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Kyle Whittingham Discusses Father, ‘Big Fred’s’, Lasting Football Legacy

Nov 22, 2023, 1:55 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s easy to forget that the Whittingham name was a force in football in the state of Utah and even the country long before Kyle Whittingham emerged.

Whitt’s father, Fred, started the ball rolling as a nasty football player himself out of Cal Poly that spent many years in the pros before moving on to coach college ball at both BYU, Utah, and the NFL.

“Big Fred” or “Mad Dog” as he was often referred to in the buildings he occupied, left a lasting football legacy with many of his defensive philosophies still being implemented over 23 years later by the Utes under the guidance of his son as head coach.

Whittingham discussed his father’s legacy with radio personality Hans Olsen Tuesday afternoon in an interview you can listen to here.

Big Fred Would Never Allow You To Get Away With That

Olsen started the conversation by reflecting on his own coach, Tom Ramage, who was over the defensive line for BYU from 1973-2001 and a funny quip he’d always bring up about Big Fred long after he’d moved on to coaching the Utes.

“Tom Ramage- I just recently went to his funeral,” Olsen started. “Coach Ramage used to have a saying every time I was acting up or not working hard enough. He’d tell me, ‘Big Fred would never allow you to get away with that.’ Your dad was a legend. I know he ended up leaving BYU in the mid to early ’80’s, but he was still a legend in the ’90’s.”

Olsen’s anecdote elicited a knowing chuckle from Whittingham who went on to talk about growing up with Big Fred as his father and being surrounded by legends at a young age before becoming one himself.

“It was incredible, never a dull moment,” Whittingham said. “I can tell you that much. I still remember vividly his NFL career because it spanned, I think, nine years in the NFL? We had stops in Dallas, New England, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. It was- for a young guy- third, fourth, fifth grade, it was incredible. I would go to practice and meet those legends. Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly- all of those legendary Cowboys. Then the Saints when they were a startup team- he got drafted in the expansion draft in ’67? Billy Kilmer, Danny Abramowicz- just the who’s who of NFL football.”

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Whittingham Tree

As Whittingham got older and playing football himself, he was able to enjoy his college career at BYU with his father as one of his coaches and then later started his coaching career under the guidance of Big Fred at Utah in 1994. Whittingham has remained with the Utes ever since and still runs a lot of his father’s defense to this day at Utah. Big Fred’s presence has even been felt in recent, iconic promos for the Utes featuring quarterback Cam Rising and Mad Dog’s old truck.

 

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“I had the great fortune of playing for him- he was my position coach and coordinator,” Whittingham said. “Then I was coaching with him, so, there was not a better defensive coach anywhere. As far as his schemes, fundamentals, and techniques- all of that stuff is still employed here at Utah. I feel very blessed to have had that experience.”

As most know by now, Whittingham’s younger brother, Freddie, named after their father, is also currently on Utah’s staff. Olsen asked which of them embodies Big Fred the most with the answer being Whitt.

“I think it’s got to be me,” Whittingham said laughing again. “Freddie is a little more mild-mannered. Nobody is like Big Fred. The guy was larger than life. He was a Golden Glove champion boxer and there are just so many stories about him. The first he walks into the New Orleans Saints locker room when he got picked up in the expansion draft, he goes in there and says, ‘who is the toughest guy in here?’ Big Doug Atkins- he was like 6’8″, 6’9″ and 300 lbs. guy- just a legend in the NFL. He says, ‘I am, why are you asking?’ and my dad says, ‘well, not anymore, you’re not.’ That was his introduction to the Saints right there. They still tell stories about him down in New Orleans. You go down there and talk to people, and they remember Big Fred.”

Mad Dog Also Had A Soft Side

Old age often does the funniest things to the toughest guys- it softens them. Particularly when it comes to any grandchildren which is exactly what happened with Big Fred according to Whittingham.

“The ironic thing is when he got around his grandkids later in life, he was just as kind and loving as you could ever imagine,” Whittingham said. “They really had a soft spot in his heart, and he was two different people in that respect.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Kyle Whittingham Discusses Father, ‘Big Fred’s’, Lasting Football Legacy