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Mitch Dumke, Deseret Morning News
Utah co-head coach Urban Meyer admires the Fiesta Bowl trophy moments after Saturday's Ute victory over Pittsburgh.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Urban Meyer's voice cracked once during his last post-game press conference as Utah's football coach.

"It was tough in the locker room to say goodbye to 18 seniors who played their hearts out," he said, his voice wavering once for a group of players who did exactly as he asked over the past two seasons and "invested" themselves in the program.

On Saturday, his Utes showed the same kind of togetherness and focus they had all year despite the imminent coaching change, winning the Fiesta Bowl by trouncing Pittsburgh 35-7 at Sun Devil Stadium.

"I think the most amazing thing is that, not very often do you get a chance to go 12-0," said Meyer, who is headed to the University of Florida, where he will have a chance to win a national championship and make more money.

"A lot of times a football coach gets too much credit. It was a great game against a very good team," Meyer said.

Kyle Whittingham, who succeeds Meyer as Utah's coach after spending 10 years as the Utes' defensive coordinator (after one season coaching the defensive line), said that, because it was a win, he was going to claim it on his record. This despite the fact that he remained coordinator and Meyer was the head coach for the Fiesta Bowl.

"Absolutely," the 1-0 Whittingham said with a grin.

He said he had just told the team in the postgame locker room that he was grateful to Meyer, who wanted Whittingham to follow him after knowing each other for just two years.

"Two years ago, he didn't know me from Adam. He didn't have to keep me," Whittingham said. "He kept me on the staff, gave me a chance to keep coaching these guys, and that's a risk. Any time you keep somebody you don't know, there's a risk.

"I'm just indebted to him. It was a great season — a fairy-tale season — and I hope to keep it going in the direction it's at."

Whittingham, who seemed to pay a little more attention to all facets of the game and conferenced a couple times with Meyer on the sidelines, said the team had made up its mind it would win and finish the season undefeated.

"I could see it in their eyes all week long. We came out here and executed on both sides of the ball," Whittingham said.

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He noted that the Utes lose all those seniors, "and potentially (junior quarterback) Alex Smith" (to the NFL draft). But he said, "We'll be all right. We've got to recruit and regroup. We've got some good young kids in the program.

"Are we going to be 12-0 again? That's highly unlikely, but we've got to enjoy this.

"No matter what happens next year, this season was just a fairy-tale season."

The new Utah coach was asked what's next, and he said, half playfully, "I don't know. I'm going to enjoy this for about six months, and then I'll tell you what we're going to do."

But he's got spring ball in a few months, and recruiting for both him and Meyer begins today.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com