Friends or foes? Two coaches love to compete

The two head coaches love to compete both on the football field and off.

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Gary Andersen was the Utes' defensive coordinator before leaving to take over this season as the new football coach at Utah State University.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Thursday night's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium will mark the first time Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Utah State's Gary Andersen have ever matched wits as head coaches.

It won't, however, be the initial competition between the longtime friends and associates.

"Maybe that's why we've gotten along so well," Andersen said. "I don't know why, but we just kind of compete at everything we do. Whether it's losing weight in the offseason, or lifting weights, or riding bikes, or playing on the football field, we've always been extremely competitive."

They want to win in everything, he added

As such, the season-opening reunion of sorts should be entertaining.

Morgan Scalley, who played for and coached with both men at Utah, is expecting it to be a lot of fun.

"They are two of the most competitive people you'll ever meet," he said. "They have a great relationship, a great friendship. But when it comes down to it, there's nothing more they'd like than to beat one another."

Whittingham acknowledges the competitive aspect to their friendship.

"That's probably an accurate statement," he said while noting that both are driven to succeed. "That's probably what it boils down to. That's probably the bottom line."

Since working together at Idaho State in 1992, Whittingham and Andersen formed a friendship and a working relationship that has endured the test of time. They've spent much of their careers together at Utah, helping the Utes secure two trips to the Bowl Championship Series (2005, 2009) with undefeated seasons.

"He was a very valuable asset to the staff and instrumental in our success," said Whittingham, whose first move when hired as head coach in December 2004 was to promote Andersen to defensive coordinator.

Five years later, Andersen left for Logan to resurrect a once-proud USU program. As much as Whittingham appreciated having him around, he wasn't surprised a head coaching opportunity surfaced.

"I think it was long overdue. We were lucky to hang on to him as long as we did," Whittingham said. "He's the right man for the job up at Utah State and I think he's going to do just fine."

Andersen's departure, though, hasn't been easy. Whittingham acknowledged things are different up on the hill without him.

"It has been. You get used to a routine and working with a guy after as many years as we did," he said. "Then all of a sudden that changes. That took some getting used to."

So, too, has Andersen's change in apparel. He's no longer clad in crimson.

"It's going to be weird seeing Gary in blue, for sure. I've seen him out at some camps and recruiting, but it still doesn't suit him right now," joked Kalani Sitake, who replaced Andersen as Utah's defensive coordinator. "He'll do a great job. I think he's a fantastic coach and I think the Aggies are lucky to have him.

"We are looking forward to this matchup. I'm excited to see him. Shoot, he's a good friend of mine and a group friend of Kyle's," he continued. "It'll be an interesting game. But when it starts, it's all about the ball. We're friends before and we'll be friends after. That's the way it's always going to be."

Scalley noted that friendships don't alter the big picture. Everyone's job is to win.

The two competitors wouldn't have it any other way.

"This game is not about the coaches. It's about the players — as is every game," Whittingham said. "That's where the focal point should be. The coaches are just a sidebar to that."

Utah State defensive coordinator Bill Busch, who coached with both Whittingham and Andersen at Utah, agrees.

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