When these nonrivals get together, expect the unexpected

Former Idaho defensive line coach Luther Elliss, left, is returning to his alma mater, accepting an offer to coach at Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — Almost 28 years after Luther Elliss wreaked havoc in Western Athletic Conference backfields as an All-American defensive lineman with the Utah Utes, the former Idaho defensive line coach is headed “home.”

It didn’t take long for Elliss to find a new landing spot after former UI coach Paul Petrino and his staff, of which Luther was a part, were dismissed in November.

The new gig couldn’t have been a better fit.

With the Utes, he reconnects with son and Moscow High School graduate Jonah, who is a freshman linebacker with the team.

He also joins his old defensive line coach from his playing days in Utah coach Kyle Whittingham — the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12. Whittingham was the defensive line coach with the Utes in 1994 when Luther was a player.

“Coach Whitt was all just a straight-board, intense, no-nonsense, get-to-work (coach), but we had fun,” Luther Elliss recalled in August 2020 when Jonah signed with the Utes. “Love coach Whitt and what he’s done with the program. Love what he’s been able to carry on (with) what was put in place with coach Mac (Ron McBride) and Urban (Meyer) and those guys.

“It’s been a great run there for a while and I don’t see it slipping, certainly not while he’s at the helm.”

Jonah will be Luther’s fourth son he’s coached at the college level.

A father of 12, including seven adopted children, Luther coached Kaden Elliss, Christian Elliss and Noah Elliss during his five years with the Vandals.

Kaden just finished his third NFL season with the New Orleans Saints, Christian spent most of the year on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad and Noah — a star defensive tackle with UI — is leaving college early to pursue his own NFL dream.

“I feel pretty blessed I’ve been able to participate in most of my kids’ activities,” Luther said.

As a Ute player, Luther was a consensus All-American and WAC defensive player of the year at Utah in 1994, also earning three all-conference selections during his time in Salt Lake City.

Elliss said going against players like NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk in college helped him “learn what speed really was.”

“There were times I thought I had him in the backfield where I beat my guy pretty clean, and he still had another faster gear than I had and still got away,” Elliss said.

Luther went on to be drafted No. 20 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1995 NFL draft.

During his 10-year career in the NFL, he started 119 of 134 regular-season games and had 331 tackles and 29 sacks. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1999 and 2000.

“Seeing Utah being on the map as far as college sports and joining the Pac-12, I know that wasn’t my (conference) but just seeing the growth and what the program is doing … it’s been amazing,” Luther said.

Now, he has the opportunity to help in that growth himself.

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.

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