Kyle Whittingham quietly made history last week.
With Utah's 22-10 win over Wyoming, he became the program's first head coach in more than 100 years to begin his tenure with five consecutive winning seasons. Whittingham and Joseph H. Maddock, who did it six times from 1904-09, are the only ones to do it.
"It's all about players. I firmly believe that," Whittingham said. "We've had good recruiting years and have got a lot of good players in this program. Really, that's what it is all about."
It's a tone the coach has repeatedly taken throughout the Utes' recent rise to prominence. After last season's 13-0 campaign, Whittingham won the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award and was named National Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association. He also picked up Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year honors.
"To me, personally, a Coach of the Year award or a conference Coach of the Year award is really a Team of the Year award or a conference Team of the Year award," Whittingham said. "We're all in this together. That's exactly what I told our football team last year when we were able to get the National Coach of the Year. To me, that signified Team of the Year."
The fame and fortune that accompanied Utah's second run to the Bowl Championship Series and its victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl hasn't altered Whittingham's approach.
"Hopefully, it hasn't changed me as a person," he said. "I try to be the same guy every day, remain as even-keeled as possible and just keep plugging away."
Whittingham insists he's in it for the long haul.
"I feel very fortunate, very blessed. I can tell you that. I'm very grateful," he said. "But I'm just a regular guy, just trying to make this football team as good as we can make it."
Success has become the standard. Utah enters Saturday's home game against New Mexico with victories in 21 of its past 22 games. An embarrassing loss at UNLV preceded the run.
"I certainly feel like I've been through the entire spectrum," Whittingham said. "But you just keep working, you keep doing things the way you believe they should be done. That's what it is all about."
Having a good work ethic and attending to all details, including recruiting and academics, he added, are also part of the equation.
So, too, is having a strong staff.
"We're very fortunate here to have excellent assistant coaches who are hard workers and dedicated, loyal," Whittingham said. "That's a huge part of our success as well, obviously."
Hands-on coaching is what Whittingham misses most since replacing Urban Meyer as head coach. Overseeing day-to-day operations has replaced previous duties like position group meetings.
"There's some ups and downs but nobody's forcing anybody to coach. You do it because you love it," Whittingham said. "It's been challenging and it's been fun at the same time."
Whittingham has enjoyed his new role. It's worked out well. The Utes are 44-15 since he took over.
Winning, though, isn't what he values most.
"I'd say my greatest satisfaction is seeing our guys achieve, succeed and come away with their degrees and live their lives the right way," Whittingham said. "That's really the thing that is the most rewarding and most satisfying."
However, he continued, winning games isn't bad, either.
"No complaints. Don't get me wrong. This profession is all about winning," Whittingham said. "That's the bottom line and everybody understands that — more so in this day and age than ever before, and that's not going to change."
It's a passion and a strong one at that.
"There's just nothing like game day, being down there and being involved in the competitiveness of Division I football," he added.
Despite past accomplishments, Whittingham is still motivated by stepping into the competitive arena each week. The pressure that accompanies it, he insists, comes from within.
"I'm just a guy that is always trying to figure out a way to do things better," Whittingham said. "To me, there's no contest there as to where that pressure comes from."46 comments on this story
Whittingham credits his late father, Fred, for the embodiment of who he is as a coach. The fundamentals, the philosophies and the techniques he employs are indicative of the influence.
"My father was without a doubt the most influential person in my life," Whittingham said. "And not only from a coaching standpoint."
When it comes to coaching, though, Whittingham acknowledges also being influenced by the likes of LaVell Edwards, Ron McBride and Meyer.
"I've been around some good head coaches," he said.
Utes on the air
New Mexico (0-8, 0-4 MWC)at No. 17 Utah (7-1, 4-0)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 700 AM