An ineffective offense was the main reason Utah's football team failed to live up to expectations in 2000.

But a defensive coach was the first to go from the 4-7 team that had the Mountain West Conference's best overall defense.

Ron McBride has fired linebackers coach Fred Whittingham, 59, for what has been termed personality conflicts. McBride would not discuss why on Monday he dismissed Whittingham but did say, "It has nothing to do with X's and O's." Whittingham is the second coach McBride has terminated in his 11 years as head coach.

McBride said he will not say much about terminating Whittingham until after he meets with his coaching staff and players on Thursday, and Utah sports information director Liz Abel said the move is not yet considered official. The coaches, who are mostly out recruiting, were called by McBride's program coordinator, Bill Hall, earlier this week and told to report to the meeting.

Fred Whittingham did not return calls to his Provo home by the Deseret News by press time Wednesday.

The move obviously causes consternation for defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, Fred's son.

Kyle Whittingham, who has been recruiting in southern California all week, said he was shocked when his mother called him Monday afternoon and told him that his father had been fired. "Obviously, I'm not happy," Kyle Whittingham said, calling his father "the best defensive football coach I've ever come across."

The younger Whittingham said he is uncertain of his course now but stressed he should not be perceived to have a sour-grapes attitude. "As long as I'm at Utah, they'll get my best effort," he said of his recruiting and coaching abilities. "I don't know what my future holds."

He said he spoke with McBride Monday after hearing about his father. "It's something he felt like he had to do," was all the younger Whittingham said of that conversation. He still calls the move "strange" in his opinion.

"That's Kyle's choice. That's got to be his deal," said McBride, who does not want to lose his defensive coordinator but said he did what he felt he had to do for the good of his program. "I know what all the ramifications could be. I could lose Kyle," McBride said. He added he cannot worry about public opinion that it seems strange firing a defensive coach when the offense was the biggest problem.

Utah's defense was best in the MWC in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense, and its pass defense statistically ranked No. 1 in the NCAA in two of the final three weeks of the season. Linebacker Kautai Olevao was named to the all-conference team for a third straight year, and linebackers Wes Tufaga and Sheldon Deckart were the team's two top tacklers.

Fred Whittingham had been an assistant under his son at Utah the past three years, performing in 1998 as a "volunteer" coach but fully paid the last two years. It was his second stint on McBride's staff. He was defensive coordinator from 1992-94 and left to coach linebackers for the NFL Oakland Raiders in 1995. He was Raider defensive coordinator from 1996-97. Fred Whittingham played nine NFL seasons for the Rams, Cowboys, Eagles and Saints as a linebacker.

The elder Whittingham played and later was an assistant coach at BYU, where Kyle also played. Fred Whittingham and his wife, Nancy, have four sons and a daughter.

McBride acknowledged Whittingham was one of Utah's top coaches on the field but indicated he did not make the move frivolously.


E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com