Dick Harmon: Utah Utes, BYU football: Kyle Whittingham's former BYU teammates value his friendship

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 12 2012 8:03 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY— Kyle Whittingham, an impassioned rivalry, BYU and Utah fans on the fringe?

Yes, this is the week: rivalry week.

But in the real world, some things never change — things like friendships and being a teammate; paying respect in its proper context.

That's the take given by Scott Phillips, a former teammate of Whittingham at BYU, a guy recruited as a quarterback out of Springville High the same class that featured Jim McMahon of Roy High.

To end the 1980 season, Phillips and Whittingham stood side by side and celebrated the 46-45 BYU win over SMU, one of the most dramatic comeback wins in college football. In that game, Phillips, who played running back alongside McMahon, caught 10 passes for 81 yards and ran for two touchdowns with a two-point conversion.

On Wednesday, Phillips joined LaVell Edwards and a host of BYU Hall of Famers — including Kurt Gunther, who won that 1980 Holiday Bowl game with his extra point kick — at the Boy Scouts of America golf tournament at Thanksgiving Point.

I asked Phillips to speak about Whittingham as a teammate, player, team leader and now a coach.

The rivalry aside, he spoke like a teammate, not a partisan.

Despite his role as head coach at rival Utah, Whittingham's BYU connection will always be with him.

A year older than Whittingham, Phillips said as an offensive player, there was always kind of a separation with defensive players like Whittingham. Nevertheless, he forged a friendship with him, respected him, sent his son to play running back for him for a year and has represented him as a former lawyer-turned-financial advisor. Kyle is his client.

"He was like his dad, kind of hardnosed, very tough on the field. He was somewhat of an overachiever and he'd tell you that because he wasn't the tallest player in the world. Overall, we got along very well. He was likable and a down-to-earth guy."

Although Whittingham was a year away from being a team captain, because he was a middle linebacker, he was like a coach on the field, like a quarterback for the defense — and at that, Whittingham stood out.

Phillips said BYU had a great linebacking corps back in those days, including Glen Redd and Ed St. Pierre and a young freshman named Todd Shell. Whittingham took after his father, the defensive coordinator Fred Whittingham, who was always tough but fair, said his former teammate.

Phillips said he's biased, but back in his day BYU had one of its best offensive and defensive teams ever. "You'd have Fred Whittingham and Doug Scovil going at it every day as coordinators; the skinny Scovil standing up to Fred and both of them going after it every day."

Whittingham has been a client of Phillips since he became defensive coordinator at Utah.

Whittingham, as a head coach?

Phillips salutes him.

"I'm biased, of course, but from my observation and from my son, he is an outstanding coach. He knows the game, but as it's been said before, one of his great skills is evaluating talent and knowing who can play as a scout of talent," Phillips said. "He found Eric Weddle and saw in him what he could become when nobody else wanted him. He's always been able to assess talent as well as anyone. He's also been able to motivate. He's a player's coach, even in the early years when he took over when Urban (Meyer) left, he made some changes and adjustments that made a difference in their program," said Phillips.

"I think players like him a lot, and that's why he stayed there."

On Saturday comes the rivalry game. It was a big topic Wednesday at this charity event. Groups of former Cougars gathered in the clubhouse and broke down the game amongst themselves.

Nobody disrespected their former teammate.

Phillips played in four BYU-Utah rivalry games during his career, and he says it is so unique; both sides have had their turn, but generally they've been pretty evenly matched in the series over the years.

Some argue it's good that there will be a timeout for the rivalry after the 2014 game in Provo; others say it must continue. Still, I've heard from some Utah fans — not fanatics — who believe Utah has moved on with its Pac-12 membership and other priorities.

"I hope it continues," Phillips said. "I think the fans will miss it, the players certainly will miss it. I hope it gets back to a regular schedule. There's so much of it that is at the core of it all, something to look forward to every year. If it's off a year or two, I guess we can't change that. It's a sad day for the state of Utah football if we don't get back to it."

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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