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Scott Mitchell says 'happy to be here' isn't good enough for Utes

SALT LAKE CITY — As a rookie, Scott Mitchell was among three players vying to become the Miami Dolphins' No. 3 quarterback. He had put everything he owned in a trailer and driven to Miami, signing a two-year apartment lease before ever attending training camp.

"You know how dumb that is?" says the former fourth-round draft pick from Utah.

He was all-in before anyone knew what that phrase meant.

Now a candidate to become the University of Utah's next athletic director, he is — to borrow another phrase — fully invested.

"I couldn't make it any other way. That's been my life," Mitchell says. "What Mormon — that is related to LaVell Edwards — doesn't go to BYU in the '80s? They won a national championship and sent all their quarterbacks to the NFL. Who does that?"

“If you’re playing with the big boys, it’s not good enough just to be here and qualify for a bowl game every year.”

Mitchell says taking chances is "in my DNA." He went to a college that had won two games the previous year. In 2014, after he had retired from football and his weight had climbed to 366 pounds, he went on national television to compete in "The Biggest Loser: Glory Days," reaching the final round.

"I do the hard things that no one thinks is possible," he says. "That's the kind of person that I am."

Mitchell won't be the only intriguing figure seeking the position Chris Hill kept for 31 years, but he might be the most visible. He spent 11 years in the NFL and still owns most of the Utes' passing records. At the urging of friends tied to the university, he decided to apply for Hill's job. Mitchell thinks the program can be more than good; it can be bodacious.

"There's tremendous opportunity now to put the U. on the national stage and be considered a national power and program. Period," he says. "That's my vision. It's not beyond me. I played with the big boys. I've been able to dream big dreams in my life."

After that first big leap of faith following college, Mitchell went on to start 71 games in a career that took him to Miami, Detroit, Baltimore and Cincinnati. At 6-foot-6, he could easily see downfield.

These days he's again eyeing the end zone.

"Saying 'We're happy to be here' drives me crazy," Mitchell says. "The football opportunity has been at our fingertips for the last seven years … I believe more than anything, you have to have that vision. I haven't heard that vision at Utah. I haven't heard it. I've heard we would be competitive. I've heard we should be in the top 25."

What he hasn't heard is talk of Utah winning the Pac-12 and competing for national football championships.

In honesty, national title talk is what BYU did when it went independent in football. Nothing happened. But the Cougars didn't have the advantage of being in a power conference.

Mitchell isn't the most obvious candidate. He doesn't have an MBA, or a Ph.D., as did Hill. His education is a bachelor's degree in economics, not sports or business administration.

"I have an MBA in life," Mitchell says. "I believe in life experience."

He has grown uneasy with Utah's inability to move to the top in its revenue sports.

"If you're playing with the big boys, it's not good enough just to be here and qualify for a bowl game every year," he says. "If they want someone that's status quo, and for us to just be where we are now, I'm not the guy. Just being there is not good enough for me. I never succeeded in the NFL by being just happy to be there."

After his football career, Mitchell threw himself into acquiring and developing land for mixed-use residential projects in Florida. He admits he has had both successes and failures in business. Returning to Utah, he coached at Springville High, his alma mater, raising $360,000 for the program in his first year. Later he got involved in a software business that did a half-million dollars in revenue the first year, $1.2 million the second year, and now does about $3.5 million.

Raising money, he says, is second nature.

"There's nothing that I fear," he says. "Nothing that I believe is beyond my capacity to handle."

An on-air personality at KSL radio, Mitchell hosts "Helmets Off," a podcast featuring "candid conversations with athletes and celebrities." That's why he's so upfront about his aspirations. Candid is how he rolls.

"I know I'm a long shot," Mitchell says. "But I firmly believe no one is more qualified than me. I'm going for it."

Mentally, he's already signed the lease.