Next Season Is Most Critical For Kyle Whittingham

Feb 21, 2019, 1:48 PM | Updated: 2:25 pm
Head coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes on the sideline during their game against the North Da...
Head coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes on the sideline during their game against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Rice-Eccles Stadium on August 31, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has always been able to get the most out of his talent ever since he became the head coach of the Utes back in 2005. With Pac-12 championship expectations for 2019, this could be the most important season in his coaching career.

Whittingham is almost always mentioned as an overachieving head coach when compared to the rest of his peers, especially when he was in the Mountain West. There are numbers to back up this claim as he has earned 0.76 more actual wins per year compared to his win expectations since 2005, according to Football Study Hall

This should be no secret as the Utes have not always been able to land top-tier talent but the staff has coached up two and three-star players and make them into elite talent to compete with the best in college football.

Whittingham was part of the 2004 staff as the defensive coordinator that saw the Utes bust the BCS to go undefeated en route to winning the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh. The 2008 season was even more special as the Utes defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and finishing No. 2 in the AP poll.

Pac-12 Championship Is The Goal

Whittingham has carried over the success of coaching in the Mountain West to the Pac-12 by nearly appearing in the championship game in his first year, 2015 saw the team climb up to No. 3 in the AP poll, and in 2018 the Utes appeared in its first-ever Pac-12 title game.

The talent is now coming into Utah by virtue being in a Power 5 league, so the excuses of not winning a conference title is dwindling. Whittingham brings back most of the two-deep from last year’s team and the goal should be to take the next step in making it to the Rose Bowl by winning the Pac-12.

KSL’s Unrivaled host Scott Mitchell believes that the 2019 season could be the most important year ever in Utes football.

“This year, to me, is the defining moment for Utah football because they really should win [the Pac-12]. You have this consistently good team, but now you have a team that really should win,” Mitchell said. “If you don’t win and see the same type of production [maybe] the talent isn’t really that good.”

Whittingham has done so much for this Utah program by going to 12 bowl games in 14 years and winning 10 of those including a Sugar Bowl victory.

However, the former Utah quarterback ponders if Whittingham may not really be the guy to get this program to the next level.

“You start to ask yourself is there is a ceiling with Kyle Whittingham and can he only get this program to a certain level?” Mitchell asked. “I am not saying it is there yet I am just saying this is the year that people will start to ask that question.”

Co-host Alex Kirry brings up the dangers of possibly dismissing Whittingham if a conference title does not happen in the near future, and points down South to BYU, which has had its share of hiccups with Kalani Sitake.

“I am just telling Utah fans to settle down, because if you start to do the thing where you go ‘yeah but Kyle Whittingham can’t win the Pac-12,’” Kirry said. “If you start doing that and you get what you asked for and Kyle Whittingham is no longer the Utah football head coach. You’re are going to get 4-9’ed right in the chin, and absolutely shocked wishing you had Whittingham back.”

Fans for sure have taken Whittingham success for granted with the football team by being so successful, but for those who are wishing he is gone for not winning a conference title might want to slow down that rhetoric.

AD Mark Harlan Expects Championships

A new athletic director wants to create their own path at their new school and a lot of times it comes from making the first coaching hire, specifically in football and basketball. Utes new athletics director Mark Harlan made that clear just over a year ago when he was hired to take over for Chris Hill.

“We’re here to win championships, and that’s what we’re going to do with high integrity,” Harlan said when he took the Utah job.

He clearly has to be happy that the Utes football program went to the Pac-12 title game but ultimately may want more than just competing for conference titles while coming up empty-handed.

“The question is that if [a Pac-12 title] doesn’t get done, new athletic director Mark Harlan at the University of Utah he will have to make a name for himself at some point,” Kirry said. “Harlan will have to say, ‘while I have been here, yes, the teams have been talented but they have not gone far enough.’”

The main focus Whittingham and Utah football in 2019 is extremely clear.

“I think the goal should be to win the Pac-12, period,” Mitchell said.

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast.

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Next Season Is Most Critical For Kyle Whittingham