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FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2009, file photo, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach waits as a play is reviewed during the first quarter of their NCAA college football game against Texas in Austin, Texas. Leach has reached a verbal agreement to be the new football coach at Washington State, an official within the athletic department told the Associated Press on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Utah football: The Leach-Whittingham friendship endures
College football » U.’s Whittingham has beat WSU’s Leach the last two times they’ve played.
First Published Nov 20 2013 10:49 am • Last Updated Nov 20 2013 11:30 pm

It’s a lot easier to make more enemies than friends when coaching in the big leagues of college football.

But Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Washington State’s Mike Leach are beating the odds, forming one of college football’s quirkiest pairings.

At a glance

Mike Leach

Alma mater » BYU 1983

Career record » 92-57 (12th year)

Record at current school » 8-14 (second year)

2013 record » 5-5, 3-4 in Pac-12

Kyle Whittingham

Alma mater » BYU 1981

Career record » 75-38 (ninth year)

Record at current school » 75-38 (ninth year)

2013 record » 4-6, 1-6 in Pac-12

Utah at Washington State

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

TV » Pac-12

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Even though both attended BYU, the two coaches didn’t become friends until they got to know each other later in their careers.

Leach has family in the Salt Lake City area and makes a point of visiting with Whittingham when in town, and he has helped out at some of Utah’s football camps.

"He is an entertaining guy," Whittingham said with a wry smile. "He is exceptionally smart, and we have a great relationship, and I respect everything he is doing and what he has done in the past."

Whittingham likened games such as Saturday’s, when the two foes play each other in Pullman, to contests against Gary Andersen, his former assistant who coached at Utah State before moving on to Wisconsin.

"It’s a double-edged sword," Whittingham said. "You enjoy getting to see him and visiting with him, but then competing against him, it’s something that has some good and bad to it."

The stakes are high for both coaches Saturday because both teams are in need of a win to become bowl eligible.

Washington State needs to win one of its two games, while the Utes must win both.

The way the two approach the goal of a bowl bid shows how different their personalities are.


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Whittingham has been vocal all season that the Utes need to get to a bowl game to show the program is moving in the right direction. That is a fairly clear-cut goal coming from a guy known to be rather serious in his public persona.

Leach offers as cryptic an answer as one can imagine from a coach known for antics.

"It would mean that we did a very good job on the very next play and then on the play after that, and the play after that, and the play after that until pretty soon it adds up to a game’s worth of plays and we were successful. That’s what it would mean," Leach said this week when asked what a bowl game would mean for the Cougars.

Wondering what Leach is talking about is a common response to the coach known for his quirky personality.

"You can get into a conversation with Leach on Cover 2 and end up on Norwegian blueberries," said Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly, who was recruited by Leach when Leach was coaching at Texas Tech.

The teams reflect their coaches’ personalities. Utah is known for its defense, particularly against the run, while Leach’s offenses are pass-heavy, wild air-raid attacks.

The Cougars are averaging 360.4 yards through the air and 57 yards on the ground this season.

Whittingham has the upper hand in the matchups so far, with Utah winning the 2011 contest in Pullman 30-27 in overtime. The Utes blasted WSU 49-6 last year.

Leach likened the current Utes to Arizona’s team for its physicality.

"They have a good defense, always hard-working," Leach said when asked to characterize Whittingham’s teams.

Of course, WSU is coming off a 24-17 upset of the Wildcats.

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