LAS VEGAS — As expected, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t put an exact timeline on his retirement when asked about it at Big 12 media days, but he did offer a possible hint.

Whittingham’s first-ever appearance at Big 12 media days came a week after the university publicly announced that defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was named the program’s “head coach in waiting.”

The timing of the announcement begs the question: How much time does Whittingham have left as the head man of the Utes?

On Tuesday, as he prepares to enter the Big 12 Conference — Whittingham’s third league change since becoming head coach in 2005 and fourth overall while on staff in Utah — the longtime Ute coach is taking it day by day.

“I’m as excited and enthused about the season as I’ve ever been,” Whittingham said.

“A lot of that is the excitement about going into a new conference with a new challenge, a new opportunity, but it’s just going to be a day by day process and I’m not getting any younger, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve got a lot of energy right now.”

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However, when asked about Utah’s 2027 matchup with Miami — which will be held at Allegiant Stadium, the site of Tuesday’s Big 12 media day and the site of two Ute Pac-12 championship wins — Whittingham admitted he might not be leading the team onto the field.

“We’re going to open here in ‘27 against the Miami Hurricanes. I probably won’t be sitting here this year, but somebody will,” Whittingham, whose current contract runs through the 2027 season, said.

While Whittingham has evolved with the times and has been at the top of his game recently — coaching the Utes to back-to-back Pac-12 championships in 2021 and 2022 — all things in life come to an end, and the longtime coach will know when he’s ready to be done.

“He’s arguably the best to ever do it, and whenever he’s ready, he’ll let me know. And I think he’s very authentic and honest when he says it’s day to day,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said. “But I can just tell you he’s having a lot of fun despite all the challenges and the changes, he just continues to roll through it. And what a credit to a leader to have mentored someone on his staff that’s ready to go.”

There’s plenty for Whittingham to be “excited and enthused” about as he prepares for his 20th season as Utah’s head coach.

Utah was picked to finish first in the Big 12 conference in the preseason media poll, a show of respect to the Utes’ players and coaches, Whittingham said.

Of course, the Utes will have to back it up on the field.

“Don’t really pay attention to none of that, just whatever’s happening in house is all that really matters. It’s great to get those rankings and stuff, but you got to go out there and prove it,” Utah quarterback Cam Rising said.

The Utes have a roster that’s equipped to compete “right away,” Whittingham said, led by Rising, who returns after missing the entirety of the 2023 season due to knee injury rehab.

Rising, who has thrown for 5,572 yards and 46 touchdowns over his Utes career, will have plenty of targets.

Tight end Brant Kuithe returns after missing 2023 due to the same reason as Rising, and Utah has — on paper — one of the most talented wide receiver rooms since Whittingham has been at the school, including USC transfer Dorian Singer, Syracuse transfer Damien Alford and returning starter Money Parks.

“We feel really good about the additions we made this off season with Dorian Singer, Damien Alford, two really good players and a couple others as well, and so we’ll see how they end up performing, but just going into it, we feel like we definitely helped ourself this year,” Whittingham said.

Add in a tight end room that Whittingham calls “maybe as good as it’s ever been in Utah,” featuring Kuithe, Landen King and UCLA transfer Carsen Ryan, plus a “solid offensive line,” and Utah is feeling good about its upcoming season.

The position group that Whittingham has the most questions about going into fall camp? Running back.

Micah Bernard headlines the group, but coming out of spring practices, running backs coach Quinton Ganther said that the Utes “don’t have an every-down guy, so to speak.”

“Who’s going to emerge as the bell cow running back, if anyone does, maybe it’ll be by committee, which if that’s the case, that’s not a problem as long as we’re getting the production we need,” Whittingham said.

“But that’s probably the position group right now that we’re really looking for someone to step forward and take charge.”

The Utes have a veteran defensive line, a strong suit according to Whittingham, led by preseason All-Big 12 selection Junior Tafuna at defensive tackle. Add in a strong linebacker room, featuring last season’s breakout star, Lander Barton, and steady veteran Karene Reid, and Utah looks ready to build on last season’s stout defense.

The question mark here is at safety, where the Utes replace NFL-bound Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki, but Tao Johnson is primed for the switch from cornerback to free safety, and there will be a competition for the second spot between Nate Ritchie, Johnathan Hall and Stanford transfer Alaka’i Gilman.


As Whittingham embarks on a new adventure in a new league, part of the reason why he’s so excited to get the season underway is the promise that the Big 12 champion will get an automatic bid — and a bye — in the College Football Playoff.

A playoff appearance is one of the only accomplishments that the Utes haven’t checked off under Whittingham.

Is this the year that Utah breaks through?

“Our players were excited about the opportunity. We control our own destiny. If we’re able to win the championship of the Big 12, we are going to the playoffs. We don’t have to hope somebody votes us in,” Whittingham said.

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