Is Whittingham next to leave Utes?

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University of Utah offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, considered a potential replacement for Florida-bound Urban Meyer, will be named the head coach at UNLV.

The Salt Lake Tribune learned Saturday night that Sanford has accepted the job in Las Vegas, meaning defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham remains the only viable in-house candidate at Utah.

Whittingham is also considered a leading candidate for the head coaching job at BYU. With Meyer committed to Florida and Sanford heading to UNLV, Utah's next coaching staff will include a new head coach and two new coordinators if Whittingham also leaves.

"We're excited for Urban and his family," athletic director Chris Hill said Saturday morning. "But we need to move on. We have a great program here at Utah and our plans are to continue that. President [Michael] Young and I will immediately start the search process for a new coach. We want to move quickly, but not so fast that we don't do a thorough job."

In 17 years, Hill has never hired a Utah assistant to fill a head coaching vacancy. That could hurt Whittingham's candidacy, although Hill noted, "Every search is different."

Perhaps Hill will consider Whittingham.

"I won't be sharing much about the search," he said. "But I can tell you we will take a strong look internally."

Meyer encouraged Ute fans to have faith.

"As long as Chris Hill is the athletic director," he said, "Utah will have a great program. . . . It's about winning games, and Utah can win games."

Said Hill: "I need to tell our fans that we have a great job, we have great facilities, we have a great city and we are committed to having a great football program."

Asked if he planned to endorse any candidates, Meyer said, "I haven't yet, but sure. It's

well-documented that we have two coordinators who will be exceptional head coaches."

UNLV certainly hopes so.

Seeking to replace the retiring John Robinson, Rebel officials have turned to Sanford. He has no previous head coaching experience, but Meyer has credited him with being critical to the development of the Utes' high-powered offense over the last two seasons.

It is not known if Sanford will help coach Utah in its upcoming BCS bowl game - presumably the Fiesta on Jan. 1.

According to Hill, Meyer will coach the Utes before taking over one of the most nationally known, well-financed programs at Florida.

"I met with the leadership of our team, and they want Urban to coach them in the bowl game," Hill said. "Their opinion carries a lot of weight with me, and I approved of their request. . . . It's a tough situation. But I'm comfortable with this decision."

"I'd like him to coach in the bowl game, if that option in possible," said senior linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck.

Said senior safety Morgan Scalley: "I think if you lose a coach for a bowl game, you take a step backward."

Asked if he though Hill should stay in-house when replacing Meyer for next season, Scalley said, "Personally, yes. I think so. The [new] coach needs to know what we've been through and how hard we've worked. Of course, we all felt that way two years ago, too. So . . ."

After Hill fired Ron McBride following the 2002 season, he bypassed Whittingham for the top job and gave it to a 38-year-old coach from far-away Bowling Green.

Today, everyone in Utah knows that coach's name: Urban Meyer.