Ten years as a head coach is like 30 years as a coordinator as far as wear and tear and your stress levels and your daily grind. But I love it as well. It’s just a whole different ballgame. It’s a whole different ballgame. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — If you think Kyle Whittingham is taking time to celebrate or reminisce as he enters his 10th season as head coach of the Utah Utes, think again.
“Not at all,” he said when asked if the impending milestone has even crossed his mind. “Not at all.”
Whittingham did, however, acknowledge what it feels like to be at the helm of the program for nearly a decade.
“In ways it seems like a hundred years and in ways it seems like just a few years,” he said. “So I guess it’s just what day you catch me on and how things are going.”
Taking time to reflect, Whittingham insists, never enters the equation. He claims to take things just “one day at a time.”
Since serving as Utah’s co-head coach with Urban Meyer in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh, Whittingham has led the Utes to 75 other victories. The biggest of them all was a 31-17 win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. It capped a 13-0 season and lifted the Utes to No. 2 in the final Associated Press rankings.
Whittingham received the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award and was named National Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association.
“Kyle Whittingham, without hesitation, is one of the top coaches in America,” said Meyer, who won two national championships at Florida and is now at Ohio State.
Meyer acknowledged that Whittingham has a massive challenge in overseeing the Utes' move from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12.
“It’s an absolute grind,” said Meyer, who noted perhaps the biggest issue in moving into one of the nation’s power conferences. “Every week you’re facing a team that’s as even as you or sometimes more talented than you. It takes a while to develop depth.”
However, he added, good things are still happening — on any given day — as Utah does so.
“They beat Stanford last year,” Meyer said. “I talked to the coach at Stanford (David Shaw) and he said: ‘They beat us.’”
High praise aside, there’s still a reality to deal with until a more even playing field is reached.
“So the difference between, obviously, a smaller conference and the Pac-12 is it’s every week you have to be ready,” Meyer said. “An injury here, an injury there, and you’re not ready.”
Pac-12 Networks analyst Rick Neuheisel, who has coached three teams in the conference, agrees with Meyer. He said many people don’t realize how big of a “week-in-and-week-out grind” of a level shift Utah has faced in moving into the Pac-12.
“It changes your depth as well because attrition is part of this game,” Neuheisel explained. “So when you lose your front-line players and you’re still playing the caliber of talent that exists in the Pac-12 it becomes very difficult.”
As time passes, however, there’s an evolution taking place. Neuheisel said that Utah’s recruiting is getting better, citing the addition of players from places like Florida and Louisiana. Being in a Power 5 conference with a chance to play for a national championship — at a school with great facilities — is enticing to recruits.
“The sky’s the limit for what Utah can accomplish,” Neuheisel continued. “They certainly have a great coaching staff and as I said they’re in more homes than they’ve ever been before. ... I see nothing but good things.”
And there’s a proven winner at the top in Whittingham.
“People don’t realize that he didn’t forget any football,” said Neuheisel, who credited Whittingham for turning a hard situation that people could point to like having six offensive coordinators in six years into something explainable with the hiring of Dave Christensen.
Neuheisel likes how Whittingham told him at the Pac-12 meetings that sometimes you’re not dissatisfied; you just see real opportunity to move forward.
Whittingham was recently asked how his management style has changed over the years.
“I think a lot. It’s been gradual and so it’s kind of like you throw a frog in cold water and boil it. He doesn’t realize it. Kind of that same deal,” Whittingham said. “I’ve been thrown in cold water. It just starts to boil. I’m oblivious to it. That being said, I can’t give you any real specifics other than I have definitely changed. I don’t want to say morphed, but my style has changed and that’s what it is. I don’t know what else to add to that.”
Regardless of such details, Whittingham has made a lasting impact during his lengthy tenure at Utah. He’s been continuously employed with the program since joining the staff as a defensive line coach in 1994.
Whittingham was promoted to defensive coordinator the next season and held the post until becoming head coach. He said he loved every minute of being a coordinator.
Whittingham also enjoys his current position, too — although it is different.
“Ten years as a head coach is like 30 years as a coordinator as far as wear and tear and your stress levels and your daily grind. But I love it as well,” he said. “It’s just a whole different ballgame. It’s a whole different ballgame.”