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Utah football: Whittingham and Leach, the Pac-12’s odd couple
College football » The two are close friends, despite vastly different coaching philosophies.

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One favors an all-out air attack on offense while the other prefers a more conservative approach. One is so methodical in his comments and is often described as guarded or private. The other is rarely known to hold back, even comparing his own players to corpses just a couple of weeks ago.

One is such a fitness freak that getting in daily workouts is a priority. The other? He’s known to at least ride his bike in the Keys.

At a glance

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Record » 69-30 in 8 seasons

Local tie » Played linebacker at BYU from 1978-81

Best showing » Coached Utes to undefeated season in 2008 and No. 2 ranking

Coaching philosophy » It’s all about the run and defense

Most forgettable moment » Calling for an onside kick when the Utes led Wyoming 43-0 in 2007

Washington St. coach Mike Leach

Record » 2-6 in his 1st year

Local tie » 1983 graduate of BYU; didn’t play football

Best showing » Coached Texas Tech to 11-2 season in 2008 and No. 12 ranking

Coaching philosophy » It’s all about the pass and air raid

Most forgettable moment » Getting fired from Texas Tech following a controversy involving Craig James’ son, Adam

Washington State at Utah

Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV » Pac-12 Network

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One is so fanatical about being on time he consistently shows up early. The other is so laid-back that he had a radio show with the word "Maybe" in the title because sometimes he’d make it and sometimes he wouldn’t.

Washington State coach Mike Leach and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham seem about as different as two men could be. But the two have formed a close bond over the years, making Saturday’s game a contest between perhaps the oddest couple in college football.

The two often get together when Leach is in the area visiting his wife’s family, and Leach has worked with Utah’s coaches in past camps.

Leach, in his first year at Washington State, has a reputation of not only being a mastermind of the passing game, but also one of college football’s most controversial figures.

A guy who has a self-confessed fascination with pirates, Leach has often acted out on his own, creating the kind of mayhem and chaos that would make Blackbeard proud.

There was the time in 2007 Leach so colorfully blamed officials of favoring Texas that he was fined $10,000, the biggest fine in Big 12 history.

In 2009, he was accused of making Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, stand in an equipment room because he couldn’t practice after suffering a concussion.

The incident ultimately led to Leach’s firing — and a high-profile lawsuit the coach filed against Texas Tech.

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Hired by Washington State in November 2011, Leach hasn’t changed much, most notably creating a stir last month when he said some of his players had "an empty corpse quality."

Such stories might make athletic directors cringe, but Whittingham just laughs.

"He is unbelievably entertaining," Whittingham said. "But he is exceptionally intelligent and he knows exactly how he is coming across. It’s calculated: He might say something off the wall or outside the box, but he knows everything that is going on. He is an extremely cerebral guy."

While very different, the two friends do share a common goal: building their teams into Pac-12 contenders.

Surprisingly, Washington State (2-6, 0-5) isn’t much better than it was a year ago when it finished 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference.

However, Whittingham said it’s only a matter of time before Leach has the Cougars playing winning football once he gets the players he needs in his system.

"He wants to throw and throw it a lot," Whittingham said. "That won’t change with him. It was that way with him for years and years, and he’ll continue to do that and recruit to that system. It’ll take him time to get where he wants to be, but he is a guy who knows as much about the throw game as anyone in the country."

Leach believes the Utes (3-5, 1-4) are on a similar path and expressed confidence Whittingham would turn Utah into a Pac-12 contender, even in a season when the Ute coach is taking some heat.

"It’s a competitive league with competitive teams, and you just shore things up and have to get that talent everywhere," he said. "You have to work and develop every year. It’s a challenge, especially in this league, but you have to keep plugging away."

Plugging away and building programs. That is what the two close friends do, even as they take different paths.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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