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"All you can do is keep working; we’ve got no choice," Whittingham said. "We just have to find ways to make a few more plays at the end."
Perhaps those plays will come against No. 5 Stanford, the next Pac-12 heavyweight scheduled to visit Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Kyle Whittingham’s coaching record
Year Overall Conference
2005 7-5 4-4 (MW)
2006 8-5 5-3 (MW)
2007 9-4 5-3 (MW)
2008 13-0 8-0 (MW)
2009 10-3 6-2 (MW)
2010 10-3 7-1 (MW)
2011 8-5 4-5 (Pac-12)
2012 5-7 3-6 (Pac-12)
2013 3-2 0-2 (Pac-12)
No one would rejoice more than Whittingham, whose lips curl in disgust when asked how important it is to avoid another losing season.
He might drink kombucha and partake in hot yoga, but there is no zen for him when the Utes come up short.
"It stinks," he says of losing.
Down this road before
Whittingham is no stranger to tough seasons. The Utes were 7-5 in his first year as head coach in 2005, after replacing predecessor Urban Meyer, and 8-5 the following season. But he also was making a steady climb, and reached a pinnacle by leading the Utes to an undefeated season in 2008.
The other came in 2010. With assists from Meyer and his predecessor, Ron McBride, Whittingham molded Utah into a national-caliber program that enjoyed enough consistent success to earn an invitation into the Pac-12.
The Utes’ first year in the conference was acceptable, finishing 8-5 and just missing out on a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. But last year? Finishing 5-7?
It left a mark.
Whittingham has "won all his life as a player and a coach, and all of a sudden you have a bad year," said Erickson, who knows a thing or two about the ups and down of coaching. "You question why you did what you did and didn’t do. It hurts your pride, so you become even more focused, although I don’t know if a guy like him can be more focused."
Sharing the pain
Apparently Whittingham can, because he found a way to tighten the screws just a bit more. His amped-up intensity is notable — and appropriate — in Utah athletic director Chris Hill’s estimate.
"Last year was a new experience for him, and for all of us," Hill said. "We didn’t go to a bowl game and we had a losing season, so maybe everything is more intense this year with him. We’d been winning so long in our league; losing isn’t easy to take and last year was a hard experience. It was a hard experience for all of us, and we are all feeling it."
Whittingham often says it will take time to build, through recruiting, the depth and talent the Utes need to compete consistently in the Pac-12. However, that doesn’t mean he will sit by each year waiting for recruiting classes to deliver.
Instead, he seeks other ways to improve his team. In the past he has listened to players and cut back on practice times so they are fresh for games. He also has fostered strong relationships with the seniors, which has translated into sense of ownership of the team, from the upperclassmen to the underclassmen.
This year his focus has been on nutrition and building team chemistry, elements Whittingham felt were lacking last year.
"With the way the Pac-12 is, you have to be on a competitive level with everything," Whittingham said. "We’re always looking for ways we can improve."
Whittingham credits the new football facility as a key part in the effort, believing all the elements designed to cater to the players, such as the lounge and cafeteria, have encouraged them to hang out with one another more.Next Page >
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