This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
After months of magma buildup, a volcanic blast is sheering the top off of Utah football, spewing rocks a mile high, triggering mudslides, leveling forests, choking off life as we know it there.
Sending Kyle Whittingham packing as the Utes' head coach.
That's right: He's walking away.
I can't report it as a fact not yet but it's what is happening, based on what I've been told. And I believe what I've been told.
Another thing I believe: This story is far from over and the blast zone will grow bigger and bigger as time goes by.
Utah athletic director Chris Hill and Whittingham had seen things differently on many counts for a long time, enough for the subterranean pressures between the two to finally emerge and erupt. After 10 years as the Utes' head coach, and equally as long as an assistant before that, Whittingham will step away from the job he once loved, no longer able or willing to work for the boss who hired him.
The lava, the feeling, flows both ways.
The troubles between Hill and Whittingham started well before this past season, when the Utes surprisingly went 9-4. Hill refused to extend key members of Utah's staff, as had been the precedent prior to 2014, which loosened the bolts on the subsequent departures of defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen also left the program for a lesser job at Texas A&M.
By the time Sitake seemingly had a lucrative, bonus-laden deal in hand from former colleague at Utah and current head coach at Oregon State Gary Andersen, Whittingham was miffed and put off by, among other things, Hill's unwillingness to give Sitake a truly competitive counter offer, in order to retain him. Whittingham also felt as though Hill was less than supportive in his efforts to run the program the way he saw fit, even to the point where Hill was attempting to hinder the coach in order to get rid of him. That tidbit comes from a source close to the situation.
Another source connected to the program said a competitive offer was, in fact, made.
Looking at it from that other direction, it's fair to say Whittingham isn't always the easiest coach to supervise or, for that matter, for whom to work. Sitake wanted growth, a larger role, more freedom, and that played a part in his decision. Whittingham ruled the roost and sometimes incorrectly. All the changes at offensive coordinator weren't merely coincidental. There are many kinds of pressures and gaseous mixes that combine to cause magmatic blasts.
It's not all on one guy or the other.
On the other hand, when Whittingham talked with Hill this week about the possibility of boosting his base salary, the $750,000 that is guaranteed if he is fired, Hill's response fell short of what the coach wanted, further underscoring his suspicions about Hill's end game. There are those around the coach who are convinced the AD, before this past season even began, wanted Whittingham gone as soon as the 2014 schedule concluded. The Utes' success complicated the matter.
Friday's meeting between Hill and Whittingham quelled their differences not one iota.
Whittingham has explored other opportunities, having been mentioned as a candidate at Michigan and Pitt. But there are other possibilities for the coach, one of which would trigger another explosion, one equal to the blast on Friday: Whittingham coaching at BYU.
Yeah. I know.
It seems preposterous, but it might not be. It seems complicated, and it is. It could be that Whittingham sits out a year, marinating in his own success as he prepares for his next move. Either way, don't be shocked by what the future might hold.
The highlight of Whittingham's time as head coach at Utah was the undefeated season in 2008 and the 2009 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. But he also took great satisfaction from helping his team turn the corner in the Pac-12 this past season, going 5-4 in league after two seasons in which his team's combined record was 5-13.
That transition to the Pac-12 from the Mountain West was much more difficult than some had expected. There have been issues, many of them surrounding Utah's quarterback situation, a position where the Utes have been unable to find enough consistency to climb atop the league standings. Utah's offensive woes have been severe.
Still, Whittingham is a smart, detail-oriented coach who won 84 games at Utah and who will win many more, wherever he ends up next.
I could be wrong, but that's what I believe, based on what I know.
I also believe, as mentioned, there's more to come a lot more. Maybe even another explosion. Maybe two. Take cover and hold onto your shorts, then. The pressures from beneath are strong. Mountaintops are disintegrating, as the ash falls and the ground continues to shake.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.