Is Utah Utes Guru Kyle Wittingham a Coaching Messiah?

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Is Utah Utes Guru Kyle Wittingham a Coaching Messiah?
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Jan. 2, 2009: Kyle Whittingham (left) and Brian Johnson (right) celebrate as Sugar Bowl Champions. Whittingham has enjoyed much success with Johnson and more to come.

Could a football program view a new coach as a sort of Messiah or savior?  Of course.  Some people, inadvertently, worship coaches like saviors of their losing programs.  It's the coaches duty to credit the blessings of God.

Such a coach, Kyle Whittingham, 51, has been with the University of Utah since Urban Meyer left in 2004.  Whittingham was the defensive coordinator for 10 seasons at Utah and is in his sixth year as head coach.  He’s won 75 percent of his games, going 58-19.  

As head coach of the Utes, he’s won a bowl game in each year (Fiesta, Emerald, Armed Forces, two Poinsettias and a Sugar).  He beat Nick Saban and No. 4 Alabama in the 2008-09 Sugar Bowl and the Utes finished 13-0 that season ranked BCS No. 2. 

In 2008, he was named AFCA Coach of the Year and also won the separate Paul “Bear” Bryant Award.  Wearing a houndstooth hat like Bryant is probably out, but he hounds his team with a fine toothed comb like him.  And he shares the love of football and family that Bryant had.

Like many men of God, Wittingham is a husband. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology (educational).  It helps with his players, fans and recruits, I’d imagine.  His family life probably benefits from it as well.  He has four children with his wife. 

His late father was his coach and mentor and a former BYU player.  Fred “Mad Dog” Whittingham played linebacker for the Rams, Eagles and Saints over nine years in the NFL.  He coached in the NFL and in college for almost 30 years.  BYU legend LaVell Edwards was his coaching mentor.

The elder Whittingham was Utah's defensive coordinator, and he hired Kyle to coach the linebackers.  After "Mad Dog" joined the Raiders as their linebackers coach, Kyle became Utah's defensive coordinator in 1995.  

Fred went to BYU with Hal Kopp in 1958 on a football scholarship.  He got married and joined a boxing team.  That same year, he won the Intermountain Heavyweight Championship and the Regional Golden Gloves in Las Vegas.

He was a big man, and he struck fear in and commanded respect from his opponents, his players and his fellow coaches.  In 1959, he left BYU and transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  Running track and playing football in college, he was drafted by the LA Rams in 1963. 

He became the defensive coordinator in LA before he returned to coach the linebackers at Utah.  Kyle had his father coaching with him once again.  Together from 1998 to 2000, they enjoyed their family life more than football. 

But, in a reminder of life's complications, his football and family world suffered the worst loss he had ever experienced. 

Fred Whittingham, 64, beloved husband, father and grandfather died from surgical complications at Utah Valley Hospital on October 27, 2003 in Provo, Utah.  Every player who ever played for him loved and respected him. 

A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Kyle went to high school in Provo, Utah.  Like his father, he played at BYU.  A former Defensive Player of the Year, he received coaching offers from both BYU and Utah.  It’s like being offered both North Carolina and Duke basketball head coaching jobs.   

By remaining at Utah, instead of going to BYU, he chose state over Mormons, some argue. 

A devout Mormon, his Sugar Bowl squad included almost 50 CJCLDS members and returned missionaries.  Both of Utah's BCS teams had Mormons and missionaries in prominent roles.  Utah's current safeties coach/recruiting coordinator, Morgan Scalley, was a major contributor on the original "BCS Buster." 

That was the 2004 team that crushed the Pittsburgh Panthers, 35-7, in the Fiesta Bowl.  He is a returned missionary.  Former defensive lineman Sione Pouha was also a returned missionary on the 2004 squad.   

The Sugar Bowl squad included sophomore defensive end Paul Kruger, who was drafted by the Baltmore Ravens in 2009.  Serving as a missionary for The CJCLDS in Saint Louis, Mo., he redshirted in 2004 and returned in 2007.

Whittingham is proud of the Utes who have served, are serving or plan to serve missions.  Becoming vessels of God, they spend two years away from college.  For the non-Mormon players at Utah, voluntary prayer and religious classes have included studies on the Book of Mormon.

Former quarterback Brian Johnson is the current quarterbacks coach.  One of the youngest quarterbacks coaches in major college football, he passed for 336 yards and three touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.  Named the game's MVP, he could probably be the mayor of Salt Lake.

Salt Lake City is where the Latter Day Saints are headquartered and victory parades are held for the Utes.  Johnson could blossom into something special in the coaching ranks, thanks to God. 

But, there is neither a coaching Messiah nor any other kind of Messiah except for the one true God.  Whittingham is good about making that clear.  

An emotional man at times, there have been plenty of victories for him in his joyous life.  Many of his plays come from playbooks and notebooks handed down from his earthly father.  He visits his father’s grave and gets choked up with joy sometimes about his dad.

It keeps him on an even keel.  Usually when humans keep an even keel, situations tend to work themselves out—karma some would call it.  I call it the blessings of Almighty God.  Others call it Kyle Whittingham.

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