Utah coordinator Morgan Scalley focused on smarter defense

Publish date:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Morgan Scalley wasn't specifically groomed to become the defensive coordinator at Utah despite being in the program as a player and coach since 2001. But there's the 37-year-old barking at spring practices, trying to put his own imprint on virtually the same scheme the Utes have run since Fred Whittingham, coach Kyle Whittingham's father, installed it in 1992.

''It's special,'' Scalley said. ''I know it's not normal. I know I've been blessed. Kyle's taken a chance on me time and time again. I've had very good people to mentor me - (Oregon State coach) Gary Andersen, (BYU coach) Kalani Sitake, John Pease. Just a lot of good coaches.

''I love it. I hope I never leave. As long as Kyle's here, I know I'm taken care of.''

Scalley received his fifth promotion since 2006 when Whittingham named him defensive coordinator in January. He was a second-team All-American and a team captain in 2004 as a safety on the 12-0 team coached by Urban Meyer with Kyle Whittingham as defensive coordinator. Scalley joined the coaching staff as an administrative assistant in 2006 and was coaching the safeties two years later. He was named the recruiting coordinator in 2009 and added special teams coordinator to his responsibilities in 2015.

''He just keeps getting better and better,'' Whittingham said. ''He was probably ready the last time around when we hired coach Pease, but I thought just a little more seasoning might be in his best interest. Had we not had coach Pease come out of retirement for the year that he did, it probably would have been Morgan last time around.

''This time was a no-brainer. He's ready. He's done an outstanding job so far, even though it's only spring ball. So far his organizational skills, his motivational skills, the way he operates on a day-to-day basis, the consistency that he demonstrates has been outstanding.''

So how does someone who's run the same system as a player and coach put his own twist on that very scheme?

Whittingham said that's still to be determined, not wanting to give away any tweaks.

Scalley said he's focused on the brain - having a smart unit with a nasty and aggressive mentality. So the defense began ''football school'' this spring with position groups competing against each other trivia style. The school teaches everything from basic rules to tendencies to be aware of in specific situations. Scalley also wants his players to know the responsibilities of other positions on any given play.

''If you know what you're doing and what an offense is trying to do, you can make so many more plays,'' Scalley said. ''That combined with no stupid penalties, no drawing attention to yourself, knowing when to let up on a quarterback, knowing what the rules of the game are.

''The game will slow down the more you know about situational football, the more you know about your opponent. And if you have the athletes out there, that makes a big difference.''

Utah is already known for its staunch defense. Whittingham replaced his father as defensive coordinator in 1995 and was bumped up to head coach in 2005. That side of the ball is the foundation and returns eight starters, including a loaded defensive line and secondary.

Safety Marcus Williams said Scalley is genuine in the way he interacts with the players and that creates a bond.

''He's a perfectionist,'' Williams said. ''Scalley's the man that you want as a father figure. He's that man that you always want around you. You know he's going to do everything 100 percent. You know he's not going to ever slack off.

''He's just who he is. We relate to him because he gives us his all. He gives us his heart. If he didn't give us that, we probably wouldn't be so tight, so close to him. That's why we're just a physical defense, a smarter defense. It's carrying over to the field.''

Defensive end Kylie Fitts said Scalley brings a players-type perspective to the position - considering he was in the exact same position as they are now.

''I think he brings a nastiness to it,'' Fitts said. ''I think we're a lot more nasty defense everywhere.''

That's part of Scalley's imprint on the defense, and a new five-defensive lineman package they're working on.

But overall, much of Scalley's coaching takes place between the ears since the basic philosophies, techniques and fundamentals aren't changing.

''Hope I don't screw it up,'' Scalley said with a laugh.