This is what Alex Whittingham knows about the football life so far. You decide that you want to coach for a living. Days later you are hired by the best franchise in the National Football League even though you have no coaching experience whatsoever. You work year round watching football videos, working with your football heroes and learning all about the game; oh, and also in February you go to the Super Bowl.

“Alex loves it. How could he not love it? He’s going to the Super Bowl. I’ve told him this is not the norm. Guys coach 30 years and don’t go to one Super Bowl. This is off the chart.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

What’s so difficult about this job?

Whittingham — yes, he’s the son of you-know-who — is just wrapping up his fifth season with the Kansas City Chiefs, and the season is finishing in the Super Bowl. Again. This is getting to be a habit. Three times in four years the Chiefs have played on football’s biggest stage, with Whittingham working on the sideline. Whittingham is the team’s defensive quality control coach — explanation to follow — while also serving as an assistant linebackers coach.

Football is in Whittingham’s blood, as you might guess. His grandfather is the late Fred “Mad Dog” Whittingham, a legendary figure in football circles, a former unbeaten Golden Gloves boxer and NFL middle linebacker who tackled the likes of Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas. When he was done playing he coached football in the NFL and in the college game, at Utah and BYU.

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Fred’s oldest son is Kyle Whittingham, a former all-conference linebacker at BYU and now the head coach at Utah, where he has taken the Utes to consecutive Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowl berths. One of his assistant coaches is younger brother Fred Jr., another former BYU player.

Enter Alex Whittingham, grandson of Mad Dog and son of Kyle. He gravitated to the game just as they did. “He was always into it,” says Kyle. “Even as a little kid.” A walk-on, he played on special teams for his father’s teams at Utah, and as he neared the end of his schooling and his playing career, he began to pursue a coaching career.

This was not exactly news to his father, who says “he always wanted to be a coach. It was his plan all along.” Kyle didn’t try to dissuade him from a profession that has many pitfalls among its rewards, but, as he tells it, “I tried to prepare him. I told him, if this is what you want to do, you better make sure your wife’s on board. Wives come in two categories in this profession: Great and Ex. Explain it up front — the volatility of it, how unstable it can be, the late nights, the uncertainty.”

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Alex could’ve pursued either a graduate assistant position in the college game or an entry-level position in the NFL. He reached out to NFL teams first. It didn’t hurt that his father was the successful Utah coach or that his grandfather was Mad Dog. “He had a couple offers on the table,” says Kyle. “(Washington) was one of them; I can’t remember the other one. I told him, let me call Andy and see if he has anything like that.” Andy is Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and the fifth-winningest coach in NFL history. He was Kyle’s teammate at BYU.

“Coaching was always something I wanted to give a shot,” Alex Whittingham told the Deseret News’ Brandon Judd in 2020. “I was talking with my dad, and he was helping me out with that. He and coach Reid played at BYU all those years ago, so he … called to see if he could help me out, see if there were any spots open anywhere.

“Luckily a spot had opened up here in Kansas City, and so I got an interview, came out and about four days later, started working out here. It all happened really quick, but I was very fortunate and it was good timing. … It’s been almost a surreal experience. There’s times in practice I have to just pinch myself that I’m out here on the field with these guys I’ve looked up to for so long. It’s been an awesome experience.”

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As the defensive quality control coach, Whittingham is responsible for breaking down film, preparing practice scripts, responding to whatever the coordinator and the position coaches request to help them prepare for the next game, and charting plays on the sideline during games to determine the tendencies of the opponent in real time.

“He’s come a long way,” says Kyle. “He went into Kansas City with zero coaching experience. Zero. A lot of teams have positions just for guys like that. They say they do this because these guys haven’t developed bad habits (elsewhere in the profession) and they don’t have to reteach them. They’re at square one. They give them entry-level positions and start at the ground floor and work their way up.” 

Alex had a good resource when he needed it. Kyle was a superb defensive coordinator for years before he became a head coach. Alex calls him to talk shop — technique, schematics, fundamentals, pass coverage drops, how to teach certain aspects of the game to players. “He’s very curious,” says Kyle. “He has a fertile mind. He’s very smart and can assimilate quickly.”

In 2020, Alex told the Deseret News, “It’s been pretty fun to be on these paths together and also just having him as a resource, learning the defense here and being able to talk to him and ask him about the way he teaches this technique or the way he views this concept, having him as a guy I can talk to and trust.” 

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As for the future, Kyle says this of Alex, “He wants to stay in the field. The way the college game is going now, the NFL is a pretty good gig. In talks about his future, I say all you gotta do is stay where you are. In college there are so many unknowns — which direction will the NIL go, what’s going to happen with conferences, will there be super conferences? There are a lot of changes on the horizon.

“So his goal is to get a full-time assistant coaching job. Alex loves it. How could he not love it? He’s going to the Super Bowl. I’ve told him this is not the norm. Guys coach 30 years and don’t go to one Super Bowl. This is off the chart.”

Or so you would think. Kyle told Alex pretty much the same thing days before the 2020 Super Bowl, following Alex’s second season with the Chiefs. At the time, the father told his son that “he better enjoy this and soak it in because it just doesn’t happen every year. I mean, there’s a lot of hard work and some guys coach in that league for 20 years and never sniff the Super Bowl, let alone go to one and win it.”

But for Alex Whittingham and the Chiefs it does happen almost every year — three times in four years to be exact. It’s become the norm, and Alex’s coaching career is off to a charmed beginning.

Utah’s Travis Still (37), Alex Whittingham (47), Quade Chappuis (19), Jason Whittingham (53), Jared Norris (41) and V.J. Fehoko (52) get ready for a football game against Colorado at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News