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Why Utah AD Mark Harlan felt Kyle Whittingham deserved a new deal

SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t take long for new Utah director of athletics Mark Harlan to develop an extreme appreciation for football coach Kyle Whittingham.

The process, which led to Whittingham receiving a raise and a contract extension, began one day last August when Harlan arrived early for a practice. There he met up with a friend who is an NFL scout.

The scout shared some startling insight.

Harlan’s friend told him the Utes had NFL guys in almost every position group.

“That was a surreal moment for me,” said Harlan, who recalls digging in and watching Whittingham work.

He liked what he saw.

As the months followed, Whittingham and the Utes posted a successful season that included a breakthrough in winning the Pac-12 South for the first time. Harlan added that equally, if not more impressive, was the academic performance of the team. Utah had the conference’s top NCAA Graduation Success Rate and the squad posted the football program’s all-time best grade-point average (2.925) last fall.

Then came a contract extension, a deal that will keep Whittingham as Utah’s head football coach through 2023. The agreement, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, raises his total guaranteed compensation to just over $4 million per season. Incentive-based compensation could raise his pay by an additional $1,025,000, maxing out at $5,027,917 in 2019.

The five-year contract, obtained through a GRAMA request, includes an annual automatic guaranteed compensation increase from $100,000 to $200,000.

“It’s certainly something he deserves,” Harlan said. “Every metric is up that I evaluate coaches on.”

Harlan noted a competitive factor and the way Whittingham and his staff have been able to recruit at such a high level. Harlan added that Whittingham is ethical, transparent and “just the exact kind of person you want to be around.”

As such, Harlan summarized: “Why wouldn’t you give him an extension?”

No taxpayer dollars are included in the financial package.

“We’re a self-funded operation here,” Harlan said. “Blessed to have the revenue — the revenues that we’re able to generate from being a program in this conference.”

Whittingham’s revamped deal is believed to make him the third-highest paid football coach in the Pac-12, behind Washington’s Chris Petersen and David Shaw of Stanford. Whittingham’s record over 14 seasons with the Utes is 120-61.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham claps his hands as his players stretch as Utah prepares to play Washington in the Pac-12 championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham claps is hands as he players stretch as Utah prepares to play Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“In my role I have to look at the market that that particular individual works in — whether you’re a tennis coach, whether you’re a volleyball coach, or whether you’re the head football coach,” Harlan said. “There’s a market and that’s the market you play in. Whenever we extend or hire a coach we’re always looking in that market and making sure we’re in a fair place for that market that matches our resources.”

Harlan acknowledged salaries that are part of the business of intercollegiate athletics are always going to make things look “out of whack” for a lot of different reasons in comparisons on or off campus.

“Our revenues are driven from, obviously, multiple different categories — Pac-12 revenue being first and foremost, of that our television agreements and then of course ticket sales and corporate contracts and incredible donors,” Harlan said. “So we operate within our means. We do the things that we need to do to keep us as competitive as we can be and we utilize all these revenue sources.”

Whittingham’s extension is comprised of a base salary of $1,300,000 plus $1,105,000 from radio and television; $1,135,000 in appearance fees; and $462,917 via the official athletic outfitter.

Bonuses include:

  • $400,000 if the Utes participate in a New Year’s Six bowl
  • Two months of “base” for any other bowl game
  • $100,000 for winning a New Year’s Six bowl
  • $100,000 for a Pac-12 South title ($50,000 if shared and the Utes don’t advance to the conference title game)
  • $150,000 if named National Coach of the Year ($55,000 if named Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
  • $25,000 budget bonus (plus $5,000 for every $50,000 under budget)
  • $10,000 to $75,000 based on the team’s Academic Progress Rate
  • $10,000 to $75,000 based on the team’s Graduation Success Rate
  • $100,000 for a top-25 finish ($15,000 if ranked in the top 25 during the season)

Other benefits in Whittingham’s contract include an automobile with insurance and gasoline reimbursement; an equity membership to The Salt Lake Country Club; 28 football season tickets; a private stadium box; eight men’s basketball season tickets; and upon retirement, eight years as a “special assistant to the athletics director.”