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Patrick Kinahan: How real are Whittingham retirement rumblings?

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stands next to a referee during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stands next to a referee during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” About two months ago, speculation grew that Kyle Whittingham was suffering from job burnout and nearing retirement as the University of Utah's head football coach.

The evidence, loosely defined in this case, consisted of his shaggy-haired appearance and lack of energy on the sidelines, especially during his team's loss to BYU. Never mind that the Utes were riding a nine-game winning streak against their rivals that had to end sometime, and the fact BYU has an excellent team this season.

The rumblings grew louder after the Utes lost in overtime to San Diego State the following week, ending non-conference play at 1-2 for the first time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Several local media members had heard Whittingham would not coach against BYU again, acknowledging the series is now on a two-year hiatus.

National media also has picked up on the story in recent weeks. In a piece on the annual coaching carousel that is beginning in earnest, Sports Illustrated mentioned Whittingham has a candidate for retirement along with 70-year-old Mack Brown of North Carolina and Duke's David Cutcliffe, who is 67.

Since the shaky start, Utah has lost only once and last Saturday hammered Oregon to clinch the program's third berth over the last four years in the Pac-12 championship game. In essence, the Utes are one win away from being the Pac-12 representative in the Rose Bowl.

Whether Whittingham is considering retirement soon is anybody's guess. But it's clear at age 62, which he turned earlier this week, 17 years as the coach has not dented his enjoyment for the job.

In his on-field interview with ABC after embarrassing the Ducks, Whittingham said this year's team is "just a joy to coach. I've had as much fun as I've ever had, coaching this group right here."

That doesn't sound like a man about to call it quits in a few weeks. Then again, it's got to end at some point.

Last month Whittingham was singing a different tune, admitting the difficult nature of coaching this season. The reasons were obvious, considering the tragic deaths of two players over the last 10 months.

"It's been the most challenging year of my coaching career, hands down, without any question," he said.

Under the circumstances, it also might be his best coaching job. Hands down, without any question, Whittingham will earn coach of the year honors in the Pac-12 and probably deserves national recognition.

Nearly the only blemish this season is the decision to start Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer over Cam Rising. Brewer started in the two non-conference losses and then quit the team when it was obvious Rising deserved the position.

To get a clue into Whittingham's future, look to his past.

Anyone even remotely familiar with him knows the influence his father had on him. Fred Whittingham, his son has repeatedly stated, has had the greatest individual impact on him in all aspects of life.

In many ways, the two men are eerily similar. Former longtime offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who coached with Fred at BYU and served one season as Kyle's offensive coordinator, said the time he spent with the son at Utah constantly reminded him of the several years alongside the father in Provo.

Both men are known for their no-nonsense, tough-guy philosophy while living simple lives. Their priority away from football involves family time, although Kyle does love to ski and has developed a passion for golf in recent years.

For all his accomplishments as a coach and a linebacker at BYU, where he played for his father, Whittingham is just as proud to note despite working in an extremely nomadic profession all four of his children attended the same schools up through graduation from Utah. Owning the record as the winningest coach in Utah history is a nice feat, but it pales in comparison to his role as a father and husband.

This is where the subject of retirement gets tricky. Balancing family and work, Whittingham is keenly aware that his father died at age 64, thus robbing him of more time to enjoy his adult children and grandchildren.

One year ago this month, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan extended Whittingham's contract through the 2027 season. Don't count on him coaching another six years, but then again ...

More from Patrick Kinahan:

About the Author: Patrick Kinahan

Patrick Kinahan is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. To read more of his articles, visit Patrick's author page.

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