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SALT LAKE CITY — Over the years, the University of Utah’s offense has been criticized in myriad ways for its unimaginative, lackluster and predictable schemes — all of which are mostly fair critiques.
Fault has been placed on head coach Kyle Whittingham for what some have deemed his conservative approach. Others point to the meddling of a defensive-minded coach who doesn’t know how to effectively operate an offense. Regardless of offensive coordinator, Whittingham is thought to be the overlord dictating more plays for his defense because that’s what he prefers.
In short, in what world does that make sense?
Regardless of coaching-style preference, Whittingham is as competitive as it comes. There is nothing he wants more than to crush his opponents and win games, most notably a Pac-12 Championship. Unfortunately for the Utes, they’ve come up short over the years, but it hasn’t been the fault of Whittingham's preference to the defense.
If anything, his ability to hire coaches that match his ideals on defense has been one of the saving graces of the program over the years and has made him one of the longest-tenured coaches in the country. Only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (1999) and TCU’s Gary Patterson (2000) have been coaches of their respective schools longer than Whittingham.
Whittingham knows, like every coach in America — even the bad ones and the armchair quarterbacks at home critiquing the game — that an effective offense is imperative to sustained success and ultimately winning games. However, Whittingham would be the first to admit that his program hasn’t seen the outcomes it has wanted in offensive production, which has led to an almost annual turnover at the offensive coordinator position.
Whittingham hired Troy Taylor in the offseason to be the program’s latest offensive coordinator, sending away a longtime friend and coach in Aaron Roderick. It’s a decision that was undoubtedly difficult for Whittingham, but was necessary to get more from an anemic offense that stagnated as the season progressed. Most notably, the quarterbacks were in need of a mentor at the position, which was a big reason for bringing in Taylor.
How much say in the offense does Troy Taylor have?— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) August 9, 2017
Although the hiring of Taylor was shocking to many following college football, considering his relative inexperience at the Division I level, the players and coaches at Utah seem encouraged by the offensive schemes and culture Taylor has brought to the offense. His track record at previous schools has only added to the allure.
“In the long haul, we needed something different at the end of the day,” receiver Siaosi Wilson said. “(Taylor) brings a lot of energy, a lot of buy-in to the program. He has a great resume behind him, so a lot of players tend to buy-in to what he’s talking about. So it’s real fun and real positive vibes all around him.”
That buy-in has been a constant theme among players, who repeatedly talk about an already-improved offensive mindset. At the very least, the players are engaged and ready for the diversity that comes with Taylor’s playbook — a mixture of tempo infused into a spread offense.
“Everybody likes this offense because it gets the ball into a lot of guys’ hands,” sophomore running back Zack Moss said. “Last year we were definitely more of a dominant run team. We’re still going to be a run (team) this year, but we’ve got a lot of playmakers as receivers, so it’s going to help the running backs and it’s going to help the receivers be better than they ever were last year.”
Most importantly, Whittingham is giving complete autonomy to Taylor to experiment with schemes and maximize player potential. Although it doesn’t need to be said, it’s an overt gesture by Whittingham to show that he has complete confidence in his new offensive coordinator and is intent on not stifling a new offensive scheme. It’s been that way for some time, but Whittingham is being more vocal about it.
“Troy has got autonomy on the offensive side,” Whittingham reiterated Tuesday. “He’s got a proven track record with the offenses that he’s been in charge of, and so we’re doing things exactly the way he wants them laid out at this point. During the course of the game, we’ve got to play like we practice. We can’t practice one way and then try to transition during the season. This is a wide-open offense that is going to be a different look for us. We fully expect that to be the case.”
Whittingham will undoubtedly have a say in the offense, as all head coaches do, but will take on more of an advisory role as a guy with more than two decades of experience in the program. Already, Taylor has felt that autonomy in his position and has been appreciative of the feedback Whittingham has given him.
“He’s allowed me the freedom to do what I want to do, and any information he gives is usually great feedback,” Taylor said. “It’s been great so far.”
Regardless of whether or not Whittingham influenced his past offensive coordinators, or didn’t trust them as much as Taylor, the offense is Taylor’s and his alone. Whittingham is keeping his distance and will allow the offense to function in the manner that Taylor sees fit.
“Offensively, coach felt really comfortable bringing me in and hiring me, obviously,” Taylor said. “The only chance I have is to be the best version of myself and it’s great that we’re great on defense because that means we get lots of touches and lot of opportunities to strike. But I can just do my stuff and do it to the best of my ability.”