SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to milestones — like his 100th game as head coach of the Utah Utes — Kyle Whittingham insists it means nothing.
“Not squat,” Whittingham said. “They don’t mean squat.”
Although Whittingham has no plans to celebrate his 100th game at the helm when the Utes face Washington State Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, he did reflect a bit on his tenure as head coach.
“I can’t believe it’s been that many (games),” Whittingham said. “I can tell you that.”
Whittingham made two debuts as Utah’s head coach. The first was as a co-head coach with Urban Meyer at the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. That night, the Utes capped a 12-0 season with a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh. Meyer then departed for Florida and Whittingham took sole control of the program.
On Sept. 2, 2005, Utah defeated Arizona 27-24 to start the Whittingham era off on a successful note. The Utes went on to post seven consecutive winning seasons, going 6-1 in accompanying bowl appearances.
Of all the accomplishments, however, one is deemed to be the sweetest.
“The Sugar Bowl, first and foremost. That was a great evening and a big win for our program,” Whittingham said of Utah’s 31-17 win over Alabama in the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 2, 2009.
Whittingham noted that all the bowl games stand out, particularly the ones where Utah prevailed. Since taking over, Whittingham has also guided the Utes to a pair of Poinsettia Bowl victories — as well as wins in the Emerald, Armed Forces and Sun bowls. The lone postseason setback came against Boise State in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl.
“The one we lost was disappointing,” Whittingham said. “But we’ve had a lot of good experiences over the years.”
In 2008 when the Utes were the only undefeated team in the country, Whittingham scooped up two National Coach of the Year accolades (AFCA, Paul “Bear Bryant Award). He also earned Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year recognition.
Senior center Tevita Stevens noted that Whittingham’s record speaks for itself. Every season so far has been a winning season.
“He’s a great coach,” Stevens said. “Year in and year out, we’ve been headed to bowl games.”
Utah assistant Morgan Scalley has the perspective of playing for and coaching with Whittingham. He considers him a humble guy with a players-first mentality, who never thinks about himself
“That’s just the type of guy he is,” Scalley said. “That’s why the players love to play for him and the coaches love to coach for him.”
Whittingham, he continued, has never compromised his values or his plan to win.
“He has always stayed the same as far as his mentality, never bending with a ‘you will become us, we will not become you’ type of mentality and it’s been successful,” Scalley said. “I feel like we’ve got tough football players who do it the right way and it’s because of Kyle Whittingham.”
Whittingham’s eighth season as head coach has been challenging. The Utes’ second year in the Pac-12 has been as tough as the first with a 0-4 start in conference play.
The Utes turned it around in 2011 and extended the program’s run of consecutive winning seasons and bowl appearances to nine. The quest for 10 is now accompanied by a sense of urgency. Utah (3-5) faces a season-ending schedule featuring home games against Washington State and Arizona, as well as road trips to Washington and Colorado.