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(Tribune file photo) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has a 66-25 record with the Utes and has increased their profile with the Pac-12 move.
Most Influential in Utah sports: Whittingham wields power

Coach elevated Utes in Pac-12, revived fans’ interest in program.

First Published Aug 18 2012 04:44 pm • Last Updated Nov 30 2012 11:32 pm

As of the late 1990s, University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill says he could not have imagined the game-day atmosphere the Utes now enjoy at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The growth of the program, combined with revived fan interest and a level of student support that seemed inconceivable only 15 years ago, is a success story in college football. The Utes have moved into the Pac-12 Conference, becoming established in the sport’s hierarchy just in time for the adoption of a playoff system in 2014.

At a glance

Most Influential in Utah Sports

1. Kyle Whittingham

2. Kevin O’Connor

3. Bronco Mendenhall

4. Tom Holmoe

5. Dave Checketts

6. Chris Hill

7. Larry Scott

8. Al Jefferson

9. Greg Miller and Gail Miller

10. Scott Barnes

11. Dave Rose

12. Randy Rigby

13. Jeff Robbins

14. Tyrone Corbin

15. Jason Kreis

16. Bill Marolt

17. Sarah Hendrickson

18. Bill Manning

19. Damian Lillard

20. Rob Cuff

21. Trevor Lewis

22. Greg & Megan Marsden

23. Kaycee Feild

24. Tommy Grady

25. Mike Trout

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Because of the Utes’ status locally and nationally, coach Kyle Whittingham tops The Salt Lake Tribune’s eighth annual list of the Most Influential People in Utah Sports. He’s the first coach to earn the No. 1 ranking, reflecting football’s increased prominence in the state in recent years and his stamp on the Ute program.

Whittingham’s $2 million salary is evidence of his position’s newfound power. So is a season-ticket renewal rate of 98 percent. The "MUSS" student section has become a fixture, replacing general disinterest that was a symptom of a commuter school.

Next spring, the Utes will move into a $30 million football complex. The 120,000-square-foot facility is described as "one of the premier training centers in college football." Whittingham’s support staff also continues to expand.

Whittingham, entering his eighth season as head coach at age 52, has grown into his job. He owns a 66-25 record, having gone from a tenuous position early in his career to a point where he probably can coach the Utes as long as he likes.

No. 2 Kevin O’Connor

Jazz executive VP

Previous ranking » No. 3

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O’Connor relinquished his general manager’s title this month when Dennis Lindsey moved from San Antonio to take that position, yet O’Connor has only gained power in the Jazz organization over the past 18 months. In his new job description, he’ll have the final say about personnel matters, functioning the way the late Larry H. Miller and former coach Jerry Sloan exercised their influence. O’Connor faces some key decisions about his roster in the next 10 months.

No. 3 Bronco Mendenhall

BYU football coach

Previous ranking » No. 10

Mendenhall’s rise in influence, much like Kyle Whittingham’s, is due to the growing level of interest in college football in Utah. His management of the BYU program as an independent is a subject of some curiosity nationally. The Cougars must succeed to attract attention and justify their ESPN contract, while maintaining the identity that Mendenhall espouses as part of the church-owned school’s mission. He also functions as BYU’s defensive coordinator.

No. 4 Tom Holmoe

BYU athletic director

Previous ranking » No. 4

Holmoe is responsible for BYU’s football scheduling, which makes him as vital as Mendenhall in carrying out the program’s plan of independence. The Cougars’ 2013 schedule, featuring Texas and Wisconsin, represents a risk/reward approach in BYU’s quest for relevance without competing for a conference championship. And after the first year of WCC membership for BYU’s basketball program and other sports, the move appears successful.

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