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As all-time winning coach, Whittingham deflects praise as 'best coach' in Utes history

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham flashes the “U” at fans after the game against the Stanford Cardinal in Stanford, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham flashes the “U” at fans after the game against the Stanford Cardinal in Stanford, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — As the clock ticked down to zero Saturday night, Kyle Whittingham made his move onto the field. In an instant, though, he was under an impromptu shower of ice and water from behind him — the iconic Gatorade bath.

He wasn't expecting it.

The celebratory shower was the least his players could do for the long-time head coach who had just secured his 142nd win at Utah to become the all-time winningest coach in program history. But in the moment, it felt appropriate.

The fact that it came as a dismantling of No. 3 Oregon at Rice-Eccles Stadium to secure the program's third South division title in four seasons only added to the atmosphere of the night.

As various players approached Whittingham to congratulate him on his mark, the coach was undeterred and made his way to center field to shake the hand of Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal. It was the same singular focus that has led Whittingham to a sustained and successful career at Utah program that has embodied the DNA of Whittingham.

Utah is as much Whittingham as Whittingham is Utah — the two are inseparably linked. For all the successes that previous head coaches at Utah had, the program has Whittingham to thank for its stability and track record in a Power Five conference that Utah has been consistently in contention for a division title.

"What he has done is unbelievable, and I don't think people realize how much a part of the program, or the identity of the program we owe to him." receiver Britain Covey said.

Whittingham has brought a winning culture to the program — one that has become the most stable in a Pac-12 constantly in flux. In each year of navigating the program through a Power Five transition, Whittingham has raised the profile of Utah and increased its recruiting prowess.

Everyone knows what they're getting with Whittingham, who is as regimented as a coach as there is in the sport, but his ability to make everyone an extended part of his family is a staple of his tenure. It's one of the many reasons players feel a connection to the program.

"Really just humbled to be able to be on this team and accomplish such a great accomplishment," linebacker Devin Lloyd said. "Coach Whitt, I think, he's the best coach in Utah football history. He deserves everything that comes his way."

"That's a pretty surreal moment, especially for him — just the amount of football games that he's played and won is unreal," added quarterback Cam Rising. "I have so much respect for him and everything he does. I love coach Whitt; I'm glad to be a part of that."

And as much as Whittingham deserves the praise and respect as the all-time leader at Utah and the second-longest active coach in the nation, Whittingham is the last one to heap the praise on himself — it's all about the players and the coaches he's been surrounded around in his 17 years as the program's top coach.

"Well, I'll keep deflecting because that's what I'm good at. But I just feel blessed … that's a lot of years, a lot of hard work, and a lot goes into that," Whittingham said. "But as a football coach, it's different than some other sports — some other sports you can pretty much do it all as the head coach, but in football you cannot possibly. You've got to surround yourself with great people; and fortunately we've been able to do that through the last 17 years.

"The staff we've got now is terrific. And, obviously, it starts with great players and being able to have recruited and developed so many of those guys that have come through here that have contributed to this."

But much like Whittingham's in-season mentality, there's not a lot of time to celebrate with Colorado and a Pac-12 Championship game to prepare for immediately. It's all business.

All gas. No brakes.

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