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Kyle Whittingham reflects on ‘callous, cold-blooded’ coaching profession

On Sunday, Colorado fired Karl Dorrell and Wisconsin parted ways with Paul Chryst. Why is the phenomenon of early dismissals happening in college football?

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Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watches his players stretch as Utah and Oregon State prepare to play in Salt Lake City.

Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham watches his players stretch as Utah and Oregon State prepare to play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It was another crazy weekend in college football, both on and off the field. 

As No. 11 Utah gets set for a big matchup against undefeated No. 18 UCLA at the Rose Bowl Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, Fox), another Pac-12 coach was fired over the weekend — Colorado’s Karl Dorrell

“Seventy-two percent is pretty darn good. A lot of coaches would love to have a winning percentage like that. It’s a matter of instant gratification; a win-now mentality. It’s not going to change. That’s just how it is.” — Kyle Whittingham on the firing of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst

That wasn’t exactly a surprise, given the Buffaloes’ 0-5 start. Dorrell had a dismal 8-15 record since becoming the head coach in 2020.

A couple weeks ago, Arizona State parted ways with coach Herm Edwards.

What probably nobody saw coming Sunday was Wisconsin severing ties with Paul Chryst, who posted a 67-26 record (a 72% winning percentage) at the helm of the Badgers, who are off to a 2-3 start. 

At Wisconsin, Chryst won 10 games or more in four of his first five seasons. His teams won a Cotton Bowl, an Orange Bowl and three Big Ten West Division titles.

Wisconsin still owes Chryst $16.4 million on his contract while Dorrell will be receiving $8.7 million from the Buffaloes. Edwards will still earn $9.4 million.

But those respective schools decided it would be best to make a change now rather than wait. Last year, USC booted Clay Helton to the curb in September. 

Coaches losing their jobs early in the season is becoming almost commonplace. 

Kyle Whittingham is in his 18th season as Utah’s head coach. He was hired in 2004 and is the second-longest tenured coach in the country, second only to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, who was hired in 1999.

What does Whittingham think about this emerging trend of head coaches being fired in this manner — a month, or less, into the season? 

“When the (early) signing day got moved up (to December), that was one of the things that … could happen because it’s all about recruiting. If you wait until the 11th hour and fire a guy, and you’ve got signing day coming up two or three weeks later, that puts you in a spot,” he said. “I think really that’s the main impetus for early dismissals. It’s two-fold — No. 1, recruiting and secondly, to start your search right away and beat someone to the punch on another guy that might be available.

“I think that’s the reason for it. I don’t think it’s going to change. We won’t go backwards on that. It’s going to continue to be a callous, cold-blooded deal. You’re making enough money that they expect things and you’ve got to produce. … That’s the nature of the beast.” 

Whittingham has survived tough times on the field during his coaching career. The Utes went 5-7 in 2012 and 2013 and some wondered if a change should be made.

Instead, then-athletic director Chris Hill stayed the course with Whittingham, which proved to be the right decision.

The Utes won the Pac-12 South in 2018, 2019 and 2021. Utah broke through and won its first Pac-12 title last season and made its first-ever Rose Bowl appearance. 

Whittingham is the winningest coach in school history, having posted a 148-71 record (67.6 winning percentage). 

As Chryst’s firing shows, it may not be enough to win; it’s about meeting lofty, and perhaps unrealistic, expectations. 

“Expectations at certain schools are certainly higher than at other schools. It’s a relative situation,” Whittingham said. “Seventy-two percent is pretty darn good. A lot of coaches would love to have a winning percentage like that. It’s a matter of instant gratification; a win-now mentality. It’s not going to change. That’s just how it is.”

Right now, Whittingham and the Utes (4-1, 2-0) have a big test coming up at UCLA.

Utah beat Oregon State 42-16 last Saturday and it moved up one spot in The Associated Press poll, one spot outside the top 10. 

The Bruins (5-0, 2-0), defeated previously unbeaten Washington last Friday and made their season debut in the AP poll at No. 18. 

In other news Monday, the kickoff time for Utah’s highly anticipated showdown on Oct. 15 at Rice-Eccles Stadium against No. 6 USC was announced. The Utes and Trojans will square off at 6 p.m. on Fox.


Utes on the air

No. 11 Utah (4-1, 2-0) at No. 18 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) 

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT

Rose Bowl 

Pasadena, California

TV: Fox

Radio: ESPN 700