Alex Whittingham had dreams.
But they were about football stats, not roaming the sideline. Trading in his helmet and pads for a Sharpie pen and visor was never in the cards. At least not until much, much later. Not until recently, in fact.
When Alex was 8, Kyle Whittingham would get home late from work during his days as Utah’s defensive coordinator, check in on his son fast asleep in his bed and he’d hear him sleep-talking about statistics regarding his favorite football team at the time, the Tennessee Titans.
“He’s been a football junkie,” Kyle Whittingham said, “since day one”
So when football ended last December — at least the suited-up version of it — Alex Whittingham found himself at a bit of a crossroads. For a while he thought about joining law enforcement, or diving further into his major at Utah, psychology, and seeing where that route might take him. But throughout his last year of life as Ute, some thoughts periodically bounced around in his mind, and at times, he entertained them.
Could he? Could he keep the family tradition chugging along?
“I thought coaching would be something I felt obligated to at least try,” Alex said. “Grandpa did it.”
On Monday night in Denver, you’ll see a Whittingham on the sidelines during a nationally televised game. As the 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs, the talk of the NFL early on this season, take on the Denver Broncos, Alex will be doing his part trying to figure out the best way to get to the opposing quarterback. This summer he joined Andy Reid’s staff as a defensive assistant and has worked with Kansas City’s outside linebackers, while on a daily basis letting the reality of each day sink in.
CHIEFS AT BRONCOS
When • Monday, 6:20 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN
He’s a coach now. Just like dad. Just like his uncles. Just like his grandfather, Fred. He’s in Kansas City working for Reid, who, like Kyle, played and coached at BYU. It’s not easy. That part became reality quick. It’s the opposite, in fact. It’s the pros, and in the pros, you can tell the difference right away.
“You know it’s a business, and you learn it’s a business from the first day you walk in,” Alex said. “It’s very professional. People are here to get the job done, and you can tell it’s how they make their living.”
The gig is doing as much as you can every single day. On the field, and off it. If Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton needs something done, Alex is there. If it’s running drills or getting film prepped and set up for a meticulous breakdown, this is life as a young first-year assistant learning about the other side of football on the fly.
“As a player, you kind of know coaches are there doing stuff, but you don’t really ask any questions,” said Alex, reminiscing of his playing days. “The game plan is there for you. I’ve really grown to appreciate everything that the coaches do. It’s a grind, from the head coach, all the way down to someone like me. There’s always something you should be doing.”
And each day, Kyle and Alex talk on the phone. They’ll ask one another about what transpired that day. Alex will ask his dad for advice. Sometimes it’s schematics of an opposing offense, other times it’s philosophical stuff Kyle’s learned over the course of his 30-plus years in the coaching ranks.
“I feel like it’s even brought me and my dad closer together,” Alex said, “because he went through the steps of coming up through the profession.”
Kyle hasn’t missed on opportunities to tell his son that his path to the top isn’t easily replicated. There are pitfalls along the way in coaching, and plenty of them, he has said. Utah’s head coach considers himself very fortunate to have accomplished what he has these last four decades.
“Don’t look at me and think this is the norm,” Kyle has told his son, “because I’ve been very blessed. I don’t know if legacy is the right word, but it makes you proud that your son wants to follow in your footsteps.”
Alex knows it. Working for Reid, he says, “is a dream.” Showing up to work each day is surreal for him. He’s seen how coaching works all these years, but it wasn’t until this summer that he got a crash course on what life outside the cleats is truly about. But he’s enjoying it, and looks forward to each day showing up at work.
“It doesn’t feel like a job,” he said. “It’s just football.”