Like father, like brother: Fred Whittingham Jr. followed family's footsteps to the University of Utah

Published: Thursday, May 30 2013 6:15 p.m. MDT

University of Utah football player personnel director Fred Whittingham poses by some team photos in Salt Lake City, May 15.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Back in the day, Fred Whittingham Jr. thought about joining his father and eldest brother Kyle in the football business.

He certainly had the background for it.

As the son of a former NFL player and longtime coach, Whittingham was immersed in the sport from a young age. He recalls, with great fondness, hanging out at BYU practices in the 1970s when his dad was an assistant coach under LaVell Edwards. Young Fred would walk to the football facility from nearby Wasatch Elementary School. He’d later join his father for training table and run around the fieldhouse with younger brother Brady when the coaches would watch film.

“I feel like I grew up there,” Whittingham joked. “I don’t know when I did homework. I don’t ever remember that.”

Whittingham did, however, get plenty of things accomplished in the years that followed. He played for BYU’s national championship team in 1984 — along with older brother Cary — before serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Florida.

Upon his return, Whittingham led the Cougars in rushing for three consecutive seasons (1987-89) before brief stints with the Los Angeles Rams' practice squad and in the World League of American Football.

After graduating from BYU, though, Whittingham had a decision to make. Would he follow his father and brother Kyle into the coaching profession?

Unsure if that’s what he really wanted to do at the time, Fred sought the counsel of the coaches.

“(They) advised me not to go into it,” he said.

It was the early 1990s and the older Whittinghams cited a variety of reasons why Fred would be better off doing something else. Coaches, especially assistants, weren’t being compensated all that much back then. Besides that, the hours were long and there was a lack of job security unless you worked for a winning program.

The combination thereof helped lead Fred down another path. He went on to spend the next 19-plus years making his mark in the higher education publishing industry, eventually directing McGraw-Hill’s West Sales Region and its $100 million in annual revenue.

In January 2012, however, Fred opted to switch careers. He returned to football as Utah’s director of player personnel — managing recruiting operations, directing camps and clinics, and serving as the program’s NFL liaison.

It’s a move the 47-year-old doesn’t regret.

“I got into this knowing that for the second half of my career life I wanted to spend it in football,” Whittingham said. “I think I’m still discovering where I want to go with that.”

Since joining his brother’s staff at Utah, Fred has made an immediate impact.

“He’s really added to what we’re doing here. He’s got a lot of good ideas and he’s very organized, very thorough,” Kyle said. “In this day and age in recruiting you’ve got to think outside the box and he’s one of those type of thinkers that has some unique ideas.”

Fred’s non-traditional background, which includes work experience in sales, acquisitions and management, has proved to be a valuable resource for the Utes. He noted that most guys who go through the traditional coaching ranks aren’t exposed to a lot of things that happen in creative marketing and sales outside of football. “This is a pretty insular business,” he explained. “I think what I bring to the table is kind of that outside business perspective.”

Fred believes that superior evaluation and selling are the keys to being better than the competition when it comes to recruiting. He’s hopeful that Utah will attract student-athletes who are mindful of things like what kind of coaches they want as mentors, academic interests and the community.

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