Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watch the action in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — As spring ball kicks off, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham received a reward for leading the Utes to their first appearance in the Pac-12 championship game — a contract extension. He signed an agreement to remain at the helm of the program through December 2023.

“Coach Whittingham is one of the top coaches in college football and extending his contract was a high priority in my first year here,” Utah director of athletics Mark Harlan said in making the announcement. “Kyle’s teams compete for championships on the field and in the classroom, and his loyalty to the University of Utah has made this a great partnership.”

Whittingham is entering his 15th season as head coach of the Utes, where he has amassed a 120-61 record. He's the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12.

After practice Monday, Whittingham expressed appreciation for the extension and the administration.

"it really is a great show of support for our program and what we're doing," he said. "Something like that is really important for recruiting."

Whittingham explained that in this day and age recruits really take note of stability in a program. They want to make sure that the staff recruiting them is the one that it is going to coach them.

"So from that standpoint it's a huge positive for us," Whittingham said. "For me personally, very grateful and thankful to be here as long as I have and to keep going for at least a little while longer."

Under Whittingham, Utah has a bowl record of 11-2. The Utes are also doing well in the classroom with the Pac-12’s top NCAA Graduation Success Rate. The program set a school record with a 2.925 GPA last fall.

On the field, the Utes claimed their first outright Pac-12 South title in 2018. They went 6-3 in conference play before dropping a 10-3 decision to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. A 31-20 loss to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl followed.

Whittingham is just 22 wins away from surpassing Ike Armstrong (1925-49) as the winningest coach in program history. That’s well within the realm of possibility considering Whittingham is now under contract for five more seasons.

After signing a contract extension in 2017, Whittingham downplayed thoughts of one day getting more than Armstrong’s 141 career victories.

“I don’t concern myself with that stuff,” he said at the time. “Tunnel vision, I think, is critical for a coach to stay focused on the next challenge. That’s it. That’s my mentality.”

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However, Whittingham does know a thing or two about Armstrong and his legacy. He heard some stories from the late Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who passed away in 2008. Wirthlin said that he loved playing for Armstrong and told Whittingham that the coach was a “tough guy, hard-nosed and a disciplinarian.”

Whittingham noted that he wished he could have met Armstrong, who died in 1983.

“Heck of a football coach, from what I understand,” Whittingham said.