Bleeding Red: Gymnastics, hoops continue to roll, but coaching moves are puzzling

Gymnastics, basketball, football, oh my!
So much is happening, where does one start?
The Red Rocks’ ceiling is simply the sky
With hoopsters and football doing their part

COMMENTARY — Do you remember the first time you went to Disneyland and you were so excited about all of the various rides and attractions that it was very difficult to decide what to do first? Come to think of it, that describes my last trip to Disneyland as well. These days, there are so many exciting things happening on The Hill that it is difficult to decide what to address first.

utesWith a wink and a nod to the many Disney princesses and heroines, let’s start with the fourth-ranked Red Rocks. These ladies are simply a wonder to behold! Last Friday they pummeled Arizona State by a staggering 3.725 points, which is about as big of a blowout as you will ever see in gymnastics. The 197.825 points put up by the Red Rocks would have beaten virtually any other team in the nation.

If I had a nickel for every time the word “wow” escaped my lips while watching these talented ladies last week, I would have rolls and rolls of nickels weighing down my pockets.

The highlight of the night came during the first rotation with two perfect 10s on the vault by Tory Wilson and Georgia Dabritz. The crowd roared with appreciation in response to Wilson’s perfect score (the second in her career). However, the roof was raised off of the Huntsman Center when Dabritz followed it up with yet another 10 (her first on vault, and fifth overall). It was only the second time in Utah’s history that back-to-back perfect scores had been achieved.

Speaking of school history, at last Friday’s meet Utah celebrated 40 years of continuous elite women’s gymnastics. Numerous alumni were in the stands, including Kristen Kenoyer and Aimee Trepanier, who scored back-to-back 10s on the floor in 1993.

Wilson very modestly explained her motivation going into the Arizona State meet. “I haven’t really gotten in a groove on vault this season, so my theme for tonight was to ‘be average’ and it worked out OK.” Most people can only dream of competing in such an “average” manner. Dabritz acknowledged the challenge of following Wilson’s perfect score. “After Tory’s vault I was so excited, I had to really settle myself down and concentrate on mine.”

This Saturday, the Red Rocks will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a road meet against Washington which will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks at 5 p.m. MT.

The Runnin’ Utes continue to get the job done on the hardwood floor as they notched another road win against Colorado. Led by Brandon Taylor’s 18 points on a career-best six 3-point shots, there was very little drama in the game as Utah jumped out to an early lead and comfortably held it for the remainder of the contest.

Hoops at the Hunstman Center | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Hoops at the Hunstman Center | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

The obviously impressive performance by the Runnin’ Utes was not lost on Coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I thought we shot the ball really well, and 20 assists, I thought we shared it,” he said. “Brandon got it going. We had three 3s to start the second half. It was a good performance.”

I would also like to point out that Utah’s impressive road win was while wearing their red road threads. The Runnin’ Utes are now 4-1 while wearing red on the road, and a dismal 0-3 when sporting black.

Arizona’s loss to rival Arizona State last week added considerable intrigue to the conference standings as Utah and Arizona now have identical 8-2 conference records. The February 28 match-up between these two teams will likely decide the regular season conference champion and top seed for the conference tournament.

The Runnin’ Utes are currently ranked 11th in the nation, and I’ll have plenty to say about them for the remainder of the season. Accordingly, I am going to take this opportunity to jump to the next attraction on The Hill that has generated considerable interest this past week—football.

Utah announced its 2015 recruiting class last week, consisting of 20 players from eight states. Ten of the players hail from California. The two local recruits are defensive back Austin Lee from Draper (Alta High School), and defensive tackle Vaha Vainuku from Salt Lake City (East High School). Notably, in light of the Utes’ current overload at the quarterback position (with one or more current QBs expected to transfer), there was not a single quarterback among the new recruits.

whit“We feel we put together another solid recruiting class across the board,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Offensive linemen, wide receiver and defensive backs were our primary position needs, but we were also able to sign quality players at other positions.”

However, even more intriguing to me than Utah’s new players was the announcement of the new football coaching staff. Dennis Erickson has been promoted to assistant head coach, and will continue to coach the running backs. Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding were named co-offensive coordinators, with Roderick continuing to coach quarterbacks and Harding continuing to coach the offensive line. John Pease returns to Utah as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. Morgan Scalley was named special teams coordinator and will continue to coach safeties. Justin Ena was hired to coach linebackers.

Hmmm, where to begin. I’ll cut to the chase, I’m not sold on many of the coaching moves. However, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first — the offense.

This now makes eight different offensive coordinators in Whittingham’s eight years as head coach. No matter how you slice it, that is not good. This is the third set of co-offensive coordinators under Whittingham’s watch, and the second time Roderick has held that position (having previously teamed up with Norm Chow in 2011).

Utah’s offense has been the Achilles heel of this team for years, and I don’t believe that promoting two position coaches to take the reins is the answer. In particular, I simply cannot understand why Roderick was considered to be a good choice for co-offensive coordinator with Norm Chow in 2011, but not worthy of the position when Chow left, only to be given the position back now. I’m also curious to see how the dynamics play out with Erickson as assistant head coach. Having previously been the offensive coordinator himself, how much control will Erickson have over the offensive side of the ball? Will this turn out to be the proverbial too many cooks in the kitchen without a clear leader who can provide much-needed guidance and stability, as well as take ultimate responsibility?

Additionally, I don’t understand why Roderick is still coaching the quarterbacks. He has never played quarterback, and he has yet to prove that he is capable of developing a quarterback and helping a quarterback maximize his talent and potential. Poor and/or inconsistent play from the quarterback position (prompting mid-season competitions for the starting job) has been a hallmark of the Ute offense recently. If Roderick hasn’t been able to provide production from the quarterback position as the quarterbacks coach, what hope is there that he can solve the entire offensive puzzle as a coordinator?

Last season Utah experimented with special teams, with a different coach over each aspect of special teams rather than one overall coordinator. What happened? The Ute special teams excelled and were one of the bright spots of the team last year. Notwithstanding that success, Morgan Scalley has been named the overall special teams coordinator. Perhaps such a move makes sense with the considerable shuffling going on within the coaching ranks in general. However, I would have liked to have seen if a different coach concentrating on each aspect of special teams would have produced similar positive results next season.

The coaching change that concerns me the least is the re-hiring of John Pease as defensive coordinator. While my strong preference would have been to retain the services of Kalani Sitake, there is no sense crying over spilled milk. With Sitake gone, Pease is a reasonable replacement. Pease played for Utah from 1963-64, and is now in his fourth stint on the Ute coaching staff. I see Pease as more or less a caretaker for Utah’s defense, which has always been the strength of this team, and the side of the ball that Whittingham will continue to pay the most attention to personally.

Here’s hoping the Red Rocks continue to steal the hearts of their fans with their Valentine’s Day meet against Washington, the Runnin’ Utes keep running opponents out of the gym, and that the football coaching staff can solve the offensive riddle that has been so problematic these past few years.

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

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