MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is taking time away from the recruiting trail this weekend.
It’s a family thing.
The Utes’ head man is headed to south Florida to support his son Alex, a Kansas City assistant, as the Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday (4:30 p.m. MST, TV: FOX) at Hard Rock Stadium.
“We’ve got the whole family coming out. I can’t wait,” Alex Whittingham said during Chiefs’ media availability Wednesday.
The younger Whittingham was a walk-on for the Utes — playing on special teams — before venturing into coaching after his college days. Now, two years into his coaching career, he is one win away from a Super Bowl ring.
Having father and son in the same profession has brought the two closer, said Whittingham, who is a defensive quality control coach with Kansas City under head coach Andy Reid.
“Not that we weren’t close growing up, but it’s been really exciting and kind of an awesome, fun experience having a guy that’s that close to me and we can have so much to talk about at any time,” he said.
Those discussions happen every day, Whittingham said, their own version of coach shop talk.
“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,” he said.
The process from going to college player to coaching in the pros back in 2017 can be traced back to his dad’s relationship with Reid at BYU, where they played together in the early 1980s.
“Coaching was always something I wanted to give a shot. I was talking with my dad, and he was helping me out with that. Him and Coach Reid played at BYU all those years ago, so he was one of the first people he called to see if he could help me out, see if there were any spots open anywhere,” Whittingham said. “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.”
As a Utah native, being around the NFL wasn’t something familiar for Whittingham and he said “it’s been a learning experience of huge proportions.”
“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,” he said.
For those who aren’t in the know — that included this reporter — what does a defensive quality control coach do? Whittingham broke it down, calling it “the nuts and bolts behind everything.”
“Breaking down the game film is one big thing, getting everything broken down in a way the position coaches and players can make sense of it all and see it the way they need to,” he explained. “Getting the practice scripts ready, making cut-ups for the coaches for them to be able to see different aspects of the game plan that they need to work on.
“And from my position, just helping out the D-line coach (Brendan Daly) with whatever he needs. There’s a lot of guys in that room and sometimes we’ve got to split things up in practice to share the load a little bit.”
Being in the NFL has allowed Whittingham to reconnect with some of his former Ute teammates in Kansas City. Last year, Nate Orchard briefly joined the Chiefs. Now, Utah offensive tackle Jackson Barton is with the franchise, having signed with Kansas City in mid-November.
Barton and Whittingham’s connection goes a step further: They both attended Brighton High (they played there at different times) and Barton will be the second former Bengal to make the Super Bowl — former BYU running back/wide receiver Reno Mahe was the other.
“Shoot, we went to the same high school, we went to the same college. We were teammates,” Barton said. “It’s just good to see somebody you can relate to every day and tell stories like, how did we end up at the same high school and the same college and end up going to the Super Bowl? What are the odds?”
Speaking of odds, the Chiefs are the slight favorite to beat the 49ers. If that happens, it would give Reid, who has 221 career wins in 21 years as an NFL head coach yet lost in five conference championships and one Super Bowl before, his first NFL title.
“His reputation speaks for itself. He’s so well-respected around the league by players, coaches, from top to bottom. It would mean everything to get this Super Bowl ring for him,” Whittingham said.