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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s football program was tapped as the favorite to win the Pac-12 at media day in Hollywood, California, this week.
It’s a natural honor for the Utes, who return one of the best defenses in school history to a squad that broke through and won the Pac-12 South Division and came within seven points of a Rose Bowl bid last year.
But the success of that program starts at the top — with a national coach of the year candidate.
Kyle Whittingham, the 14-year head coach, was named one of 23 candidates for the Bobby Dodd Trophy, presented annually by the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to the top coach in college football.
The list includes contenders from all five Power Five conferences, as well as a handful of American Athletic, Mountain West and independent coaches. Alabama’s Nick Saban, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney are just a few of the select bunch.
“The Dodd Trophy is the most coveted coach of the year award because it looks beyond just the results on the field and measures the overall impact these coaches have had on their players, universities and communities,” said committee chairman Jim Terry in a statement. “When determining candidates for the watch list, we carefully consider each coach’s commitment to the award’s three pillars of scholarship, leadership and integrity.”
Whittingham, the 1981 WAC defensive player of the year at BYU, has spent the bulk of his coaching career with the Utes, starting as a defensive line coach in 1994 and moving up to defensive coordinator one year later. When former head coach Urban Meyer left for Florida prior to the 2005 season, Whittingham was promoted to head coach and he’s led a remarkable run ever since.
The 59-year-old has a 120-61 head coaching record, been a part of two perfect seasons and the BCS bowl wins that came with them in the pre-College Football Playoff era, a Mountain West title, and last year’s Pac-12 South division title. He was the Mountain West coach of the year in 2008, the same season he took national coach of the year honors from the American Football Coaches Association and the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award committee.
The award will be narrowed to a midseason watchlist this fall, and the winner will be announced in Atlanta during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in December.