Kyle Whittingham is not a guy concerned with what kind of legacy he might be leaving whenever he decides to retire from coaching.
The 16th-year University of Utah head coach told The Salt Lake Tribune as much last month during an interview for a story on the Utes beginning their 10th season as a member of the Pac-12.
“I’m constantly looking forward, thinking forward,” Whittingham told The Tribune. “I don’t reminisce, it’s not my personality, I’m too focused on the next task. This job is too demanding, too consuming, so you better enjoy it and thrive in the competitive arena you’re in. If you’re not excited to get up and do it, it’s time to call it.”
Whittingham, who will turn 61 on Nov. 21, is not ready to call it, and his athletic department is not ready to let him go. Utah on Wednesday afternoon announced a four-year contract extension for Whittingham, locking him until at least 2027.
Between “base salary,” “radio and television revenue,” and “appearance fees, public speaking, engagements and fundraising,” the value of the contract through its Dec. 31, 2027 termination date is estimated to be north of $40 million.
In addition to new salary escalators, the contract amendment, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, still includes a previously-agreed-upon role as “special assistant to the athletics director” whenever Whititngham retires.
If Whittingham coaches all the way through the end of the contract on Dec. 31, 2027, his role as special assistant to the AD would last for six years and pay him one-sixth of his total compensation. Retirement between Jan. 1, 2025 and Dec. 30, 2027 triggers seven years and one-seventh of total compensation, while retiring on or after Dec. 31, 2027 means six years and one-sixth of total compensation.
“Kyle Whittingham has established a culture in the Utah football program that not only achieves success on the field, but also in the classroom, the community and in the development of student-athletes for their future beyond their time on campus,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “This has been especially evident throughout the pandemic, as he has steadily demonstrated leadership, patience and flexibility, putting the priority of health and well-being for student-athletes above all else.”
Wednesday marked the second time since Harlan’s arrival in June 2018 that he has given his head football coach a contract extension. In March 2019, Whittingham was given a two-year extension to take him through the 2023 season.
Whittingham’s willingness to potentially coach until he is 68 does come as a bit of a surprise. In an Oct. 2019 interview with ESPN700, Whittingham was quoted as saying “I can just about guarantee I won’t be coaching at 65.”
However the timeline shakes out, whenever Whittingham decides to leave the profession, Wednesday again made clear that he will retire as Utah’s head coach. Furthermore, Whittingham is in line to retire as the most-successful coach in the history of the program, which dates back to 1894.
Utah will open its truncated seven-game season on Saturday afternoon vs. Arizona (1:30 p.m., ESPN2) with Whittingham sitting 10 wins shy of Ike Armstrong’s school record for head coaching wins of 141.
Armstrong coached from 1925-1949, a much different time with many different things at stake. With or without the wins record, Whittingham already has a stiff argument as Utah’s most-successful coach.
Whittingham has won a Fiesta Bowl, he has won a Sugar Bowl, the latter acting as the capper to Utah’s vaunted 2008 team going 13-0. The Utes finished their tenure in the Mountain West by winning at least 10 games from 2008-10, including going 21-3 vs. the conference.
Whittingham has compared the football program’s move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 to spanning the Grand Canyon, but it hasn’t taken very long for the Utes to be contenders.
The Utes have won at least eight games six times in nine seasons. They shared the Pac-12 South title in 2015, then won it outright in 2018 and 2019. Utah enters 2020, not as the South favorite, but certainly as a threat. That is a testament to what Whittingham has built, because the Utes are replacing their quarterback, running back and nine defensive starters from the 2019 team, which went 11-3 and got to the doorstep of the College Football Playoff.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM AT UTAH
2004: 1-0 (Co-head coach of Fiesta Bowl with Urban Meyer)
2005: 7-5, 4-4 Mountain West
2006: 8-5, 5-3 Mountain West
2007: 8-4, 5-3 Mountain West
2008: 13-0, 8-0 Mountain West
2009: 10-3, 6-2 Mountain West
2010: 10-3, 7-1 Mountain West
2011: 8-5, 4-5 Pac-12
2012: 5-7, 3-6 Pac-12
2013: 5-7, 2-7 Pac-12
2014: 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12
2015: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12
2016: 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12
2017: 7-6, 3-6 Pac-12
2018: 9-5, 6-3 Pac-12
2019: 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12
Totals: 131-64 overall, 35-13 Mountain West, 48-46 Pac-12