This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The irony of the latest turnover of the Utah football coaching staff is that Kalani Sitake and Dave Christensen have left for basically the same reason: Ute coach Kyle Whittingham is a defensive expert.
Sitake needed to move to Oregon State as defensive coordinator to make his own name in the profession, outside of Whittingham's influence. Christensen's departure to Texas A&M illustrates again how Whittingham never will be satisfied with the operation of Utah's offense.
He has earned roughly $14 million in his 10 years as head coach with more money to come, but Whittingham's having to replace two coordinators in 2015 is a reminder that his job is not easy.
The same is true for any offensive coach who works for him. Defensively, Whittingham's involvement is a valuable resource. Offensively, it is meddling.
Nobody's convinced that Christensen would have solved all of Utah's offensive struggles, although he deserves some credit for the offense's role in the fourth quarter/overtime of the Utes' five Pac-12 wins this season. Losing him is not necessarily a problem, just a symptom of a bigger issue in the program. When will Whittingham ever get this right?
For all of Whittingham's success over 10 years, and the way his team responded this season in presumably earning him a new contract, Utah's offense remains a seemingly unsolvable problem. The turnover at the coordinator position long ago became comedic material, but it's not funny anymore.
Since offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig left after the 2009 Sugar Bowl - following a four-year tenure that seems like a lifetime, in comparison to his successors - Whittingham has tried seemingly every method for staffing the position. He has gone young, promoting Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick and Brian Johnson. He has gone old, bringing in veteran coaches Norm Chow, Dennis Erickson and Christensen.
None of the hires has worked to any long-term degree, usually because Whittingham ended the experiment. Chow became Hawaii's head coach; Christensen will become Texas A&M's offensive line coach/running game coordinator. Schramm and Johnson eventually left after being demoted, while Erickson and Roderick have remained on the staff.
Christensen is moving to a tradition-laden program in the Southeastern Conference. Yet he was making $500,000 at Utah and the coach he's replacing earned $333,000, according to USA Today. Even if the Aggies are restructuring their salary scale, it's doubtful that Christensen is leaving primarily for financial reasons.
Christensen is eager enough to move that he's disregarding his 25-year friendship with Whittingham and abandoning Kendal Thompson and Jason Thompson, the quarterbacks whom he persuaded to transfer to Utah. His decision supports the theory that Christensen and Whittingham couldn't agree about the QB staffing this season. Travis Wilson twice was benched in favor of Kendal Thompson, who then missed the last four games with a knee injury.
Wilson, who has options as a 2015 graduate with a year's eligibility remaining, may be the player most affected by Christensen's move. As for the staff, the offensive coordinator vacancy will be much more difficult to fill than the two defensive openings.
So who's next? Whittingham has done this so many times that there's no obvious pattern. The best thing that came out of Christensen's brief tenure was his insistence on bringing line coach Jim Harding with him from Wyoming. Harding's work has received good reviews and he's likely staying, after the only actual firing of Whittingham's career made room for him last winter.
Harding is probably not ready to become a Pac-12 coordinator, and it's hard to imagine Roderick being promoted again. Ludwig apparently is on the market, with no word of Gary Andersen's taking him from Wisconsin to Oregon State.
Or it could be someone like Erickson, with no previous link to Whittingham.
All I know for sure is that Christensen's Christmas Day move capped the craziest six days in the history of offensive football in this state. The beleaguered Wilson and Kent Myers, once Utah State's No. 4 quarterback, each received a bowl MVP award. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall wasted two timeouts attempting to ice an extra-point kicker, before desperately trying to score in regulation of an eventual double-overtime defeat. And then Utah lost another offensive coordinator. Not that there's anything extraordinary about this development.