By Sammy Mora
Ray Nagel was the head football coach of the University of Utah football team from 1958-1965. During his time at Utah, his record was 42-39-1. (Ray Nagel Coaching Record) He led his team to an appearance in the 1964 Liberty Bowl to take on West Virginia, which was iconic in its own right. The Liberty Bowl was one of the major postseason games that year, but also it was the first ever college football game played inside. That year’s game was played inside the Atlantic City Convention Center. (Miller) The Utes won the game against West Virginia 32-6.
That year was the best year Nagel had during his time at Utah, not only did he win the Liberty Bowl, his team was named the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) football champion that season. Nagel was also named the WAC Coach of the Year in 1964. (Blevin, p. 144)
Nagel was hired as the new head coach of the University of Utah football team in January 1958. Before he was hired by Utah, he was an assistant football coach at his alma mater, UCLA. (Pearson) The University President, A. Ray Olpin, told the Salt Lake Tribune when Nagel was named the head coach that “in Nagel the University is getting the most outstanding young coach in the nation. He has wonderful background as a player and coach and comes to us with the highest of recommendations from such men as Red Sanders, Bud Wilkinson and Tom Prothro.” Sanders, Wilkinson and Prothro were all coworkers while Nagel was at UCLA. According to the Daily Utah Chronicle, at the time he was hired, Nagel was the second youngest coach to spearhead the university football team. The only coach who was younger than Nagel at the time he was hired was the great Ike Armstrong. (West)
While his first season at the helm of Utah football was not ideal, finishing the season 4-7, from that moment his record as the head coach went up. In his second season he finished 5-5, his third 7-3. His best season happened during his seventh year at Utah when he went 9-2 and earned a Liberty Bowl berth.
According to the Daily Utah Chronicle, even in his first year as the head coach the team wanted to make him proud and look good. According to Walt Deland, who was a trainer on the team, “I heard some players talking and Pete Haun said, ‘I’ve never seen any man that I would rather model my life after than Ray Nagel.’” Haun was one of many players whom Nagel coached during his time at Utah.
Not only was Nagel a powerhouse on the field, he was also involved in activities around the university. He spoke multiple times at the student union. A reporter for the Daily Utah Chronicle on April 9, 1958, said that Nagel’s speech focused on defensive topics and how he would implement a tough defense to try and make the U football team harder to play against making it so fans would come out and support the team.
Not only was he known for his speaking on campus, he also penned an article for the Daily Utah Chronicle that same season. That season the team finished with a 4-7 record and while it looked as if there were lots of lows Nagel talked about the positive saying, “Our last three games are a good indication of the team’s progress. We lost to Colorado, 7-0, despite the fact that we dominated the game in all but one important aspect—the score. Then we defeated Utah State, 12- and Hawaii, 47-20.”
From the 1958 season on, Nagel’s squads proved to be resilient opponents, winning more games in Nagel’s second and third season than in his first season as the head coach.
During the 1961 season, Nagel was named the United Press International (UPI) coach of the week after his team upset Colorado 21-12, in a game the Utes were expected to lose. That season even after facing powerhouse teams like Oregon, Wisconsin, Arizona State and the previously mentioned Buffaloes, the team finished with 6 wins and 3 losses.
Without Nagel’s contribution to Utah football, the team might not have made the jump from the Skyline Conference to the WAC, and then from the WAC to the Mountain West and in 2011 joining the Pac-12. He was a key piece of Utah football history, as well as college football in general. He also helped other schools not only as a coach but as an athletic director to help make the jump and make their football teams and athletic departments better.
Sammy Mora is a junior at the University of Utah. She is a communication major whose focus is journalism. She is a sports management minor.
Vince Pearson, “Newest Ute? Coach Nagel!” Daily Utah Chronicle, January 1, 1958, 1.
Dee Chipman, “New Ute Grid Mentor Has His Problems,” Desert News, January 31, 1958.
“University Coach Youthful, Qualified,” Salt Lake Times, February 7, 1958, 3.
“Nagel Speaks in Union,” Daily Utah Chronicle, April 9, 1958, 4.
Bob Beers, “Coach Ray Nagel Inspires Ute Players,” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 4, 1958, 4.
Ray Nagel, “Coach Nagel Sums up Concluded Grid Season,” Daily Utah Chronicle, December 12, 1958, 8.
John West, “Nagel is Second Youngest Coach in U Grid History,” Daily Utah Chronicle, October 22, 1959, 4.
“Ute Coach Selected UPI ‘Coach of Week’,” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 16, 1961, 4.
“Coach, Tackle Receive Honors,” Daily Utah Chronicle, December 7, 1964, 3.
Reece Stein, “New Grid Mentor in S.L. for Talks,” Daily Utah Chronicle, January 5, 1966 4.
Bruce Miller, “Utah Coaches are ‘Winners’,” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 3, 1967, 12.
Blevins, Dave. College Football Awards: All National and Conference Winners Through 2010. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2012.
Miller, D.A. “#8: 1964 Liberty Bowl—Utah vs. West Virginia,” The Greatest Utah Football Games Ever, blog.
“Ray Nagel,” Sports Reference.