Utah names Kyle Whittingham's successor: Morgan Scalley tapped to one day replace longtime Utes coach

Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley has been named head coach in waiting and will take over for Kyle Whittingham once the longtime Utes coach steps away from the program, the program announced Monday. There is no set timetable for the 64-year old Whittingham, who has been with the Utes as both an assistant and head coach since 1994. 

“Morgan Scalley is an exceptional football coach and his naming as the head coach in waiting at the University of Utah is a testament to that,” Whittingham said in a statement. It is a distinction he has earned not only because of his outstanding coaching abilities, but also because of his selfless dedication to the program as well as to the Utah Athletics family. The culture and tradition within Utah Football is a point of pride for our staff, and when the time comes for a transition in the leadership of our program, we know that Morgan will carry on those traditions the Utah Football way.”

Scalley, who played defensive back under Whittingham from 2001-04, has been on Utah’s staff in some form or another since 2007. He started out as a graduate assistant with the Utes before earning a job coaching safeties. He added recruiting coordinator to his list of responsibilities in 2009, started coaching special teams in 2015 and was named defensive coordinator in 2016 when John Pease retired. 

He was a finalist for the 2019 Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant coach in college football, after Utah boasted the nation’s top run defense. The Utes also finished second nationally and led the Pac-12 in total defense. 

Scalley’s career off the field at Utah actually began in 2006 when he was an administrative assistant in the athletics department. As a defensive back for the Utes, Scalley was the 2004 Mountain West Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-American. 

History of head coaches in waiting

The practice of naming a head coach in waiting used to be much more common; it was a bid to smooth the transition in leadership and maintain continuity within a program. Former Texas coach Mack Brown named defensive coordinator Will Muschamp his head coach in waiting, though Muschamp left to fill the coaching vacancy at Florida before Brown stepped away from the Longhorns. 

Perhaps the most notable example of a head coach in waiting is Jimbo Fisher, who took over at Florida State in 2010 when College Football Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden’s career ended. Fisher had an 83-23 record in eight years at Florida State. He led the Seminoles to three ACC titles and beat Auburn in the 2013 BCS National Championship. 

Former West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was initially hired as the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator with the understanding that he would eventually take over as head coach, took control of the program in 2011 following Bill Stewart’s resignation. He spent eight years with the Mountaineers. 

Head coaches in waiting are a bit of a lost tradition, however. The NCAA passed regulation in 2010 that took recruiting restrictions imposed on sitting head coaches and applied them to head coaches in waiting. Most notably, that meant head coaches in waiting were not able to visit prospects as much as a typical assistant. 

So, tabbing an apparent successor could severely limit a coaching staff’s ability to hit the recruiting trail, especially if that successor is an ace recruiter. 

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