In 1987, journalist Dan Pattison dubbed Southern Utah University the “Coaching Factory” for its great success producing championship-winning coaches, a reputation that grows every season as more and more SUU-grown coaches produce winning Utah and Nevada high school teams.
With high hopes to deliver on Pattison's initial praise, the University began tracking its coaching alumni over their careers in 1988 and, as of the end of the past school year, has now celebrated alongside 507 state championship-winning Thunderbird alumni.
"That is by far the most from any one university in the state of Utah we're aware of," said Steve Lunt, former SUU athletic director and chair of the physical education department who has been tracking all Utah and Nevada high school championships for the past 25 years.
Lunt said nearly one-third of Utah’s high school head football coaches hail from SUU, more than double those from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University combined. In football alone, 33 of the state's current coaches hail from SUU, including Dave Peck, of the pre-season no. 1 ranked Bingham High School. Peck is in his 14th year as Bingham's coach, with an impressive 128-35 record.
University of Utah graduates account for the next highest number of in-state coaches this year, with just 18; Utah State University touts 14 alumni coaching; and Brigham Young University has 13. The rest of the state's institutions have 10 or fewer alumni in head coach positions this year.
In the 2012-2013 school year alone, 16 SUU alumni across Utah and southeast Nevada coached teams that won state championships in a variety of high school sports. What's more, in the last 25 years SUU alumni have won 18 national winning championships; 18 graduates have been awarded National Coach of the Year; and two alumni have been honored in the National High School Sports Hall of Fame.
In addition to surpassing the 500-mark in state championships this year, Lunt's honor roll of SUU alumni also includes 357 state championship runner-up teams.
The secret, according to current chair of SUU's physical education department, Rick Lambson, is simple: SUU attracts winners.
“To make a delicious cake you have to have good ingredients,” explained Lambson. “Our students start with a passion for the sport and desire to instill their love for it in others. And our faculty take it one step further by giving a personal touch that can’t be found elsewhere.”
It is this personal touch that Lambson sees as the defining aspect of SUU’s physical education program. “Our professors are focused on our students. They're in the classroom teaching, not just researching. They truly care.”
It's always been this way, according to Lunt. "These kids get up and participate; we make sure they don't just sit in their seats for lectures. Because of this, they get a whole lot more of what they will be dealing with on the court or the field."
In addition to volunteering with many of the University's and region's sports teams, SUU students are responsible for everything from the University's intramural athletic program to developing and running campus sports tournaments and all the high school tournaments the University hosts annually.
True to the competitive nature of a former coach — Lunt used to coach a myriad of sports when SUU was the College of Southern Utah — he added, "I challenge any school in the state to come up with these same numbers.” Understandably proud of all that has come of his early efforts to grow the University's success in this area, Lunt smiled, “It is quite impressive, isn’t it?"