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Three assistant coaches have flown the coop. Multiple sources say the relationship between Utah's head coach and athletic director is strained.

Meanwhile, a convoluted game of telephone has broken out among fans and boosters, misstating contract offers and intentions while they search for someone to blame.

Someone to blame. After a 9-4 season.

Let that sink in as you consider Utah's current state of affairs.

Utah surpassed what many would have thought to be wild expectations when it embarked on a treacherous 2014 slate.

After Ute fans outnumbered Michigan fans at the end of a rainy late-afternoon victory at the Big House, Utah went on to upset then-No. 8 UCLA in the Rose Bowl and prevail in double overtime on the road against Oregon State and Stanford.

The Utes won despite injuries, offensive struggles and bad luck. When the bowl dust settles, there's a fair chance they'll be ranked in the top 20.

But they accomplished all of this, it seems, with some cracks in the foundation.

The credit for the success lies in part with athletic director Chris Hill, head coach Kyle Whittingham, defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen.

Mostly, it lies with the players, who either shut out tensions or were too busy winning to notice them.

The blame? The blame for the content of this past week's reports may lie with fate.

It's natural that after two 5-7 seasons, Hill might insure against future struggles by limiting deals for lower-level assistant coaches to one year going forward. You could say he "bet against" Utah going 9-4, but you could also say he simply hedged an existing bet on Whittingham and his staff.

It's then also natural that Whittingham would take Hill's move as a lack of faith, and that after disproving doubters, he'd shop himself around to other schools, possibly to leverage a contract extension from Hill.

And it's natural that amid worries that Whittingham may feel slighted, and upon learning that Hill still was not willing to offer lower-level assistants multiyear deals or a Whittingham extension, assistants might begin to weigh their options: Sitake and Tuiaki leaving for Oregon State, and Christensen for Texas A&M.

That's just one possible explanation.

The point is to illustrate that it may be an extraordinary situation that was arrived at by fairly ordinary choices.

Utah is where it is because of its failures, and then its successes, and then the desire by all involved to do what's best for their careers and their families.

A source close to the program said Saturday that media has sensationalized the rift, as this newspaper called it, between Whittingham and Hill. Another athletic department source said that they are not the only head football coach and athletic director to feud at times.

To that point, Utah's football program accounted for $20.6 million profit in the last academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Education, while all other Utah teams combined to lose $19.5 million (even with men's basketball earning $2.4 million).

Football is the lifeblood of almost every Power 5 athletic department, and that importance is married to a certain heightening of drama.

What may matter most now for the program is that whatever happens between Whittingham and Hill, that Utah's players, recruits, boosters and fans be reassured swiftly that the future is in safe hands.

This year's Utes sweat and bled to finally establish some momentum.

Currently, it's at the risk of being fumbled away, without so much as a snap.

Twitter: @matthew_piper