The defensive coordinator for the Utah Utes has been offered the head coaching job at both Utah and rival Brigham Young, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned, and he spent Monday night at home with his family straining to decide which offer to accept.
"It's all 'No comment' at this point," he said.
Whittingham has longed to be a head coach for years, but now must make a difficult choice between his longtime employer and his alma mater - and one that could leave the Utes with barely a shell of a coaching staff for their historic Fiesta Bowl against Pittsburgh on Jan. 1.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford already has left to become the head coach at UNLV, and The Tribune has learned he's taking linebackers coach Kurt Barber with him. Sanford was formally introduced at a press conference Monday, promising to turn the downtrodden Rebels into the same kind of offensive force as the Utes after signing a five-year contract reportedly worth $500,000 a year.
"Our expectation level should be, and my expectation level is, to win the Mountain West Conference championship, go to a bowl game and to be ranked in the top 20 in the nation every year," he said.
Now, if Whittingham chooses to replace Gary Crowton at BYU, the Utes could be down to as few as five of their usual nine assistants to outgoing coach Urban Meyer - scheduled to be introduced as Florida's coach at a press conference in Gainesville today - for the bowl game. That's because defensive line coach Gary Andersen will serve as Whittingham's defensive coordinator, whether it's at Utah or BYU.
The Cougars offered Whittingham their job after former assistant coach Norm Chow of USC turned his attention toward replacing the fired Buddy Teevens at Stanford. They also had to act fast, knowing that the Utes wanted to hire him.
Utah athletic director Chris Hill declined comment through a spokesperson, as did BYU interim athletic director for football Tom Holmoe, who was in New York City with other top Cougar administrators for former coach LaVell Edwards' induction tonight into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Utah is offering Whittingham $500,000 a year, The Tribune has learned, and the Cougars probably are not far off that mark.
But money is far from the only consideration for Whittingham.
The 45-year-old has coached at Utah since 1994, but he grew up in Provo and was an All-Western Athletic Conference linebacker for the hometown Cougars. Much of his immediate family still lives in Provo, and Whittingham also is a member of the LDS Church that owns BYU.
Plus, coaching the Cougars probably gives him a better opportunity to be viewed as a success early on, considering they're coming off their third straight losing season with most of their offensive firepower due to return next fall.
Meanwhile, the No. 5 Utes are 21-2 over the last two years.
Though Whittingham could continue to build a national power there, he also might encounter expectations that outpace the abilities of a man who never has been a head coach. There's almost nothing the Utes can do next season that will be viewed as an improvement on this one - especially if quarterback Alex Smith decides to skip his senior season and enter the NFL, now that Meyer is headed to Florida.
The Utes will lose 12 starters if Smith stays, and already have watched their top recruit, quarterback Josh Portis, back off his verbal commitment to join the team because Meyer is leaving.
While Whittingham agonized about what to do, his fellow assistants were waiting to see what would happen and where they might be working next season.
Offensive line coach John Hevesy, quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales are the most likely candidates to join Meyer in Florida, though Mullen said Monday he also has talked to Sanford about joining him at UNLV and to Whittingham about working as the offensive coordinator at Utah, if Whittingham chooses to remain with the Utes.
"The most important thing is to make sure we're doing everything right here to be ready for the bowl game," Mullen said.
Mullen will be in charge of handling the offense at practice today, while Meyer is off at his press conference in Florida. After that, Meyer will join Smith and guard Chris Kemoeatu in traveling to Orlando for the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Thursday night.
By then, the Utes could have a new coach.
Or a whole new set of challenges.
On the Clock
A list of positives for Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham at both schools:
Already well-established, knows his personnel
No rebuilding required for team with national profile
Chance to start next season highly ranked
Better chance to be viewed as football savior
Opportunity to rekindle passion of massive fan base
Member of LDS Church can return to alma mater