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Urban Meyer details his decision to retain Kyle Whittingham as defensive coordinator in 2003

“I’m going to hire the best defensive coach I can get my hands on,” former Utah coach Urban Meyer said of keeping Kyle Whittingham on staff.

Former Utah football coach Urban Meyer, left, passes the ball to new coach Kyle Whittingham after practice Friday Dec. 17, 2004.
Former Utah football coach Urban Meyer, left, passes the ball to new coach Kyle Whittingham after practice Friday Dec. 17, 2004.
August Miller, Deseret News

A decision by Urban Meyer as a newly hired head coach changed Utah football forever.

Fox Sports filmed a special featuring Meyer and Whittingham looking back on the 2003 Mountain West Conference championship season, and Meyer details his decision to retain Whittingham as defensive coordinator.

“I knew of Kyle Whittingham, I knew his father. In the football world, you have to know about the Whittingham family. I was at Colorado State, so I knew the defensive mentality, the toughness. I had friends that I trust in the business say, ‘You have to move on and start fresh,’” Meyer said.

Meyer was ready to make a fresh start and bring in his own coaches, but he had a meeting with Whittingham.

“Kyle is as good of a football coach as I’ve ever been around and I could tell that right away at dinner. I get paid to coach the offense and special teams, I’m going to hire the best defensive coach I can get my hands on, and that was Kyle Whittingham,” Meyer said.

Whittingham first met Meyer after hearing that Meyer beat him out for the head coaching job at Utah.

“I sat down and visited with Urban and it seemed to click right away, it seemed to be a lot of common ground between the two of us. We ended up going out to dinner that night with the wives. I felt very fortunate afterwards to be retained,” Whittingham said.

After Meyer departed to coach at Florida, leaving Utah after the Utes won the Fiesta Bowl and capped off a perfect 12-0 season in 2004, Whittingham was hired as the next head coach. Whittingham has a 131-64 record as head coach and his accolades include a perfect 2008 season capped off by a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and turning the Utes into Pac-12 contenders.

“That’s not the typical course of action. Coach Meyer had a very good defensive coordinator at Bowling Green when he was there and could have very easily brought him with him. He knew of other quality coaches throughout the country.

“Being able to stay on at the university I’d been at for 10 years prior was great for me and great for my family and I felt very fortunate to be able to do that,” Whittingham said.

You can watch the full video featuring Meyer and Whittingham talking about the 2003 season below.