go, they're one touchdown from the Rose Bowl and they played a horrible game against Washington. So I think that's a possibility. But Andy Ludwig, when he left I always got the vibe, I didn't talk to Andy, I got the vibe that the negativity around, surrounding, whatever with their offense. People said we need somebody else and he got tired of it and then he was happy to get somewhere else. But now he's back and he's got optimism going for him, and I think he's going to be more appreciated than he was the first time.
DF: Yeah, he put up points and numbers when he was here. It's just everybody wanted more. Trent, you had an opportunity to talk to coaches and that about linebackers, and obviously Manny Bowen, the Penn State transfer, is kind of the big name that's joined the program and is participating in spring ball. Expound a little bit on what you learned about the linebackers.
TW: Yeah it's interesting. I know when Manny Bowen announced he was coming to Utah, fans were extremely excited. And the thought was that this linebacker group would be one of the strengths, if not the strength, of the defense. But there's been a lot of kids who left and there's a lot of holes that maybe weren't expected so yeah, they have Manny Bowen and I talked to Coach Colton Swan, the new linebackers coach about him and he said his experience is bar none. He knows how to be an all-conference linebacker. They are thrilled with him. And he already is up to speed almost on everything. And then there's Francis Bernard, who has already proven that he can play at Utah. So their first two linebackers, those first string, looks really good, but after them they have zero playing experience at all. Not even a kind of a little bit. Which is interesting and it's clearly what they're going to work on throughout camp, is figuring out who can back up those two.
DF: And let's remember they're replacing Chase Hansen and Cody Barton. Two guys, NFL combine, they're NFL guys, they put a big numbers last year. So you're right, depth is an issue. Losing Donovan Thompson, who entered the transfer portal, was a big blow because obviously he's a guy who started a couple games last year and was a proven guy. Coach Whit said the door is open that he might come back, but they're kind of doubting he will. He's from Miami and they think he may end up closer to home. But that's a big blow, like you said, they have no experience after those first two guys. And, you know, Bernard was proven to be a little bit fragile, as far as answering the bell every game. But I know he's encouraged to do so, being a senior now. What do you anticipate? Do you think it's going to be Bowen and Francis just getting the lion's share of the time?
TW: That's the way it worked with Chase and Cody. The only time that Francis even really got into the game was against Colorado when Chase was ejected for targeting. Before that he only got in spot moments. Most of it is they have that 4-2 front and it was all Chase and Cody. And I feel like it's going to be similar this year. I think I would expect Francis to be even better, because he actually gets to go through full camps, as opposed to he came in in fall camp and didn't get to learn, and that was one thing that Swan talked about, is there's players who have experience at linebacker, they just don't have experience at Utah.
DF: Brad, they obviously had some big areas of concern going into spring ball and replacing three starting offensive lineman, the two linebackers, the two safeties and then the specialists. I mean, just right there, those are some gigantic holes. And it's interesting that there's a lot of talk about them being the favorites and all that, but what do you think is the biggest area of concern? Is it getting that offensive line solidified, is that the specialists, linebackers, safeties? Where do you see as the biggest concern?
BR: They do have big holes, but I don't know teams that don't get big holes. That's what college football is about. But if it were me, I would say those special teams guys, I would say those kickers. Because we've gotten used to watching the best in the country at what they do and I just don't know how they can keep that up. Is it Lennon that's coming in? How many guys from Australia are going to come in and do it? There's a lot of kickers that come out of there but I can't imagine them all being as good as Mitch Wishnowsky is and Tom Hackett.
Whit always talks about flipping the field and Whit's teams are about managing games, they're not about getting in track meets and running over teams, so I think that really keeping the games managed through their kicking game is so crucial. That's the most important part.
DF: I agree, the third aspect's been real beneficial to Utah over the years, obviously, and having a kicker like Matt Gay obviously helped. Trent, something that may be lost in the shuffle here — three offensive lineman. That's a big deal.
