As far as telephone conversations go, the words exchanged in a late-night chat between Kyle Whittingham and University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill were terse and straightforward. The conversation's content, however, proved to be quite significant.

"I'm in," Whittingham told Hill. "I can't deal with it anymore. Let's move forward."

And just like that, the Utes had hired a new head football coach.

"When he called me I could tell by his voice that he really wanted to get this thing going," Hill said Wednesday after signing Whittingham to a six-year contract worth $675,000 annually.

The agreement ended five days of consternation and speculation as Whittingham also mulled an offer to coach his alma mater, Brigham Young University. The former Cougar linebacker and graduate assistant said he lost 11 pounds while getting just 11 hours of sleep during the process.

"It was a difficult decision, and that's no secret," Whittingham said. "It took time."

One that ultimately came down to already being where he wanted to be.

"It's a great opportunity. One that I've had my eye on for 11 years now," Whittingham said at a press conference Wednesday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "I'm just thrilled to be in this position."

Whittingham apologized to BYU and athletic administrator Tom Holmoe, who he insists did everything right, for having his decisionmaking process turn into a "dog and pony show." The new Ute coach said he has a lot of respect for the school where he played football and earned two degrees, and he wanted to make that clear.

"The pendulum just kept swinging back and forth. These were two great opportunities," said Whittingham, who ultimately resolved the issue with logic:

"When in doubt, don't. I feel comfortable here."

Whittingham is completing his 11th season on the Utah staff, including the past 10 as defensive coordinator. He takes control of the nation's fifth-ranked program, one that has won 15 straight games over two years and is headed to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 to face Pittsburgh.

"It is with great delight that we were able to persuade him that this was the right opportunity," U. president Michael K. Young said. "Because it's certainly right for the University of Utah."

Hill denied reports out of Las Vegas that former Utah offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who is now head coach at UNLV, was the top choice to fill a vacancy created by Urban Meyer's hiring at Florida. After two years coaching Utah, Meyer signed with Florida last week.

Whittingham was quickly identified as the top candidate in a process that began with Meyer's resignation last Friday at noon. Approximately three hours later, Hill and Whittingham met to discuss the opening.

Soon after, Hill told his wife, Kathy, that the search was over.

"This is our guy," he revealed to her. "We've got to figure out how to get him."

Players and donors applaud the hiring.

"We're going to play our hearts out for this guy," sophomore safety Eric Weddle said. "It's huge to have him here at Utah. It's going to be awesome just to keep this thing going."

After days of speculation, senior captain Morgan Scalley said the Utes can now breathe a sigh of relief. They got their man.

"He commands respect," Scalley said. "He does not put up with a lot of flak. If you're not doing what's right on and off the field, you're not going to be part of this program."

Whittingham's unwavering commitment to his players, his stable influence and positive attitude, along with an ability to meet challenges, are some of the traits that caught Hill's attention.

Spence Eccles, whose financial contributions to the program have been well-documented, acknowledged that he and other big donors are pleased with the decision to hire Whittingham.

"I would say that we made it abundantly clear what we felt was the best long-term direction for the program and who was the best guy at this time," Eccles said. "It's the right time for the right man at the right place."

Whittingham announced that former Southern Utah University coach Gary Andersen will replace him as defensive coordinator and ex-Ute Jay Hill will coach the secondary (see story on A9). A new offensive coordinator, he added, likely would be hired in the next couple of days — as may other staff members as they work to repair some fences in recruiting damaged by coaching change.

"I'm excited about keeping what we've got going with Urban Meyer. The discipline structure, the academics, everything he put in place I firmly believe in. But it's not going to be Urban Meyer, part two," said Whittingham, who noted his flavor and personality will be incorporated into schemes. "The direction that we're heading right now is where we're going to stay. Expectations are high."

Meyer, who will receive a national coach-of-the-year award in Florida tonight, was contacted about the hiring in an early morning telephone call from Andersen.

"He's a Utah man, sir," Meyer was told.

"It's well-deserved," said Meyer, who recommended Whittingham for the job.

Whittingham is open to beginning his era as head coach after Utah's bowl game.

"I believe Urban Meyer should be the football coach for the bowl game. Whether he does that or not, that's his business. He has my full support," Whittingham said. "He's earned it. The way I see it, we play that game like we've played the first 11 with everybody in the same slot.

"Once that game is over," he added. "he can hand that baton off to me and away we go."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com