LAS VEGAS — At a charity golf event 13 months ago, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham hinted that he was “kinda close” to also calling it a career when commenting on the sudden resignation of Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder.

“I can just say right now (that) I am having a blast. I have got energy. I have got enthusiasm, excitement, passion. And as soon as that leaves, I think it is time to step down. But right now I am taking it year by year and I know I am fired up for this season.” — Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham on his future

The remarks caused a bit of a ripple throughout the state on that June day when not much else was going on in the Utah sports world, but were soon forgotten after Whittingham’s Utes won their second straight Pac-12 championship game and represented the conference in the Rose Bowl once again.

At the Pac-12 football media day Friday at Resorts World Las Vegas on the famed Las Vegas Strip, the Deseret News asked Whittingham, 63, if the end is drawing closer for him as he enters his 19th season as Utah’s head coach, 30th season with the Utes overall.

“Oh, sure it is. The end is drawing closer for everybody. I am 63 years old, have been at this a long time. At some point it is going to come to an end,” Whittingham said, a bit coyly.

“I can just say right now (that) I am having a blast. I have got energy. I have got enthusiasm, excitement, passion. And as soon as that leaves, I think it is time to step down. But right now I am taking it year by year and I know I am fired up for this season.”

Whittingham is one of the second longest-tenured FBS head coaches at the same school in the country, behind only Kirk Ferentz of Iowa. Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy is also entering his 19th season.

Whittingham said one of the reasons for being “fired up” for the upcoming season is that the Utes “have the deepest roster we have had” since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “We have a lot of optimism for this football team, (but) a lot of things have to happen. The guys gotta get healthy. The ball has to bounce your way a few times. But I think we got a chance to be pretty good.”

With that, Whittingham sounded a lot like his old college football coach, BYU’s LaVell Edwards, who was an assistant at BYU from 1962-71 before taking the reins and becoming one of the most successful coaches in college football history. Edwards was head coach from 1972-2000.

Is Utah’s Kyle Whittingham approaching LaVell Edwards’ rarefied air?

Whittingham said he has eight grandchildren now, with another on the way.

“My over-under is 12,” he joked. “That’s what the (betting) line is. … I am taking all bets. You got the over?”

Whittingham was less playful when asked if the Utes being picked third in the preseason media poll was a “snub” after the back-to-back titles and a returning starting quarterback in Cam Rising

“I don’t know what you are talking about with snubs and stuff,” said Whittingham, who was known earlier in his career for seizing on any kind of bulletin board material to motivate his guys. “We don’t worry about any of that. We are a blue-collar program. All we do is go to work every day and try to become the best football team we can. Don’t pay much attention to outside sources.”

Speaking of Rising, who had ACL surgery in January after getting injured in the Rose Bowl loss to Penn State, Whittingham said from the podium that the quarterback is “going to come right down to the wire” in regards to being ready to play in the opener against Florida.

Later, in a smaller, group interview, the coach said it will be the medical staff’s call, not his, regarding when Rising will be cleared for full contact.

He said Rising will participate in fall camp early on “in limited fashion.”

“He has been throwing for several weeks. So we will just rely on the medical staff to give us the parameters that we have to stay within,” Whittingham said. “We have already been told that barring any setbacks between now and camp he will be able to do a bunch of stuff during camp and continue to add to that as camp goes on if everything goes as planned.”

A few weeks ago, new Colorado coach Deion Sanders — “Coach Prime,” as he is being referred to in Las Vegas by league brass — figured to be the headliner in Vegas, but the flamboyant coach couldn’t make it for health reasons. 

Whittingham said he met Sanders for the first time at the Pac-12 spring meetings a few months ago.

“Great guy. Very personable, obviously,” Whittingham said of a coach who has a totally different style than he does, having several times called his own style and his program’s style “blue collar” and partly based on avoiding the spotlight.

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“Had a conversation with him and it is very interesting what he is doing,” Whittingham said. “With the (transfer) rules structured the way they are, and the state that the (Colorado) program was in, why wouldn’t you try something like that? It makes sense.”

In the televised Q&A at a night club adjacent to the Resorts World, Whittingham couldn’t escape a question about BYU, his former school and Utah’s longtime rival. He said BYU going to the Big 12 “is a big move” for the Cougars.

“We went through the same thing, what, 12 years ago,” he said. “We don’t play them this year. This will be the second year in a row we don’t play that game. It’s a rivalry, but not quite the same feel that it had maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago, when we were in the same league, and it had conference implications, all that.

“But certainly still one of the better rivalries in the country,” he concluded.

Here are a few other Whittingham comments from the off-camera interview with print reporters:

• On playing USC for perhaps the final time as the Trojans are scheduled to join the Big Ten next year:

“Very concerned about the game upcoming, but beyond that, there is going to be so much more change in college football that I am not even concerned. There are going to be massive changes, in my opinion, in the not-too-distant future.”

• On how important NIL is now in college football: 

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“It is the most important thing in college football. It is the most important thing in recruiting, which is the most important thing to your program. It cannot be over-emphasized. The lifeblood of recruiting is your NIL resources.”

• On what Utah has brought to the Pac-12:

“I don’t know what we have brought, but I know we have really started to gain some traction the last four, five, six years. It took us a while. When we got into the conference we were a little bit behind with our roster. We needed to regroup, particularly on the perimeter.

“We have improved team speed, improved the overall skill level. And our assistant coaches have done a great job of getting our roster to where it is today. We think we might have the deepest roster we have had since we joined the league. That is where we are at.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham speaks at the Pac-12 football media day Friday, July 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. | Lucas Peltier, Associated Press
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