TW: I think that is a bigger deal than we like to think about too, especially considering how many running backs Utah has and wants to play. But if there's no holes open for them, they can't go anywhere. In the beginning of last year, the offensive line struggled to protect Tyler Huntley. And he got sacked a ton and the offense couldn't do anything. People like to gloss over that horrible win at Northern Illinois and stuff like that, where they just couldn't do anything on offense. So yeah I think you're right that that offensive line, the holes on that are huge. They need to find somebody who can fill the holes for those seniors, who weren't even that dominant to begin with.
DF: Brad, you've been around a while, as have I. Do you really learn anything from spring ball? Are they going to come out of spring ball with some answers here, or is it really going to go into fall camp? Because obviously there's some signees that won't be here till fall, especially on the offensive line, and guys sitting out like Francis Bernard. Are you getting any answers this spring?
BR: The only thing you do is you blend in those guys like Manny Bowen, or guys that are coming in from other programs, and you give some young guys a chance. But I don't think you read too much into it. Spring football is experience for people, and working with their timing and so forth. The people who are going to play have their positions lined up right now and they have to lose those positions through some awful turn of circumstances, by not playing well. So what we see, I think we pretty much know what we're going to see next year. And I think that's why there's so much optimism about it, is there's talent in that lineup.
TW: There's just a lot more football to go for spring football, right?
DF: We'll be there, won't we. All right, let's jump to basketball now. The Utes dropped a game up in snowy Boulder on Saturday. By the way, that was a fun excursion from Boulder back to the airport after the game, in the snow. We made it though, I'm here, which is good. But the Utes are still in third place, tied for third, with two games to go. Final week of the season. Trent, do you see them getting one of those top four seeds and a bye in the tournament in Las Vegas?
TW: I don't know how anybody can confidently predict anything about this basketball team.
DF: Good point.
TW: I just don't know how it's possible. Because they're gonna win one of these games that nobody expects, they're going to lose one of the games that people think — I don't know.
DF: Well they've been flirting with that .500 mark all season long, they'll get a couple up or a couple down and they always seem to climb back. Brad, they love to exceed expectations, you know, they were picked to finish eighth but here they are again. For several years they always seem to get that bye, and Larry thinks it's critical to get that by this year just because of the parity in the league. And obviously winning three games as opposed to four supposedly is a lot easier. I think it's a plus one if you asked me.
BR: I think there's still a chance to make us look smart. They can still maybe end up eighth. I'm not even sure if they lose those last two, and then we look good. But no, they have exceeded their expectations every time and what they did earlier in the year just really kind of surprised me. I don't think they have terrible talent. I think some of these guys, Both Gach and Timmy Allen, some of those guys are pretty good.
DF: You forgot my favorite guy, East High's very own Parker Van Dyke. Ask the UCLA Bruins how good he is.
BR: Yeah, he's had a really good year for himself. So I just think that Utah's program still has to go out and they have to get a Jakob Poeltl again for them to be really something serious. But they're building some nice players to go around a premier player.
DF: Trent, I'm going to throw a question at you. The games this week you said are kind of unpredictable, but USC, I mean when you control your own destiny and you know if you win your last two games you have a bye, you're not buying that's enough to get it done this week?
TW: It's hard to say one way or the other. Like I would want to be able to say that at home they could win, right? But this year, road teams have been more successful in the Pac-12 than home teams.
DF: Utes are at 6-3 on the road in conference play, and they're not going to win 6 games at home this year in conference play.
TW: No, and you'd love to look at the games they played against these teams previously and say you can take something away from them, but there's no way you can take anything away from the UCLA game. That game happens once every 50 years. So I don't know how you can sit there and predict that they're going to win or going to lose.
DF: Brad, when they were in L.A. they swept that trip earlier this season of USC and UCLA. Against USC they just jumped out to big lead and held on and stayed in control the whole game. Are they better than USC or are these teams pretty even and it just depends who gets off to a good start?
