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How Will Kyle Whittingham Become A Top-10 Coach?

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talks to players during the Red and White game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is very well respected for what he has done at Utah going back to being part of a BCS-busting team as the defensive coordinator, throttling Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, and guiding the Utes to a contender each year in the Pac-12.

In preseason coaching rankings, he gets just outside the top-10 and usually around the mid-teens mark, which is great, but what can he do to take it to the next level and be considered one of the elites in college football.

CBS Sports recently ranked Whittingham at No. 14 which is three spots lower than last year when he was 11 and they give him a back-handed compliment in regards to his success.

He’s won three Pac-12 South titles in the last six years, and the Utes were considered playoff contenders for a large portion of the 2019 season. There isn’t a program in the Pac-12 South that’s done a better job taking advantage of USC’s lack of success than Whittingham’s.

Basically, they are saying that Utah and Whittingham’s success has come on the heels of the Trojans not being elite? First off, Utah has taken advantage of teams being down – as could any other team – but it is not just the Utes winning at a time when another program is down, but they were a win away in 2019 from going to the College Football Playoff, so that is not just winning at an opportune time.

There is the train of thought that is Whittingham a great coach or a coach who is doing great things at Utah which is not considered an elite school or job. It should be the former since he has proved it at the mid-major level while having elite seasons and then guiding the Utes through the transition in the Pac-12 to near-elite seasons.

What Will It Take To Crack The Top 10?

The simple answer is to either win a Pac-12 title or go to a New Year’s Six bowl game as a coach in a major conference. Whittingham has been very close to that but has not made it yet which is likely why he is not that high.

KSL Sports Scott Mitchell makes a great point about how valuable a good college coach is because during his time in the NFL the coaches there are hoping the talent arrives and makes the team better.

Whittingham falls into that category of a difference maker because the Utes could have just fallen back to what they were before Meyer was in town and be just an OK team and a few good years mixed in. If that had happened, then Utah would not be in the Pac-12 today.

That is another reason why Whittingham should be regarded even higher. He is winning at a non-traditional school and doing at nearly the highest level.

The other half of KSL Unrivaled is Alex Kirry and is not a fan of this list. There are coaches who are doing well at schools that are traditional powers and have taken over a great situation like Ohio State’s Ryan Day.

There is a lot to say that just because a coach does even sort of well at a prestigious school gives them a bump. Going back to Day at Ohio State. He took over an elite program from Meyer and to Day’s credit has been winning but that is fairly easy to not screw things up. Maybe give it a few years to see if he is really a top-10 coach after a few years and see if he has success making New Year’s Six games, winning the Big Ten, and making the playoff. Maybe he will but it is too soon to tell to have him ranked that high.

Whittingham at Utah has won at a “smaller” program but wins just as much as these coaches ranked higher, if not more. It will just take him to make it one more rung up the ladder and win the Pac-12 to be considered a top 1o coach.

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