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Matt Gade, Deseret News
Utes Head Coach Kyle Whittingham speaks to the media in the Spence & Cleone Eccles Football Center on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.

SALT LAKE CITY — Kyle Whittingham is in the midst of his 10th spring as Utah’s head football coach. The milestone caught him a bit off-guard.

“Wow,” Whittingham said. “That’s a long time.”

Even so, the 54-year-old acknowledged he’s enjoyed every bit of it.

“There’s been ups and downs,” Whittingham said. “But we feel we’re trending back in the right direction again and so we’re excited for this season.”

Under Whittingham’s direction, Utah is 76-39 — including a 7-1 record in bowl games. He was the American Football Coaches Association’s National Coach of the Year and Paul “Bear” Bryant Award winner in 2008 after leading the Utes to a 13-0 record and a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Since serving as co-head coach with Urban Meyer in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Whittingham has been in charge up on the hill. It’s now been a decade of springs.

“In a way you can’t believe it’s been that long, but in a way it’s been a long process,” Whittingham said. “Coaching is all about relationships and that’s really what stands out is the players that have come through here over the last 10 years.”

QUARTERBACK BATTLE: After one week of spring ball, returning starter Travis Wilson remains the front-runner at quarterback. Wilson, who has been cleared for noncontact drills this spring after missing the last three games of 2013 with an intracranial artery injury, is getting a majority of the reps through the first three practices.

“It feels great. I’m really cherishing being back and being with this team. I’m really happy just to move forward,” Wilson said. “I’ve still got a lot of things to work on, but I’m making smarter decisions and doing a lot better.”

Whittingham noted that Saturday was the first day of spring ball where you could really see a separation in the quarterback competition. The Utes donned pads and things moved a lot faster.

“We’ll sit down and look at the film. Right now, off the top of my head, Travis is still the guy that is performing the best,” Whittingham said. “But it’s going to be really an interesting situation with everything that’s going on behind him and that’s really what the evaluations are all about right now is the two, three and four spots.”

Junior Adam Schulz and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning, Brandon Cox and Micah Thomas are the scholarship quarterbacks with 2014 eligibility competing for depth chart positions this spring.

SENIOR SEND-OFF: There’s a tradition up on the hill. On the night of pro day, when NFL scouts visit the football facility to get a closer look at the departing players, the Utah football program holds its annual senior dinner. This year’s farewell took place Wednesday night.

“That was emotional and tough to see those guys move on,” Whittingham said. “But you’re happy for them. They all got their degrees. So it was a good thing.”

GETTING CHIPPY: Things got a little heated between the offense and defense in Saturday’s practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium. There were a couple of less-than-friendly interactions.

“You want skirmishes, a few of them. It means they’re competitive and getting after it,” Whittingham said. “It can’t become so many it’s a distraction and disrupting things.”

Whittingham added that tempers often flare in camp, particularly on the first day of pads. He considers it healthy and not necessarily a bad thing.

“We all know we’re all a team. We’ve always got each other’s back,” Wilson said. “Things like that always do happen. So it’s just part of practice, just a lot of heat going around.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer