The man didn’t pound the table, didn’t rant and rave and act like a maniac, didn’t put on a show, didn’t behave like a spoiled, emotional wreck who had been cheated or wronged or betrayed or personally messed over by his team or anybody else.
Kyle Whittingham looked and sounded cool and calm as a man could look and sound under the circumstances.
And from this viewpoint, that cool and calm made him look like more of a man, not less.
He answered questions, unhappy questions, directly, matter-of-factly, just-short-of-pleasantly, breathing between his deliberate sentences and dialing in on the answers, without the stupid, over-the-top anger and defiance that is so common among coaches in modern college football.
It was refreshing.
He was mature, controlled and darn-near resigned to his team’s — and thereby his own — fate.
The 2017 Utah football season would be what it is — a bit of a disappointment, level at 5-5 with two to play, and maybe, maybe, a bowl game added at the end. Whittingham said that would be a nice reward for his seniors, a group of players who had significant influence on the success of the Utes program in their time at Utah.
He was complimentary of those guys. He didn’t blister them.
They deserved a reward. Not any kind of derision.
There was a time when Whittingham, after a loss like the one the Utes suffered Saturday, would have acted a little different. He would have acted the way so many of the aforementioned coaches do these days when they don’t get the result they want. They fire off in all directions. They get mad at the world, their world. They behave like babies.
Whittingham was never the worst of that lot. He’s intense, always has been, and he’s passionate, and he can get angry, big time. But thrashing his way through a loss, upon reflection, that featured four interceptions and four fumbles, three of them lost, might have spun him into a funk that could have been accompanied by fury. Especially when those turnovers put his defense, which performed nobly, in vulnerable positions, again and again, ultimately crushing any Utah chances for victory.
That’s the perfect formula for Whittingham rage. Used to be.
There was none, at least not in front of reporters in the aftermath.
Instead, he simply said: “Can’t win a football game turning the ball over seven times.”
There was attention to detail in his responses. There were insightful observations about what went wrong, about what needed to change. There were answers to difficult questions that might have sent some coaches hurtling toward the sixth degree of hell.
It was as though the coach had watched the game, stacked it in a pile alongside the other four defeats of the season, and perhaps even some of the wins, too, and understood the realities of a year that, despite starting 4-0, was not extraordinary and — this is the significant part — never was going to be.
The Utes going 5-5 overall and 2-5 in league was … expected. Or if not wholly expected, suspected.
And that somehow makes it less of a glove to the face.
Whispers from the inside of Utah football last season were that if the Utes were going to find success in the Pac-12, with the experienced talent that was in place, that was the time to achieve it. After sending a good number of those athletes to the NFL, this season was bound, some of those same whisperers said, to be a rebuilding year.
Asked about that Monday, Whittingham, featuring the same calm tone he sported Saturday, said: “We knew there were some position groups that were in a complete turnover — offensive line and secondary, and then also breaking in a new starting quarterback. … I’m not going to say it was completely unexpected. You always hope for the best and hope things will go smoothly, but obviously we had some growing pains, and that’s part of the process.”
Whittingham can live with that. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t excuse it. But he’s realistic enough to know that this iteration of Utes is compromised, either through talent or experience or both. There have been mistakes made all around. Even some coaching errors.
But the point of fact now is that there are only three less-than-scintillating regular-season matters yet to be determined: Whether Utah is a 5-7 team, a 6-6 team, or a 7-5 team.
And that’s very much reflected in the coach’s measured postgame demeanor.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.