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Amid speculation, Kyle Whittingham says he's not considering retirement

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates a touchdown in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates a touchdown in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It was almost a throwaway question at the end of Kyle Whittingham's weekly press conference Monday.

Has the 17-year head coach at Utah considered retiring if his team can get to the Rose Bowl and win? Not your average question days before Utah looks to win its first-ever Pac-12 Championship against an Oregon opponent ready for a rematch after a 38-7 drubbing less than two weeks ago.

But the question had merit, and it came after a Sports Illustrated report cited "industry sources" who believed that the all-time winningest coach at Utah had considered the option of retirement should his team win Friday (6 p.m. MT, ABC) in Las Vegas and then go on to beat a Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl. A week ago, Jon Wilner gave Whittingham a 65% chance of retiring.

What a way to go out after more than 25 years at one program in a profession that's always in flux — Whittingham remains the second-longest active head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"I'm having as good of time right now as I ever have, so I'm not even contemplating that right now," Whittingham said.

Not exactly a no to the question, but it's not something he's considered — at least publicly.

Some of that decision changed as the team started to win — Whittingham said it all came in Week 4 when the team found its identity and everything started to click for a team with a lot of promise and preseason expectations. It was also a time when the team suffered its second tragedy in less than a year's time, which brought the team together in a way nothing else could.

"It's no fun to not win games and have — in my opinion, we were underachieving," Whittingham said. "That really gets under your skin, but once we started to have things click and you can see we're trending in the right direction, that really makes it a lot more enjoyable to come to work every day."

His team is now one win away from the Rose Bowl and a potential boost to a program that has been trending in the right direction for the last few seasons under his guidance. With the wins comes better recruits; and with better recruits often comes a better chance to win more games. That's an attractive position for Whittingham to be in moving forward.

Whittingham has been vocal about not wanting to coach past 65 — he turned 62 last week — and had retirement language added to his recent contract extensions. Should he choose to retire, Whittingham would become a "special assistant" to the athletic's program where he will serve as a consultant and participate in "speaking engagements, fundraising, and meetings with donors and prospective donors," among other duties.

Whittingham is currently under contract through the 2027 season.

Preparing for the Ducks

Utah has the rare opportunity to play Oregon less than two weeks to the day the Utes handily defeated the Ducks at Rice-Eccles Stadium. It's a difficult task against a talented Oregon team ready for a rematch, but Whittingham said there's no major overhauls that need to be made before Friday night's contest.

"No major overhauls, I would say is probably the overall bottom line, but you do tweak some things and make some subtle adjustments here and there," Whittingham said. "Not a lot has changed with either team in eight days. ... But really it's the execution, the energy, that type of stuff is more critical than any minor schematic adjustments that you make.

The Utes were the more physical team and aggressor in a game Oregon was simply outmatched it, so no overhaul needed for something that works. But the regular-season results are only as good as the W that sits next to the score, indicating that Utah was the better team for at least one night. Utah is still favored by 3 points coming into the game.

"One thing's for certain is we made a bunch of plays in that game against Oregon a couple weeks ago that don't mean squat right now," Whittingham said. "They don't care and they're not gonna have any impact on this game. So we've got to go out and make plays, and that's what it always comes down to is making plays. Not one play we made in the last two weeks will count in this game, so we've got to go out and make some new ones.

"If we have that same mentality that we had the first time around, that same look in their eye and that same determination and that same attitude of not to be denied, then we've got a good chance. That's our focus in how we approach the game and I'm sure they're going to have a pretty good mindset as well; it's a big game."

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