As Utah's fairly uneventful preseason football practice moves into its final week, coach Kyle Whittingham is keeping track of the tumult elsewhere in college football.
Even beyond his friendship with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, Whittingham tries to remain aware of developments in the profession that can educate him, in his 14th season as a head coach. Whittingham, one of the most prominent members of Meyer’s expansive coaching tree, won’t comment directly on Meyer’s three-game suspension. Yet he’s following what has happened in the programs of Meyer and Maryland coach D.J. Durkin, another Meyer protege, who was placed on administrative leave Aug. 11 during a school investigation.
Ohio State sanctioned Meyer for not properly dealing with domestic-abuse allegations against assistant coach Zach Smith. Maryland is responding to the death of a player resulting from conditioning drills in May and a recent ESPN.com report describing the program’s “toxic culture.”
Whittingham’s approach is “always trying to learn from everyone,” he said. “Pay attention to what’s going on with other people and try to learn vicariously as best you can. Yeah, absolutely. It would be ignorant to not pay attention to what’s going on and glean information from it.”
Meyer remains influential in Utah's program, having coached the Utes to a 22-2 record in 2003 and '04 before departing to Florida. Whittingham was his defensive coordinator for those two seasons. Gary Andersen, who has returned to Utah as a defensive line coach, worked for Meyer in '04. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was a star safety for the Utes in the Meyer era (Andersen and Scalley were not made available to the media this week after Meyer's suspension was announced).
Weber State coach Jay Hill, whose team faces the Utes in Thursday's season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium, was a member of Meyer's support staff at Utah.
In the Maryland case, strength and conditioning coach Rick Court resigned, after being at the center of the school’s investigation and the ESPN.com story about abusive behavior of players. The harsh atmosphere continued even after the death of freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair that stemmed from an offseason team workout, the story said.
Whittingham is known for administering a hard-working, developmental program, but is conscious of treating players properly, including their offseason work with strength coach Doug Elisaia.
“We're always evaluating everything, and this is a players-first program,” Whittingham said. “Every decision we make is based upon the players and their welfare.”
Whittingham does miss the era of two-a-day practices, eliminated by the NCAA. He would rather have more practices in a shorter time frame; the Utes started Aug. 1 and will have practiced 25 times in 29 days before taking the field against Weber State. That's a long time to practice without playing a game.
The new calendar adds “a few days you wish you didn't have,” Whittingham said. “Make no mistake, we need these practices, but I was a fan of [the days] when there was a little more compressed time frame.”
Sophomore receiver Britain Covey, who missed two seasons during a church mission to Chile, is eager to play in a game for the first time since December 2015. “We don’t do much live work out here, so I’m just waiting to get tackled, get that feeling back,” he said.