Kyle Whittingham handing reins to Andy Ludwig, who returns to Utah as offensive coordinator

Troy Taylor’s replacement comes from Vanderbilt of the SEC, where he spent the past four seasons.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) In this 2008 file photo, Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig yells instructions to his players during the University of Utah practice at the Superdome that year. It was confirmed on Jan. 11, 2019, that Ludwig will return to the same position at the University of Utah.

Andy Ludwig, Utah’s first and longest-lasting play-caller of the Kyle Whittingham coaching era, is returning to the Ute football program as offensive coordinator, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed Thursday night.

Utah announced Ludwig’s hiring Friday morning, with a news release crediting his involvement in “the most successful season in Utah football history,” based on the 2008 team’s 13-0 record with a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

Whittingham’s statement mentioned Ludwig’s “wealth of knowledge and experience as a collegiate offensive coordinator, as well as being and outstanding quarterbacks coach and recruiter” and said the transition should be smooth because he’s “obviously very familiar with our program.”

Ludwig cited the attractions of Utah’s “commitment to the student-athletes, coach Whittingham’s leadership and the passion of the Ute fan base.”

The announcement came as several recruits (including a quarterback prospect) are visiting the campus this weekend in advance of the February signing period.

Ludwig left Utah to work at the Power Five level after the Sugar Bowl, triggering Whittingham’s hiring or promotion of eight play-callers in 10 seasons. Having worked as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator for the past four years, Ludwig was chosen over Ute offensive line coach Jim Harding and other potential targets during a three-week search that followed Troy Taylor’s becoming Sacramento State’s head coach.

Alex Markham of Ute Nation on the Rivals network reported earlier this week that Ludwig topped Whittingham's list.

Ludwig spent four years on Whittingham's staff in Utah's Mountain West era. He initially took a job at Kansas State, before going to California later in the winter of 2009. Whittingham is believed to have pursued him at various points during this decade, while Ludwig has worked at Cal, San Diego State, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt.

A graduate of Bonneville High School, the 54-year-old Ludwig has strong ties to the Intermountain area. He's also comfortable working for Whittingham, who is demanding of his assistants.

As a private school, Vanderbilt doesn't release coaching salaries. Ludwig's most recently published income was $480,000 at Wisconsin in 2014. Utah paid Taylor $525,000 (plus an $87,500 bonus) in 2018, according to USA Today.

Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford primarily designed the offense during Ludwig’s tenure in Berkeley; otherwise, Ludwig has worked for coaches with defensive backgrounds, including Rocky Long at San Diego State, Gary Andersen at Wisconsin and Derek Mason at Vanderbilt.

Ludwig and Andersen were Utah's coordinators during the program's 13-0 season of 2008, before departing. Andersen returned to the Ute staff for the 2018 season before launching a second stint as Utah State's head coach.

Vanderbilt's 2018 offense was credited with overachievement in the Southeastern Conference, as the Commodores beat rival Tennessee for the second straight year before losing 45-38 loss to Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

Whittingham’s eight play-callers after Ludwig left include including Aaron Roderick’s two stints. Taylor’s tenure matched the longest of any Ute offensive coordinator since Ludwig.

Whittingham again has a full 10-member staff, with the hiring of defensive line coach Sione Po'uha as Andersen's replacement and linebackers coach Colton Swan as the successor to Justin Ena, who followed Andersen to USU. The next question is whether the rest of the offensive staff will remain intact or if Ludwig will bring in any of his own assistants.

Harding is a key figure in the program. He has coached Utah’s offensive line for five seasons and held a co-coordinator title in 2015 and ’16, although Roderick called the plays in those seasons. Harding is credited with the development of tackle Jackson Barton and guard Jordan Agasiva, who each made the All-Pac-12 first team in 2018. His four seniors from the 2016 offensive line all made opening-day NFL rosters. Harding now has the title of assistant head coach.