BR: Yeah, I think so. USC is always pretty dangerous with their athleticism and Utah has to be able to set the pace, they need to be able to hang on to the lead, and just not get out of hand early. I don't think they can count on making a comeback if they get behind, even though they're at home. So I think they should win both of those games but, like Trent said, should is really kind of out the window the way this has gone this season. I think they will, I think they're going to win them both.
DF: OK, well Trent, I'm gonna throw the UCLA game back at you. Is there a revenge factor? The way that game ended, do you think the Bruins have circled this and said, boy we can't wait to get at the Utes again and we're gonna shut that Parker Van Dyke kid down if we can. What do you think?
TW: I don't think there's a question about that. I'm sure they go out of their way to keep Parker Van Dyke from having a great game. Most of the game they proved themselves better than Utah, it was just the collapse of the end, so I would not be surprised if UCLA won.
DF: All right, we got Brad with the sweep and Trent?
TW: l'll go 1-1. I'll give them USC.
DF: All right, let's say they get the first round bye, OK, and go to Las Vegas. Washington's obviously the clear-cut favorite. Arizona State's a dangerous No. 2 because you never know which Sun Devil team's going to show up. They beat Kansas, obviously this year, and they've won some games and then right when you want to write them off, they bounce back and get the No. 2 seed. But do you guys think there's a chance that somebody other than Washington or Arizona State can win the tournament?
BR: I think ASU has a possibility. I mean, if they can beat Kansas, they can be Washington. Outside that ... Oregon?
DF: They lost Bol Bol, which was a big thing, and then Oregon State's dangerous because they have a veteran team. I guess what I'm getting at is, can Utah sneak through and win this tournament? Can you see any circumstance or scenario where Utah wins the Pac-12 tournament?
TW: I think the problem with conference tournaments, as opposed to the NCAA Tournament, is there's too much familiarity between the teams. And so usually the best team wins. You can have an upset here or there, but they've played each other enough that I don't know if Utah can go on a run.
BR: I agree with Trent. I don't see Utah getting through that tournament. I mean, we don't we don't know if they got the fourth seed yet, so projecting them to win that tournament after they got there. I don't think so.
DF: All right. And as far as being a one-bid league, do you think the Pac-12 — I kind of think Washington and Arizona State are both going to get in. I wouldn't be surprised if Arizona State is in one of those games in Dayton, Ohio, playing their way in. In this crazy setup right now it's amazing that a win, one quality win like beating Kansas, can get you in the tournament. Because remember Arizona State got in the tournament last year with a losing Pac-12 record. Yeah it's crazy. I mean, do you see them getting in again just because of that one win maybe?
TW: I would say that if they get in it's as a First-Four team. And then if they win I have no idea. But I imagine that's the only way they can get in.
DF: Brad, do you think the Pac-12 is a two-bid league or do you think it's one bid?
BR: My inclination is one bid, but I think that if Arizona State plays well from here on out and gets quite a ways, then they jump in and the Pac-12 gets two.
DF: What do you guys think is quite a ways for a team to sneak in, like an Arizona State. Is it to get to the semis or do they have to get to the championship game?
TW: I think they need to get to the championship game. I don't know if a semi run in the Pac-12 will do it for them.
BR: I think so. The Pac-12 hasn't got a great reputation right now in basketball and saying, hey, you know, we get to the semis of the Pac-12 tournament, and most of the country is going, hey, that's a horrible setup they've got right now. So I agree.
DF: Let me ask you this, guys. What would Utah need to do to get even in the NIT? Is that a possibility? Or do they have to get to the semis or the championship game just to get in the NIT. And do you think they would accept a CBI or lesser tournament bid?
BR: Well, you know, I'm repeating myself there, but they got a couple games left that will decide if they're an NIT team.
DF: They're at 15 wins right now starting the week, obviously, coming up with 17. But then let's say you go to Vegas with 17 wins. They need to get to 18, 19 to even be in consideration? Especially considering how weak the league is. What do you think?
TW: Probably, considering who they have and haven't beaten on their schedule. I feel like you know, the more wins you can get even against inferior opponents the better.
