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Utah's Kyle and Freddie Whittingham have an all-business relationship on the gridiron

SALT LAKE CITY — At first glance, Kyle and Fred “Freddie” Whittingham Jr. can be difficult to tell apart.

The brothers look eerily similar, despite an age difference of nearly seven years — Kyle is 58, soon to be 59, while Freddie is 52.

They are of a similar height, Kyle was listed at 5 feet 11 inches when he played linebacker at BYU, Freddie at 5 foot 9 a few years later, and any difference today, some 30 years removed, is negligible at best.

They are also of a similar build — Kyle slightly more lean, Freddie a bit on the stouter side.

Even their haircuts seem identical, as if they get the same cut from the same barber, and both sport approximately one-sixth of an inch of scruff. Freddie’s is a tad bit whiter than Kyle’s salt and pepper.

“You can tell they are brothers,” Utah junior tight end Jake Jackson said.

The similarities between the brothers Whittingham go beyond physical appearance.

Early on, their lives, while not perfect mirror images, were of a similar vein.

Both played football at BYU and both had stints with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, Kyle in 1987, Freddie in 1990.

Things took a turn when Kyle pursued a career as a football coach, while Freddie, after advice from both Fred Whittingham Sr., as well as Kyle, opted to join the business community instead.

Football never completely left Freddie’s heart, however, and he eventually found his way back to the game, joining Kyle at Utah in 2012 as the Utes’ director of player personnel.

“I’d reached a point in my life where I didn’t care that (coaching) was unpredictable,” Freddie told the Deseret News. “I was going to make the leap of faith and change careers.”

In 2016, Freddie was made the tight ends coach at the U., as well as recruiting coordinator.

It was, in many ways, a dream come true.

“I wanted to coach and Kyle believed in me,” said Freddie.

Nearly three years later, he holds the same opinion, that is that coaching at Utah is a dream.

“It is just awesome being a part of Utah football and living a dream of coaching,” Freddie said. “Being able to take part in everything that this sport brings a coach, relationships with players, relationships with other coaches and the opportunity to be in a competitive environment, it is just awesome and what any coach would like.”

Wide receiver Samson Nacua and tight end Bapa Falemaka work with tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham during a University of Utah football practice at their outdoor practice facility in Salt Lake City on April 10, 2018.
Wide receiver Samson Nacua and tight end Bapa Falemaka work with tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham during a University of Utah football practice at their outdoor practice facility in Salt Lake City on April 10, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Coaching with and for your older brother does have its disadvantages, however, most of which come away from the gridiron.

“There are some disadvantages if I’m being honest,” said Freddie. “When you are a sibling of the head man, you sometimes feel like you are caught in the middle. People assume our relationship with football extends off the field, which it doesn’t. Sometimes, people are a little bit guarded with the things that they do and say in front of you, which is just the way it is. It is part of the deal.”

It may be hard to believe that the brothers don’t talk football away from work. They come from one of Utah’s "football families" after all, but it is their hard and fast rule, one that stems from their father, Fred Sr.

“My dad was the one who really set the example for that, as far as separating what goes on in the football world and what goes on in the personal life,” Kyle said. “That is the way it has to be though, otherwise you’d drive yourself nuts. That was the way it was with my father when he was my position coach in college and then when we coached together. You have to be able to get away from it all, separate it.”

Perhaps more importantly for the Utes, the brothers are anything but brothers while they are coaching. That is to say, they are as professional with one another as possible.

“They have a very business-like relationship,” Utah sophomore tight end Connor Haller said. “You wouldn’t say they are brothers in that they are buddy-buddy. One is the head coach and one is an assistant coach and they are very professional and business-like in their interactions. Just how it should be in my opinion.”

“You can tell they have a relationship, I mean they are brothers, but they don’t really talk much,” added Jackson. “Something I’ve noticed about Coach Whitt, he has respect for the coaches and their position groups. Obviously if he sees something and wants to say something he will, but he doesn’t feel the need to coach everyone. I respect that and think it is awesome that he gives the coaches their space.”

“I am treated like anybody else on staff in that regard,” said Freddie.

That space has ultimately allowed Freddie to thrive.

“Fred is awesome. He is a very positive coach and that helps a lot, especially with confidence. He is just a great coach,” said Jackson. “He knows what he is doing and he knows how to talk to us. He knows when to push and when to not. He is very approachable.”

“Freddie is the best. Honestly I love coach Fred,” added Haller. “He is very positive. He is a players' coach. He knows how to impact people, he knows how to influence one person who comes from a different background to another person who comes from another background.

“He is very good with people and he is a great guy to play for. He is on you when you need a push and he is your best friend when you do something great. He is an all-around players' coach, and I love playing for him.”

Perhaps one day Freddie will take over Kyle’s position at the helm of the Utes program, he certainly looks the part, but in the meantime the goal is simple.

“Our main goal is to help this team win football games,” Freddie said. “Whether that is run blocking, being a factor in the passing game, catching passes, or whatever it is that we are asked to do within the structure of the offense and scheme that we are running. Our goal is simple — to help us get the win.”