UPDATE: Utah announces press conference for Whittingham; BYU reacts
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Utes have won the Battle for Kyle Whittingham, and they will

name him their new football coach at a press conference today at 4

p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium, following the defensive coordinator's stunning late-night decision to spurn alma mater Brigham Young. .

"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

years.

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

appealing candidate.

"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

with stuff."

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

Mullen said.

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

fallback position.

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.

mcl@sltrib.com