Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley will remain on staff after suspension for using racial slur in 2013 text

Sam Cooper
·7 min read

The University of Utah announced Wednesday that defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley will remain on staff after the school commissioned an independent review into his conduct earlier this month.

Scalley was suspended June 5 after it emerged that he used a racial slur in a 2013 text message. When Scalley’s suspension was announced, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said Scalley was “very contrite” and admitted to sending the text, which included “a derogatory and painful word.” At that point, Scalley was suspended while an outside firm was brought in to review the matter and “determine whether it was an isolated incident.”

In order to stay on staff, Scalley will “engage with leadership” of Utah’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team, where he will “participate in regular and ongoing diversity and inclusion education” and be expected to be a “key partner in addressing issues of racism and bias” at the university, in its athletic department and the surrounding community.

Additionally, the raise Scalley received as part of a December 2019 contract extension that boosted his annual compensation from $525,000 to $1.1 million has been rescinded. Harlan also said that a verbal offer for Scalley to be Utah’s head coach in waiting has also been rescinded.

“The racist language used by Coach Scalley is inexcusable and harmful to all, particularly to those communities identified in the report,” Harlan and Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in the statement. “We believe, and expect, that he will learn and lead, while owning his past conduct, to rebuild trust, reconcile harm caused and make a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes.”

In the statement, Harlan and Whittingham said the players they spoke with about the matter, including the program’s 13-member leadership council, and those players expressed “strong support for Coach Scalley to remain on staff.”

When his suspension was announced, Scalley issued an apology for using the slur, an action he called a “terrible mistake” and “indefensible.”

“This language is offensive and hurtful to not only the African-American community but to all. Immediately after sending it, I apologized to the recipient and his family,” Scalley’s June 5 statement read. “I am also heartbroken over the potential breach of trust with my fellow coaches, and with the young men in our program, both past and present.”

“I am truly sorry and I own up to the hurtful effects of my choice. Through my actions and words going forward, I will demonstrate that my use of that slur in 2013 does not reflect or define who I am or what I stand for. My action is indefensible and I will use my voice and position to bring about meaningful and much-needed change.”

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 13: Defensive Back coach Morgan Scalley before the Utah Utes Spring football game on April 13, 2019, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley has been reinstated by the university. (Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Investigative findings

Utah commissioned Husch Blackwell, a Kansas City-based law firm, to investigate the matter. The firm conducted 35 interviews with current and former Utah football players, as well as coaches and staff members associated with the Utes football program.

During the investigation, Scalley acknowledged that he “inadvertently texted a racial slur to a recruit while exchanging texts with another coach.” The other coach involved corroborated Scalley’s explanation.

Most of the football players interviewed were “shocked” when the news broke and said they had never heard Scalley use a racial slur or make derogatory comments. Scalley was described as “tough,” “intense,” and sometimes “intimidating,” but most of the players said their relationship with him was a positive one and that Scalley cares about his players.

A few others, though, recalled comments from Scalley that they believe “implicated racial stereotypes.”

From the Husch Blackwell report:

Several former student-athletes reported Scalley making comments about their hair, appearance, or clothing that they believe implicated racial stereotypes and demonstrated a lack of interest in understanding them. Scalley denied treating any of his players different due to race.

Others reported that Scalley “yells frequently and may verbally attack players before apologizing,” something Scalley denied. A few other allegations emerged in the report, including one former player who alleged that, “prior to 2013, Scalley used the N-word toward him at practice.”

Per the report, that allegation could not be corroborated:

“Three former student-athletes stated that the former student-athlete informed them of his allegation while they were on the football team. None of the former student-athletes interviewed about the alleged incident said they observed it. None of the coaching staff, including head coach Kyle Whittingham, or leadership consultants were previously aware of or could corroborate this allegation. Scalley denied the allegation.

An employee interviewed told investigators that Scalley “made a racist ‘joke’ regarding Polynesians and Native Americans at practice in 2018.” The “joke” was corroborated by two other employees and Scalley “admitted telling the ‘joke,’ per the report.

Utah football program’s culture

During the investigation, those interviewed spoke positively of the football program’s culture. Players described a “family environment” and said there were no racial issues or tensions among the team. The culture was also praised by “a diverse group of coaches and administrators,” who described it as “very positive and something about which they take great pride.”

One former football player said the team’s diversity “was the best part of being on the team,” but said some coaches may not have been used to being around so many minority players.

From the report:

One former student-athlete observed that even though the team’s diversity was the best part of being on the team, the coaches had a “learning curve” because they “were not used to a lot of minority players.” One employee shared his belief that some players had difficulty adjusting to the culture, whether it was the coaches or Utah in general.

School’s efforts to address racism

In their letter, Harlan and Whittingham said it is the responsibility of the Utah athletic department to provide athletes with “an inclusive environment in which every member of our department — students, coaches and staff — feels respected and valued.”

“That means allegations of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity or national origin will not go unchecked,” the letter says. “Our integrity and our character are defined by the way we serve the needs of our students and staff and by our actions when our commitments to equity and inclusion are challenged.”

After Scalley’s suspension, Harlan and Whittingham say they “engaged in multiple conversations” with players as a way to “listen and understand their perspectives.”

“These conversations were insightful and candid, which provided an even deeper level of understanding of the range of emotions our student-athletes are feeling,” Harlan and Whittingham said.

As part of the school’s efforts, $100,000 of the money previously meant to be part of Scalley’s pay will now be “redirected to enhance programming and staffing support” for the athletic department’s U.T.A.H (United Together Against Hate) Group, a forum started by Utah student-athletes in 2019.

Scalley entering Year 13 as a Utah coach

The 2020 season will be Scalley’s 13th as an assistant at Utah under Whittingham. Scalley, 40, has held the role of defensive coordinator for the past four seasons and was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, in 2019. Utah ranked second nationally in total defense in 2019 en route to a Pac-12 South title. The Utes were on the doorstep of a potential College Football Playoff berth, but that went by the wayside when they lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

Before he was promoted to defensive coordinator, Scalley served primarily as Utah’s safeties coach, beginning in 2008. He also was the program’s recruiting coordinator from 2009 to 2015. Scalley was a star safety for the Utes from 2001 to 2004, most notably earning Mountain West co-defensive player of the year honors as a senior — a season the Utes finished 12-0 and beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

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