What to Make of Utah Coaching Changes

Kyle Whittingham

What to Make of Utah Coaching Changes


By now you’ve heard all the coaching craziness ensuing with the University of Utah and how it could affect BYU (Whit leaves Utah and ends up at BYU). The rumor mill is running wild on Twitter and it’s hard to keep up. Here is what we do know:

Kyle Whittingham is upset his defensive assistants weren’t offered extensions/more lucrative extensions when the season wrapped up. Kalani Sitake, Whit’s defensive coordinator, as well as another key member of the defensive staff have accepted new positions at Oregon State, under newly hired head coach – and former Utah State head coach and Utah defensive coordinator – Gary Anderson.

We know Utah offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left the program after just one year to accept a lesser role at Texas A&M. That means Whittingham has now burned through 7 or 8 OC’s in as many years. Whether Whit is too hard on these guys, does not give them enough latitude to do their job, is bad at choosing the right coordinator, or has just never recruited a good quarterback – we know the Utah offense has been consistently poor the past several years.

We are also learning that Kyle Whittingham and Athletic Director Chris Hill don’t exactly see eye to eye on things. There is some tension. We are led to believe that Whittingham has maybe had enough, and without his coaching staff intact, may be ready to move on. He wouldn’t necessarily be fired but more so – bought out of his contract.

In defense of Utah Athletic Director Dr. Chris Hill – he chose not to re-up some of these coaches after consecutive 5-7 seasons. You can’t blame him. Remember too – Whittingham was rumored to have been coaching for his job this year. He had to go 6-6 or he was gone. So you can’t blame Hill for his stance. The thing that threw everything off was that Utah shocked everyone and went 9-4, not just the necessary 6-6. Now they were only 5-4 in the Pac-12 but they still saw huge improvement this year. Whittingham is probably saying “Hey look, we just way overachieved and everybody deserves a raise and we’re off to the races.” AD Chris Hill may be thinking “You’re right – you did overachieve and I want to see it happen again. One fluke winning season does not make you Bear Bryant. I maybe can’t fire you after going 9-4 but I’m still not in love with you and your program/assistants to just start throwing crazy money around.” So therein lies the rub.

What has made this thing so interesting is that there is always more to the story. Some fact, some rumor, some of it is just drawing inferences:

  • Is Kyle Whittingham hard to work with?
  • Does AD, Chris Hill think Urban Meyer actually earned Utah an invite to the Pac-12, not Whittingham?
  • Is Chris Hill full of himself and think he and the University were able to sell the brand on their own and get in to the Pac-12  – and that it was not due to the product on the field – Whittingham or Urban?  (the school, the research, the basketball program, the fact Utah isn’t what their neighbors to the south are perceived to be – conservative, not progressive, etc.)
  • This may rile people up but you have to wonder – Is Hill tired of an LDS guy as the face of the program? Does he want to differentiate a little? I’m not saying he hates Mormons but Utah tries very hard to not be lumped in as just another Mormon school, which it’s not. Whittingham and Sitake are both BYU grads.
  • Is AD, Chris Hill tired of terrible offensive football and Whittingham’s inability to recruit a top flight Quarterback?
  • Was Kalani Sitake really the brains of the Utah defense or is he simply a product of Whittingham and his defensive background, or a product of Gary Anderson for that matter? Was Sitake overvalued and therefore Hill thought he wasn’t that important to keep? We all heard Sitake was gonna be rumored for several Head Coaching jobs. That never seemed to materialize. Though he will make more money with Gary Anderson at Oregon State, it’s basically a lateral move. (For the record – I believe Sitake is fantastic and was the heart and soul of the program. More than just coordinating defense, he was huge in recruiting tons of different kids and those kids loved playing for him. Sitake is also Polynesian and I’m sure that helped a lot in recruiting Polynesian kids).
  • Is Whittingham going to be offered the job at Michigan? That now looks like a no because Jim Harbaugh is likely gonna take that gig after leaving the 49ers.
  • We are told Kyle Whittingham is good friends with BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe.
  • Are the powers-that-be at BYU really tired of Bronco, but they can’t fire him because he wins just enough and runs a clean program – very little off the field trouble, kids going on missions, etc.?
  • If Whit did leave Utah and BYU made a run at him, could they use the post game rumble in Miami as evidence that Bronco has “lost control” a bit. I don’t think the fight should be a black eye at all for Bronco. Those things just happen.
  • Fight aside – would it be justifiable to fire Bronco anyways? Many say yes.
  • Would Whit even go to BYU if offered? It is reported that Whit makes a total of about $2.4 million at the U. It would be hard to imagine BYU ponying up that much cash or more to land Whit.
  • If nothing happens and Whit stays, who will he hire to replace everyone and will Utah be as good going forward?
  • If Whit leaves, does Utah quickly pick up the phone and call Gary Anderson and tell him to say thanks but no thanks to Oregon State and come on back home to Utah? Gary Anderson is from Salt Lake.
  • Is Gary Anderson actually the best coach of the 3? – Whit, Gary and Bronco

All these little tidbits have made this whole thing so interesting. We’ll see where it all ends up.


Matt Nielson has been writing about the college sports landscape in Utah and the Intermountain West since 2010. When he’s not pretending to be a professional blogger, he works full time as a residential real estate agent and house flipper. Matt graduated from Brigham Young University in 2000. He and his family reside in Salt Lake City, UT.


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