BR: Eighteen sounds better than 17. right? 18, there's something about that number you go yeah that's an OK team.
DF: Remember back in the day, 20 wins was the milestone. And now it seems like everybody that's not in the Pac-12 wins 20 games, right? But do you guys think Utah would accept anything other than an NIT or an NCAA bid?
TW: With how young their team is, I think so. I think if they were a veteran team maybe not.
BR: Yeah, I think Krystkowiak is tough enough and I think he kind of wants to do that. I think coaches are kind of like football coaches where they say a bowl game is a practice for the next year no matter how low the bowl game is. And I think they kind of think the more I can work with this team, the better I am off for next year.
DF: Well you know with Timmy Allen and Both Gach and Riley Battin, those are some guys that have really come of age this year and should give Utah fans some optimism about the future. And obviously the more games they can play, the better off they'll likely be.
Talking about basketball, NCAA Tournament first and second round's coming to Vivint Smart Home arena. And I had a chance to catch up with Steve Pine at the University of Utah. And he's tournament director and head of facilities management up at the athletic department. And he's our special guest on Utah by 5 this week.
We're joined on you Utah by 5 segment by Steve Pine, director of events and facility management at the U. and also the tournament director for the NCAA Tournament coming up downtown. How hard is it to get the NCAA Tournament these days? I know it's very competitive. And we're lucky to have it in this community.
Steve Pine: Yes, we're very fortunate. It's difficult now, there's a lot of venues across the west that are bidding for this. It's a four-year out cycle for the bid. We bid for this series two years ago, actually, for this one, the bid cycle '19 through '22. And I think the main reason why we received it so quickly, because we hosted in 2017 here as well, but in '19 marks the 40th anniversary of the Bird-Magic game here in Salt Lake City, and therefore, I thought that the NCAA felt as though, reward us for an event that is basically probably one of the best Final Fours in the NCAA Tournament.
DF: Do you anticipate then that it might be four years before we get it again, because of the fact that you got it so soon?
SP: Yeah, I would think. The bid cycle will come out in 2020 for the years of '23 through '27. We'll put in a bid obviously for every year, '23 through '27, for those in hopes that maybe we get two of them. Maybe '23 and '27. But with the amount of schools bidding for it, it is becoming more and more difficult. And the arenas, you know, in the Bay Area they built a new arena for the Warriors, and those type of venues are always bidding for them.
DF: We talked earlier and you said that Vivint Arena, obviously the renovations there, it kind of changes how the tournament will be conducted.
SP: Yeah, they reduced a few seats, but that's OK with us too. This year, in 2019, we've been sold out for a couple months now. The NCAA will release some of those seats as it gets closer to the dates. We host March 21-23 down at Vivint. But yeah, it's really nice back of house stuff, locker room improvement in the facilities there.
DF: I know you work really hard when these things come to town, you probably never sleep in your own bed that week. Talk about what goes into this. I mean, it takes a ton of people, takes a village to host the NCAA Tournament.
SP: Yes, it does. It's a lot of hours. I think we obviously just haven't started — it's been an 18-month project. It's pretty much a part-time job from August to the date in March. And we've got a lot of volunteers. Mike Lageschulte is our media coordinator and he needs a lot of volunteers for his area. But yeah, a lot of staff members, a lot of volunteers, and it is a great event. We have a lot of fun. Labor of love. No-sleep March is what we say. The madness starts, obviously, a lot earlier. But that week is definitely March Madness for us.
DF: OK, here's a question. Do you guys find out who's coming here when everybody else finds out when they release it on TV? Or do you get a little insight just before?
SP: No insight whatsoever. We're as excited as everybody, on the ends of our chair, seeing who we're going to get. Once the selection show's there, that's when we see it. And then we start getting calls.
DF: And then when do you start setting the arena up? Is that a weeklong process to get everything ready?
SP: We're fortunate this year, the Jazz are on the road. And so we'll start all our setup on Sunday, the 17th, the day of the selection show. We'll bring in a floor, bring in the scorer's table. The NCAA has their own scorer's table and their own floor, and that will be set up on Sunday. And then Monday will be our event management data set-up and then Tuesday morning TV rolls in and Wednesday's practices and the madness starts on Thursday.
