Kyle Whittingham of Utah is said to be such a good football coach he can plug just about anybody into an opening and make him a productive player.
Now it appears Whittingham, leading the Utes in their second season in the Pac-12, is taking the same philosophy to his coaching staff.
When renowned offensive guru Norm Chow left Utah to take his first head-coaching gig at Hawaii, Whittingham settled on a promotion for Brian Johnson, who at 25 is one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the nation.
Only four seasons ago, he played quarterback and led the Utes to a 13-0 season and No. 2 ranking.
But that isn’t even the most creative move made by Whittingham, who enters his eighth season at Utah. That would be the addition of Sharrieff Shah, 41, whose resume doesn’t include any coaching, but a varied background as a former Utes safety (1990-92), a certified NFLPA agent, a sideline reporter for Utah games and, most recently, a trial attorney specializing in medical malpractice and catastrophic auto accidents.
“Another unique hire,” Whittingham said. “I’ve tried to get Sharrieff on the staff five or six years now. I said, ’This is the last window of opportunity. If you don’t take it this time, I’m not going to ask you again.’ “
Whittingham’s tenure at Utah is exceeded in the Pac-12 only by Mike Riley at Oregon State and Jeff Tedford at California, so this is a guy secure in his ways, including hiring.
As for Shah, he always seemed to have something else going when Whittingham beckoned, including coaching his own sons. But this time it worked, and he is finding it vastly rewarding.
“As a coach, you automatically become so many ballplayers’ father figure,” he told The Seattle Times recently. “I had a strong father who was truly my best friend. I can appreciate why so many young men kind of gravitate to a strong male figure.”
It took a big connection with young athletes to replace the void left by his attorney work, which Shah said was “unbelievably stimulating.”
In the end, though, the chance to have an impact on young collegians, he said, is “so much more gratifying than (litigation) that wasn’t going to bring back a baby that drowned in a pool.”