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.