DF: Last thing, you've had quite a history. Talk about emptying garbage cans in the Final Four of 1979 to tournament director. Tell me how you go from the basement to the penthouse?
SP: So a lot of longevity there. This will be my 17th tournament in Salt Lake City that I've been a part of. Fourteen as a tournament director, manager. And so very exciting times for us and the university. It is, I think, a citywide event that really comes out and supports it and really enjoys it. That's the reason why I think we get it about every three to four years.
DF: Steve, thanks for joining us. All right, it was good to catch up with Steve Pine. He's good man. He's been around the NCAA Tournament a long time and ironically, as he mentioned, he was emptying garbage cans at the 1979 Final Four when it was up at the Huntsman Center. And now he's in charge of the tournament. So he's seen both sides of this thing. I teased him, from the basement to the penthouse. He's covered at all, so it's good to catch up with him. Guys our final word. Eric Weddle, longtime Ute was cut by the Baltimore Ravens this week. I think he's what, 34 years old? Is he going to catch on? Is he done?
TW: From the way he responded on Twitter I think he's not done. I think he hopes to get on another team.
DF: He was All-Pro this season, if I remember right, and he has been all three years he was in Baltimore. Brad, we've known him for a long time. It's hard to believe he's still playing. Has he still got some gas in the tank?
BR: Yeah, I think that most guys have a lot of pride. And most guys kind of know when they don't have it. But he's got enough game. I think it'd be very hard for him to walk away and I've seen some teams names, teams that could use him. He started 48 straight games with Baltimore, he started 170 of his last 176 games. So to me that would be really rough to say, I'm still a starter in the NFL and I'm out.
DF: And it's interesting when you think about it, it's obviously because of his age right? I mean, he's getting the game done but he probably makes too much money and is too old, those are two nasty things.
TW: I'd say the money probably is the biggest deal in the NFL.
DF: Yeah, I heard they don't have very much. The Red Rocks are off this week.
TW: They are off this week. They just came off their best meet of the season. They got the highest score of any team in the country in beating Michigan, and they just signed a girl who's one of the top recruits in the country too. So things are looking up.
DF: Brad, baseball, believe it or not, Niagara is in town this week to play the Utes in baseball. Get your tickets now. That should be fun if the snow stays away. Maybe they'll get some baseball in. It's almost here, the rite of spring.
BR: Yeah, Dirk, we remember covering baseball games in a trailer. Do you remember the trailer back in the day that we would have? You look out the little window along the side. So whatever the experience, it's not going to be what we used to see.
DF: Oh, there's softball and then the skiing, the NCAA championships are coming up. So busy week for Utes. Utah women's basketball team is obviously in Las Vegas. Have they done enough, Trent, to earn an NCAA bid or do they need to win some games in Las Vegas?
TW: I think losing their last two games of the year, I think they have to win a game or two in the tournament to make it to the NCAAs.
DF: What do you think, Brad can you get in? You know in their defense, injuries have taken a toll. I think they're down to seven players. I know the NCAA men's committee sometimes looks at how well they're stocked at the end of the season. I don't know if that's the same for the women but you know, we'll find out. But Brad, do you think they've done enough? Lynne Roberts the other day said she thought they'd done enough. But she wanted to get a few more wins to get safely in the harbor. And they didn't get them this week.Comment on this story
BR: Yeah, I think you'd have to win one at least in the tournament, but I think they're going to look pretty kindly on that start and who they beat, they beat some Big Ten teams. They played really well. And I could see the committee looking and saying this team needs to be rewarded for what was a really good first few months of the season.
DF: All right guys, thanks for joining us. I appreciate having Trent and Brad here and folks, we appreciate you listening. Just reminder, you can get the show on Apple podcasts, Google Play and wherever fine podcasts like this are found. Thank you for joining us and we will see you later.