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Kyle Whittingham's long tenure at Utah draws respect in uncertain world of college coaching

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — When asked if he felt like a bit of a graybeard as the longest-tenured head coach in the Pac-12, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham acknowledged some truth to it.

“I do have a gray beard, actually,” Whittingham said as Pac-12 Media Day kicked off at Hollywood & Highland.

Nationally, only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (hired in 1999) and TCU’s Gary Patterson (2000) have been at the helm of programs longer. Whittingham, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Frank Solich of Ohio all became head coaches of their current teams in 2005. However, Whittingham got an early jump on the others by serving as co-head coach with Urban Meyer in the Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh that January.

“I don’t pay much attention to that,” Whittingham said. “I just take it year-by-year. I just feel fortunate to have been in the same place for as long as I have and like I’ve said, I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it.”

Even so, there is a story here. Since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011, there’s been a coaching carousel in the conference. Stanford’s David Shaw is the only other head coach to maintain his position since then. In the Pac-12 South, where Arizona (Kevin Sumlin), Arizona State (Herm Edwards) and UCLA (Chip Kelly) are under new direction this season, changes have been commonplace. In the North, Oregon hired Mario Cristobal and Oregon State brought in Jonathan Smith.

Including interim situations, Utah’s South Division foes have been less than stable. Arizona and USC have each had four head coaches since the Utes have been in the fold. Arizona State and UCLA are next with three apiece, while Colorado has had two.

“It speaks to the volatility of the profession and it’s a different profession than it was 20-30 years ago,” Whittingham said. “There’s no question about that.”

The Utes are 111-56 under Whittingham’s direction. That includes an NCAA-best 11-1 mark in bowl games.

“Kyle is one of the stalwarts of the game,” Kelly said. “He’s just a guy that does everything the right way and has had an unbelievable amount of success at Utah. That’s how you stay at such a place for a long time.”

Utah center Lo Falemaka and linebacker Chase Hansen are glad Whittingham has a lengthy tenure with the Utes. The seniors represented the team at media day.

Falemaka noted Whittingham’s loyalty to the program and the players.

“Playing for somebody that we know wouldn’t just leave us — like midseason or after the season ­— it’s just reassuring and it’s nice,” Falemaka said.

Hansen also praised the Whittingham way.

“He’s just continued to build a culture,” Hansen said. “It seems like every year he’s just consistent. He’s the same guy and I feel like there’s a reason that he’s still there.”

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre also had good things to say about Whittingham.

“Kyle is a phenomenal coach and really well respected in our profession. The things that amaze me (about) Kyle is that people come and go and he keeps steady, he keeps them winning.”

MacIntyre added that he kind of connects with Whittingham a little bit because their fathers were coaches.

“I think that he totally gets it and understands it,” MacIntyre said. “He’s done a great job at Utah.”