Sometimes, in his ongoing search for offensive help, it seems as though Kyle Whittingham tips coaching’s junk drawer just to see what loose coordinator might roll to the corner, along with the pennies and dimes and paperclips and rubber bands and three-and-outs and screwdrivers and turnovers and tape dispensers and playbooks.
The one he hauled out this time was officially introduced on Tuesday amid the usual — and now annual — optimism for refreshed efficiency and explosiveness on the side of the ball for the Utes that in the season past left disappointment as its signature.
Dave Christensen is the new hope, and all the right things were said by him and about him at his introduction. Whittingham poured on the praise and Christensen himself, most recently the head coach at Wyoming before being fired, spoke impressively about his enthusiasm and intentions at the helm of the Utah offense. He appeared smart and savvy, and he likely is. A lot like most of the guys who preceded him.
"Obviously, it’s a very exciting time for me to have an opportunity to get into what I think is one of the premier conferences in the country, at a place that’s very committed to excellence and winning at a high level at the University of Utah," Christensen said. "I’m extremely excited to be here."
Said Whittingham: "We’re excited to add Dave to our staff. We have a long-standing relationship that goes back about 25 years. We’re excited that he’s with us. It gives us a chance to make us better. That’s the intent. And strengthen our staff. … He has a great track record as an offensive coordinator. … We think it’s a great fit."
That last bit sounded eerily similar to what Whittingham said about the guy he hired last offseason as his new offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson, a man who had a couple of national championships and numerous head-coaching jobs at the college and NFL levels on his résumé, the same assistant who was demoted to running backs coach after one year before Christensen’s hiring. And it sounded like what he said about the guy he hired before Erickson — Brian Johnson — just one year earlier. And the guys before that, including Norm Chow, who was crammed in on former co-coordinators Dave Schramm and Aaron Roderick.
All told, the Utes have had seven offensive coordinators, or co-coordinators, in nine seasons and now six in six.
When Erickson was hired, Whittingham said: "Dennis Erickson brings a wealth of knowledge and coaching experience to our program. He has been labeled as one of the original architects of the spread and we are looking forward to the impact he will have on our offense."
When Johnson was hired, Whittingham said: "After spending the past month conducting a national search for an offensive coordinator, it became very apparent that we had the best candidate for the job right here on our own staff. Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player, and he is the right person to lead our offense."
When Chow was hired, Whittingham talked about the longtime coordinator’s well-earned respect and experience and, now, for the lead dog it was a hiring opportunity that couldn’t be passed up and … well, you get the idea.
Consistency and, ultimately, success haven’t exactly been hallmarks of Whittingham’s handling of his offensive coordinators over the past few seasons.
Even in the case of Chow, who left to become the head coach at Hawaii, everybody knew when he was introduced — the day Chow said, "I am awfully excited to be going back to my alma mater … this is an exciting day for me" — that it would be but a brief blip on Utah football’s radar screen.
All of which means, either Whittingham has been desperate, grasping at whatever or whoever he could find to run his offense, short-term or long-term, whatever, picking the wrong coaches, unable to establish any strong continuity there, or he’s been mostly impatient with what and who he’s had, often hiring and then discarding them prematurely.
Maybe it’s been some of both.
Maybe he’s courageous about making changes that need to be made, unafraid to underscore his own mistakes.
With Erickson, inside of a couple of months, Whittingham became unhappy with the veteran’s performance and his propensity to delegate many of his responsibilities to Johnson. If the head coach had wanted that, he would have stayed with Johnson the first time around.
Asked on Tuesday about the most recent turn in the swirling churn at the top of his offense, Whittingham said: "It’s something we still need to get better … we still aren’t good enough offensively." Under Erickson, the head coach said the offense "saw progress, but not enough progress."
So now, after consecutive 5-7 seasons that included a lot of losing in the Pac-12, and the loosening of bolts on a job that was once so firmly his, Whittingham has ditched Erickson for Christensen, after ditching Johnson for Erickson. Is it a good move? Is it a panicked move? Is it a necessary move? Is it a justified move? Is it a move that could save his job?
The only sure thing is this: We’re going to find out in short order.
Whittingham on the whole is a bright football man. Christensen had a lot of success as a coordinator at Missouri and proved at Wyoming to be a better offensive mind than a head coach. He largely won games in Laramie that he should have won, but couldn’t step up to win games that were above the Cowboys’ pay-grade. That’s a problem already shared by the Utes in the Pac-12.Next Page >
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