Defensive Tackles coach Sione Po’uha has announced his retirement from coaching. This move leaves Utah Football with another hole in their coaching staff following the departure of Kiel McDonald earlier this month.
Coach Po’uha just completed his third season as the Defensive Tackles coach. This was Po’uha’s second coaching stint with Utah. He was a student assistant from 2015-2016 and the director of football player development in 2017. Po’uha played college football at Utah and was part of the 2004 BCS-busting team his senior year. Po’uha was drafted in the third round of the draft and went on to play a successful 8-year career in the NFL.
The defensive line is an integral part of Utah’s defensive scheme, and the importance of an effective pass rush cannot be overstated. This will be an important hire for Kyle Whittingham, but Utah’s reputation of defensive prowess and development should make this an attractive job for potential candidates.
In no particular order, here are four potential candidates with ties to Utah and Kyle Whittingham who could be a fit to be the next Defensive Tackles coach.
The first of two in-house options, Tevita Finau, is currently a student assistant for Utah. Finau was a JUCO product when he came to play for Utah football and turned into an impact defensive tackle in his senior year in 2011. After college, Finau spent time in the NFL bouncing around different practice squads. Since leaving the NFL, Finau has been a Utah Football defensive student assistant while volunteering as the Defensive Line coach for the Orem High School varsity football team.
The second in-house option, Lewis Powell is currently the Defensive Ends coach at Utah. One option could be to have Powell become the defensive line coach again. This adds a lot to his coaching responsibilities, but he has experience coaching the entire line before. Before Sione Po’uha became the Defensive Tackles coach, Powell coached the entire defensive line from 2016 to 2018. He was also the Defensive Line coach for Hawaii from 2012-2014. This move would open up the possibility for Utah to add a coach for a different coaching group.
A Utah Football great, Luther Elliss just finished his fifth season as the Defensive Line coach for the Idaho Vandals. The Vandals led the conference in rushing defense in 2021. In his time with the program, Elliss has coached three all-conference players. Before joining the Vandals, he was the team chaplain for the Denver Broncos. Elliss has received high praise from the Idaho head coach, “Luther has been a tremendous addition to our staff. He knows the game inside and out — and he’s an excellent teacher and motivator. He’s a great leader of young men and an outstanding role model”. That sounds like the potential to be a great recruiter. As an added bonus, his son is currently a Utah linebacker who made a strong impression this year.
Elliss played college football at Utah, where he was a 3x all-conference player. He was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year in his senior year and was a consensus All-American. Elliss was drafted 20th overall in the 1995 NFL Draft and went on to have a great career, including two Pro Bowl selections.
Steve Fifita just finished his second year as the Defensive Line coach at Mater Dei High School, a college football player factory in Santa Ana, CA (10 4 and 5-star players, including 2021 Heisman winner and current Alabama QB Bryce Young). Before coaching at Mater Dei HS, Fifita was the Defensive Line Coach at Idaho State for seven years. While at Idaho State, he coached four all-conference players.
Fifita played four years at Utah from 2002-2005. Fifita was a 2x First-team All-Mountain West selection and was named the Defensive MVP of the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. After college, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins.