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Is Kyle Whittingham a top 10 college football coach? This national pundit says yes

The Utah Utes coach’s longevity and successful track record in Salt Lake City has him rated among the nation’s top head coaches

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Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talks to players during the Red and White game.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talks to players during the Red and White game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021. The coach’s longevity and successful track record has him rated among the nation’s top head coaches.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Kyle Whittingham has been the head football coach at the University of Utah so long, it’ll soon be commonplace for him to recruit kids who haven’t been alive as long as he’s been the Utes’ head coach.

That longevity has brought with it a level of respect, too.

Whittingham came in at No. 8 in Pro Football Focus’ rankings of the top college football head coaches in the country, and it goes further than that. He’s also the only Pac-12 coach on the top 20 list, and the only head coach from the western United States in the rankings.

What criteria factored in to the rankings?

Author Seth Galina shared that the rankings weren’t solely based off winning percentages, or efficiency ratings. 

“The opportunity to win games was the biggest factor here. Flying above or below program expectations was the most important point when putting this list together,” Galina wrote.

What makes Kyle Whittingham such a successful coach?

“We might forget that Urban Meyer served as Utah’s head coach for only two seasons, and while he may have started the Utes down this track, Whittingham has sustained a level of success the school has never even come close to enjoying before,” Galina wrote.

Whittingham is currently the nation’s third-longest active tenured FBS coach, per 247 Sports, trailing only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and TCU’s Gary Patterson. He’s compiled a 134-66 record — a 67% winning percentage — and led the Utes to an 11-3 mark in bowl games. Utah won the Pac-12 South two of the past three seasons and is considered to be in contention for it again this year.

“After moving from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 and starting 18-19 over the first three years, the Utes now have won at least nine games in five of the last six seasons, not including the shortened 2020 season,” Galina wrote. “It’s easy to just think about Utah as a team that always competes for a conference title year in year out because of the recent past, but that is not how this program is viewed historically. Since 2016, the Utes have been the best defense in the conference, posting a cumulative -0.149 EPA allowed per play in those five seasons.”

Who else is on the list?

The top five coaches are the elite of the game:

  • No. 1, Alabama’s Nick Saban
  • No. 2, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney
  • No. 3, Georgia’s Kirby Smart
  • No. 4, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley
  • No. 5, Florida’s Dan Mullen (the former Ute assistant)

Just in front of Whittingham are Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald at No. 6 and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell at No. 7, with Kansas first-year coach Lance Leipold at No. 9 and North Carolina’s Mack Brown at No. 10.

Whittingham is the class of the Pac-12

CBS Sports also released its Pac-12 coaches rankings, in connection with its rankings of the Power Five head coaches, and Whittingham sits at the top of the Pac-12 (he comes in at No. 14 among Power Five coaches on the CBS list).

“It’s no coincidence that the longest-tenured coach at a Pac-12 school is repeating at the top of this list. Whittingham owns a 134-66 record in 17 seasons leading the Utah program and led the Utes to division titles in 2018 and 2019,” CBS Sports’ David Cobb wrote. “With Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer in at quarterback to lead an experience-laden team, the Utes are set to show the virtues of continuity again in 2021. It all starts with Whittingham.”

Whittingham sits just in front of Oregon’s Mario Cristobal (16th overall among Power Five coaches), Arizona State’s Herm Edwards (21st) and Stanford’s David Shaw (24th).