"This is huge," safety Morgan Scalley said. "I don't think people
know how huge this decision is for the future of the program."
As first reported in The Salt Lake Tribune this morning, Whittingham
will succeed departing coach Urban Meyer after an agonizing day of
trying to choose between offers from the Utes and Cougars. He will
sign a contract today believed to be worth $3.75 million over five
BYU's Tom Holmoe, the associate athletics director in charge of the
Cougars' search, released a statement late Wednesday morning.
"We are actively looking at a number of qualified candidates in our
search for a head coach," Holmoe said.
"Kyle Whittingham was certainly one of several individuals we had
identified as a candidate to fill the position. His ties as a former
player and his experience as a respected football coach made him an
"We made Kyle an offer and he chose to go in another direction. We
will continue on with our search in a diligent manner."
Whittingham's decision comes as a great relief to the Utes, who
suffered through an anxious day that ended with Whittingham appearing
to be leaning toward accepting the Cougars' offer to replace Gary
Crowton as head coach. Whittingham spent the evening with his wife at
his mother's home in Provo, trying to decide whether to accept the
Cougar offer or the more lucrative one from the Utes to replace Meyer
who himself spent Tuesday being formally introduced as the new
Florida coach at a press conference in Gainesville.
Reached on the phone at about 9 p.m., Whittingham said he planned to
make a decision by the end of the night "this is turning into a
circus," he said but did not plan to announce it until today. That
appeared to be an indication that he wanted to inform the Utah
players of a decision to leave before they learn about it through the
grapevine or the news media.
But Whittingham was back-and-forth all day long, according to a
variety of sources, and neither side prepared for bed especially
confident of its chances of hiring him.
While the Cougars put on a full-court press to land Whittingham that
included phone calls from former coaches and players like LaVell
Edwards, Andy Reid and Steve Young, the Utes increased their offer to
at least $600,000 a year a report on KSL-TV put the latest offer at
$750,000 and athletic director Chris Hill waited throughout the day
for a phone call that never came.
The Utes were surprised, too, when Whittingham did not show up for
practice in the afternoon.
But that wasn't even the weirdest part.
Linebackers coach Kurt Barber was among the few remaining coaches who
did attend the practice, but he sprinted off the field in the middle
of the workout to catch a plane for Las Vegas, where he will join
former offensive coordinator Mike Sanford's staff at UNLV.
"It's hard to focus, because so many coaches are getting pulled left
and right," wide receiver Steve Savoy said. "And to this point, we as
a team try to come together and try to block that out, stuff like
that. But we just try to keep our focus for Pitt."
The Utes will meet the Panthers in an historic Fiesta Bowl on Jan.
1, but who knew what shape they might have been in by then? Most of
the players insisted they would be ready no matter what, but now they
will avoid losing Whittingham and being left without more than half
of the coaches who helped get them this far.
Not only are Sanford and Barber gone, but cornerbacks coach Chuck
Heater joined Meyer in Florida and could remain there while Meyer
returns to Utah to coach the bowl game. Had Whittingham decided to
join the Cougars, he would have taken defensive line coach Gary
Andersen with him to become his defensive coordinator.
Instead, Andersen will serve under Whittingham at the U.
Whittingham informed key players of his decision late at night, and
defensive lineman Sione Pouha shouted the news throughout the
Marriott Library on the Utah campus.
Until then, though, the whole episode was distracting.
"Absolutely," quarterback Alex Smith said after practice. "And I
think it's even difficult for the upperclassmen. It's something that
I've consciously try to keep myself thinking about, you know, 'All I
want to do is get ready for this bowl game.' And other than school,
that's all I want to be thinking about, but you constantly find
yourself getting distracted by things. And it's not just the media.
It's everything. Seems like the last two weeks, we've been dealing
Whittingham was dealing with a lot.
Unable to decide between his alma mater and his longtime employer a
member of the LDS Church that runs BYU, the 45-year-old Whittingham
played for the Cougars under Edwards but joined the Utah staff in
1994 he negotiated throughtout the day with Hill and the BYU
administrators who were in New York City to attend Edwards' induction
into the College Football Hall of Fame. "I don't know if there could
be a tougher decision for anybody," Utah quarterbacks coach Dan
The Cougar adminstrators are due back from New York today, and they
also have interviewed running backs coach Lance Reynolds and
defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall for the job. So they have a
The Utes, however, apparently did not.
Hill had put all of his eggs into the Whittingham basket, the
Tribune has learned, and had not even contacted any other potential
replacements for Meyer though Bowling Green's Gregg Brandon and
Toledo's Tom Amstutz were two possibilities.
If Whittingham turned them down, the Utes essentially would have had
to start a coaching search from scratch, never mind cope with the
public-relations disaster that would have been losing a longtime
employee to their fiercest rival despite offering perhaps twice as
large a salary.
Now, the Cougars face a similar problem.
The Utah players were desperate for Whittingham to return, having
visited his house over the weekend to encourage him to stay. But
even if he leaves, they say they are prepared to put a finishing
touch on their greatest season ever.
"If all of the coaches jump ship, we're still going to be ready to
play this football game," Scalley said after practice. "I'm sure
Sione and I and Alex and a couple of the offensive players can get
together and we'll come up with a game plan. We've been studying this
stuff all year, so don't be surprised."
Reporter Patrick Kinahan contributed to this report.