Andy Ludwig’s return means a sigh of relief and business as usual for the Utes

Ludwig interviewed for the offensive coordinator position at Notre Dame over the weekend

If anyone knows how hard it is to replace an offensive coordinator, it’s Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

After Andy Ludwig left Utah in 2008, Whittingham and the Utes cycled through seven different coordinators over the next decade before finding a fit that truly worked: a reunion with Ludwig.

So take a moment and consider what the University of Utah football program was facing in recent days:

• Ludwig was the “leading candidate” for Notre Dame’s open offensive coordinator position and visited the campus and head coach Marcus Freeman over the weekend.

• Had Ludwig joined the Irish staff, according to one report, Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding — the only other coach on Whittingham’s staff with offensive play-calling experience — was going to go with him.

• With spring practice just five weeks away, Whittingham would have been left to hire and break in a new offensive coordinator, who would be installing a new offense with Utah’s presumed starting quarterback, Cam Rising, sidelined with a torn ACL.

But instead of navigating chaos, the Utes can keep their focus on a championship. Coming off back-to-back Pac-12 titles and subsequent Rose Bowl appearances, Ludwig will return for a fifth season in his second OC stint at Utah.

What happened?

Ludwig operates on a rolling three-year contract, with a buyout of roughly $2.8 million. As things began picking up steam over the weekend, that buyout figure turned out to be a deterrent in getting a deal done. Multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune Monday evening that Notre Dame balked at that buyout figure.

Ludwig made $1.25 million last season, according to a USA Today database of assistant coaches’ salaries. He’s believed to be the Pac-12′s highest-paid offensive coordinator (USC’s contracts are not publicly available). Whether Ludwig stands to get a raise from Utah in the wake of his return is unknown.

Utah’s offensive outlook

Ludwig’s return to Salt Lake is an obvious boon for the Utes and Whittingham, who had essentially turned over control of the offense to his coordinator.

Under Ludwig’s direction, Utah’s offense has often been electric, but almost always steady. In 2022, the Utes averaged 466.9 yards of total offense (No. 5 Pac-12, No. 17 nationally) and 38.6 points per game (No. 5 Pac-12, No. 11 nationally) on their way to a second straight Rose Bowl appearance. In 2021, Utah averaged 36.1 points per game and 431.1 yards of total offense.

The Utes will return key veterans next season, including Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe and wide receiver Devaughn Vele, who will bring with them plenty of experience and high expectations.

Having to start over with a new coordinator would have certainly dampened those expectations. Most pundits will point to a handful of teams — including Utah, USC, Oregon, and Washington — with a real chance to win the Pac-12 in 2023. Had Ludwig left, the Utes might very well be bumped from that list. That’s how much he means to this offense and this program right now.

What happens next for Utah? Very likely, it’s business as usual and the last few days become a footnote in the Utes’ 2023 season.

Florida will come to Rice-Eccles for a highly anticipated season opener.

Rising will continue rehabbing his torn ACL with an eye toward being ready for the Gators.

Kuithe, who is dealing with his own ACL rehab, said in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl that he expected to be ready in late spring, an indication that his readiness for Florida is not expected to be an issue.

Ja’Quinden Jackson has a full offseason as a running back under Ludwig and position coach Quinton Ganther.

Potential QB2 Nate Johnson keeps working under Ludwig, not just for whatever his role will be in 2023, but with the knowledge that Rising will be gone after this season and the job of QB1 will be up for grabs.

And the status quo remains for Micah Bernard, Makai Cope, Thomas Yassmin and other offensive weapons who have already built up a rapport with their OC.