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Two Utes Picked As People Of The Year In Utah Sports

Head coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes shakes the hand of a player while his team warms up prior to the start of the Pac-12 Championship game against the Oregon Ducks at Levi's Stadium on December 06, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The year is winding down so KSL Unrivaled followed the steps of Time magazine and named its own person of the year from Utah sports from 2019.

KSL Sports’ Tom Hackett and Ben Anderson went through a list of names from around the state but settled on a combination of players and staff from the University of Utah football team.

The 2019 season was one of the best ever and the team was one victory away from reaching the College Football Playoff.

Hackett chose Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham as his most influential Utah sports figure. Looking just at this year, he led Utah to heights and expectations one has never achieved at Utah. Being extremely successful in the Mountain West is one thing but getting nearly to the top of the Pac-12 is completely different.

“To me, it has to be Utah football-related,” Hackett said. “They were fifth in the country and coach Kyle Whittingham is a big reason why in hiring Andy Ludwig who you could argue QB Tyler Huntley joined at the hip to Andy Ludwig, and the defense with Morgan Scalley is phenomenal.”

Whittingham bringing Ludwig back was the real difference this year. The offense improved exponentially and specifically at the quarterback position. Huntley went from an OK quarterback to one that was in consideration for national awards.

A lot of credit must be given to Whittingham for going back to an offensive coordinator he had success with nearly a decade ago – decisions like that make Whittingham and elite coach.

Huntley’s Exponential Improvement

Anderson went with quarterback Tyler Huntley. Pre-Ludwig, Huntley would have good games and bad games – he was lacking consistency.

All of that changed with Ludwig running the offense. 

His numbers from yards per attempt, quarterback rating, and completion skyrocketed and went from below average in the Pac-12 to the leader in all three of those categories.

“Huntley changed my opinion of him as drastically as I have changed on any athlete in the state of Utah,” Anderson said. “Not that I was not in on Tyler Huntley when Utah made the switch and I understood what they were doing. I saw what he could do well but I also saw very frequently the things he did poorly. What was amazing this year is those basically disappeared with the exception of the one guess he made against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

“He changed his stripes as much as any player I have ever seen in one offseason. Yes, it was Andy Ludwig and Kyle Whittingham, but good for Tyler Huntley for not saying, ‘I know what wins football games and I am going to trust me and not this new guy who came in.'”

Huntley put his trust in Ludwig to improve his play and it worked beyond belief turning Huntley into one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

Person Of The Decade

Kyle Whittingham got the nod when the duo looked back at the decade. There are so many mid-major programs that have a once in a generation season and the coach leaves and said school regresses.

That was not the case when Urban Meyer came and went from Utah. Sure, there were ups and downs but Whittingham led Utah to an undefeated season and a No. 2 ranking in 2008, plus this past year as the Utes peaked as the fifth-best team in the country.

The transition of going from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 is no easy feat and in the power conference, Whittingham has acquainted himself nicely.

“For a long time, I would tell you that if I was going to build a statue of any coach at Utah on campus it would have been Urban Meyer,” Anderson said. “I remember Utah football before Urban Meyer and Utah football after Urban Meyer. It is as a stark of a before and after in college football as anywhere in the world. Urban Meyer’s two-year stint got Utah in the Pac-12.”

There was also the help of Ron McBride getting talent to Utah which saw a top-10 year in the ’90s. McBride also sent a smattering of players to the NFL which set the stage for Meyer and then Whittingham. There is a lot of credit to be given out before Whittingham but he has kept all of that momentum going, which is no easy task.

For Whittingham to really solidify what was built before him and to sustain and even surpass those other coaches is a testament for how great he is as a coach.

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