SAN DIEGO — When it comes to bowl game success, nobody has done it better than Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. His teams are 11-1 in such outings, giving him the best winning percentage (92.0) in NCAA football history.
“Our players work hard and they take a lot of pride in our bowl tradition here,” Whittingham said as the 17th-ranked Utes prepare to take on Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl Monday (5 p.m., FS1) at SDCCU Stadium.
Those who know Whittingham understand why the Utes are so successful in bowl games.
“The preparation, I think, is the most important thing — guys knowing when to separate time to have fun versus time to work,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, who added that Whittingham’s mentality in terms of molding tough, smart guys is also a factor.
“It’s another game and so the first amount of games that we played, we’ve got to do it the same way and there’s no cutting corners,” Scalley said.
We know that the bowl is fun, but we also know that there’s one purpose for coming down here. The sole purpose is to win the game and everything else is kind of the periphery fun of a bowl game. – Utah tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Freddie Whittingham
Besides giving credit to the players and their preparation, Scalley noted Whittingham’s “no-nonsense approach” to it and making sure the guys are in shape.
“We condition them quite a bit during this bowl time,” Scalley said. “Again, players understand and I think after the first few then it becomes taking pride in what you’re doing, taking pride in the record, taking pride in the streak.”
There are a lot of former players, he continued, that call in or text asking how the boys are doing.
“So they take pride in it as well,” Scalley said.
While Scalley has the perspective of having played and coached for Whittingham, the coach also has a brother on the staff. Tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham knows a thing or two about the run of success. Kyle’s 11 bowl victories put him in a tie for second among active head coaches. The Utes are 5-0 in bowl games since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
“I think it’s one of those things that’s kind of self-perpetuating because we’ve been really good and it’s kind of built upon itself,” said Freddie Whittingham. “I think that the plan in place to prepare for the bowls is a tried and true plan. Our players practice hard. They continue to work hard, treat it like every other game.
“We know that the bowl is fun, but we also know that there’s one purpose for coming down here,” he continued. “The sole purpose is to win the game and everything else is kind of the periphery fun of a bowl game.”
As for Kyle’s 11-1 record on the field, Freddie isn’t surprised at all.
“We want to win every single game,” he said. “Now with that bowl streak, there might be a little bit of extra incentive to keep it going.”
Utah's consistency under Kyle Whittingham is built upon a modeled approach. Kyle said it’s been established through trial and error, working through things over and over, and learning from the previous year and discovering what needs to be improved upon.
“We’ve got it down now pretty good, we think, to exactly how we want it and it’s a fine line,” Whittingham said. “You don’t want to overdo it and wear them out. But, by the same token, you want to be ready to play and along the way have a lot of opportunities for the young developmental guys to get extra work.”
And there’s more to it.
“I think the one constant and the one thing that has been year after year is that each group feels obligated to live up to what the other groups have done," he continued. “The other groups have worked hard and set a precedent and have a tradition going.”
SDCCU Holiday Bowl
No. 22 Northwestern (8-5) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-4)
- SDCCU Stadium — San Diego
- Dec. 31, 5 p.m. (MT)
- TV: FS1
- Radio: ESPN 700AM