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ESPN ranks Kyle Whittingham’s hire as one of college football’s best in the past 25 years

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watchs action during NCAA football against the Idaho State Bengals in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watches action during NCAA football against the Idaho State Bengals in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

In its list of the top 25 college football coaching hires of the past 25 years, ESPN ranks Utah’s hire of Kyle Whittingham 22nd.

Whittingham took over the program from then-coach Urban Meyer, who revitalized the program from 2003-04 and led it to an undefeated season, becoming the first BCS busters ever. That season cumulated in a Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh. Meyer took up two spots on ESPN’s list, ranked at No. 6 for his Florida stint and No. 5 for his time at Ohio State.

Here is how ESPN classifies the Whittingham hire. As a head coach, Whittingham has compiled a 131-64 record and led the Utes to an undefeated 2008 season with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

What he inherited: Whittingham, a Utes assistant since 1994, had served as defensive coordinator when the program took off under Urban Meyer. Utah had had only one 10-win season between 1905 and 2002 but went 10-2 in 2003 and then 12-0 in 2004, winning the Fiesta Bowl to finish No. 4 nationally.

What happened next: The Meyer hire proved excellent, but Utah’s decision to promote Whittingham, who turned down his alma mater BYU, propelled the program into a historic period of success. After three decent years, Whittingham led Utah to another undefeated season in 2008, capped by a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama and a No. 2 final ranking. Two more 10-win seasons followed before Utah moved into the Pac-12, where, after a slow start, it has claimed three South division titles, five seasons of nine or more wins in the past six, and four top-25 finishes in the CFP era. Whittingham is 131-64 at Utah and won both national and league coaching awards while the Utes played in both the Mountain West and Pac-12.

Recently, Whittingham was ranked as the Pac-12’s best coach by CBS Sports.