Utah Utes

Continuity was important part in remaking Utah’s coaching staff

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It’s been a rough few months for the Utah Utes’ coaching staff. As a result, head coach Kyle Whittingham believed the best course of action for his team was to manufacture continuity despite losing multiple coaches to other programs.

Everything started when defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake left to join Gary Anderson’ staff at Oregon State. Sitake was followed by offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, who left to take over as the Texas A&M Aggies’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator.

Then there was rumors that Whittingham interviewed for the opening with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the coach wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with athletic director Chris Hill.  

Whittingham eventually received a four-year extension, and he named offensive line coach Jim Harding and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick the team’s co-offensive coordinators. 

Promotions from within the staff were important to Whittingham after the team experienced numerous changes along its offensive staff in recent years.

“We’re going to continue to move forward with what we’ve been doing,” Whittingham said in an interview on KFAN in Salt Lake City, via CoachingSearch.com. “That’s the first order of business, to make sure our players were able to continue in the same exact scheme we were running last year. They feel very comfortable in that scheme and we didn’t want to make wholesale changes. We expect to continue to go down the road we’re on, fine tune what we’re doing. Even if you don’t change coordinators, you’re going to have tweaks. The basis of the offense and the philosophy of the offense remains the same.”

While Harding and Roderick will be taking over the offense, Whittingham is confident in his entire offensive staff.

“I just felt, between the two of those guys, they bring a lot to the table in their respective areas,” he continued. “I thought it was good working situation. Don’t forget about (running backs/assistant head coach) Dennis Erickson. He’s a major impact and major contributor to what we’re doing offensively. He doesn’t have a coordinator title, but he’s the assistant head coach now. He’s a guy that has a big influence on what we’re doing, offensively.”

QB transfer will play safety for the Utah Utes

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When quarterback Jason Thompson transferred from the Wyoming Cowboys to the Utah Utes last year, he did so to play under former head coach Dave Christensen, who was named Utah’s offensive coordinator.

After only one year in Salt Lake City, Christensen left the program to become the offensive line coach and run game coordinator with the Texas A&M Aggies.

Thompson’s time as a quarterback also ran its course in Utah. The junior will change positions during spring practice, according to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.

Thompson is already accustomed to making position switches. As a true freshman, he started one game at running back and another at quarterback.

The Utes lost both of its starting safeties, Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen, to graduation after the 2014 campaign. Thompson will have an opportunity to compete for playing time after sitting out the past two seasons.

Report: Rift grows between Kyle Whittingham and Utah’s AD

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Kyle Whittingham is the most successful coach in Utah Utes history. During his 20 years as an assistant coach, coordinator and head coach, Whittingham has been involved in 170 victories. But Whittingham may finally be living on borrowed time as the head coach of the Utes.

The Utah football program is coming apart at the seams.

After losing defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen to other programs in less than a week, Whittingham reportedly isn’t very happy with the current status of his program.

“In the time since, three assistant coaches have left the program, and sources familiar with the situation tell The Salt Lake Tribune that the relationship between Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill is severely fractured, perhaps irreparably,” Matthew Piper reported.

“Those sources, who requested anonymity so as not to not compromise their ties to the program, say Whittingham and Hill were on poor terms before the start of the season, and that the rift widened in recent weeks. The two were scheduled to meet Friday, a source said.”

The reported conflict stems from Hill’s inability to provide the financial backing for Whittingham to retain his coordinators.

“A source said Hill’s inability to lock up Sitake made Whittingham feel that Hill was trying to sabotage his program,” Piper added.

With Whittingham growing dissatisfaction with Utah and Hill’s leadership, the Utes’ head coach is actively searching for positions around college football.

“The source confirmed speculation that Whittingham has met with administrators at other schools,” Piper continued.

If that’s the case, Whittingham may be a respectable fallback option for the University of Michigan, which is still attempting to lure Jim Harbaugh from the NFL ranks.

After all, a program like Michigan could do worse than hiring a coach with a 85-43 career record,  eight bowl appearances in 10 years and the 2008 National Coach of the Year on his resume. It was rumored two weeks ago that Whittingham had met with Michigan officials.

UPDATE: Oregon State swipes defensive coordinator from Utah

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Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen committed a Pac-12-on-Pac-12 crime by stealing the Utah Utes’ defensive coordinator away from the program.

Kalani Sitake spent the last 10 seasons as a member of Utah’s coaching staff. He rose from being the program’s linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Sitake eventually earned an assistant head coach title in 2012.

After an extended stay in Salt Lake City, Andersen was able to pry the talented play-caller to Corvallis, Oregon, to become a key component to his new staff.

Utah’s defense finished in the middle of the Pac-12 pack in most of the major statistical categories this season, but Sitake’s approach is very aggressive. Utah led the conference with 52 sacks.

Sitake’s experience stopping Pac-12 offense was also a vital component for Andersen.

Dave Aranda previously served as Andersen’s defensive coordinator at both Utah State and Wisconsin. The new Beavers head coach obviously wanted to go in another direction, though.

Plus, Sitake is an important addition for Oregon State recruiting. During his time at Utah, the Tongan native recruited the Los Angeles area, Utah and Florida.

Utah’s defensive line coach, Ilaisa Tuiaki, will join Sitake, according to SI.com’s Thayer Evans.

UPDATE [8:45 p.m. ET]: Oregon State’s athletic department officially announced six different additions to Gary Andersen‘s staff.

Kalani Sitake (defensive coordinator/assistant head coach), Chad Kauha’aha’a, Derrick Odum, Ilaisa TuiakiT.J. Woods and Evan Simon (strength and conditioning coach) will comprise the bulk of the team’s support staff.

“One of my top priorities has been to put together a staff that helps student-athletes succeed academically, socially and athletically,” Andersen said in a statement from the school. “These coaches all put the student-athlete first and are all proven professionals in their respective areas, excelling at the highest level. They have demonstrated the ability to recruit nationally and that experience ensures that we will be able to bring in student-athletes that fit Oregon State University, our community and our program.”

Report: Nebraska also met with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham

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As late as Wednesday, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst hadn’t decided on the Cornhuskers’ next football coach.

The university announced the hiring of former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley Thursday after a brief three-day search. Former head coach Bo Pelini was fired Sunday. Riley will arrive in Lincoln to take over duties Thursday evening.

Prior to the hire, Nebraska was believed to have heavy interest in Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. The head hog apparently turned down the opportunity to return to the Big Ten Conference.

Eichorst then turned his attention to a Pac-12 coach, and it wasn’t Riley.

“Another source told the [Lincoln] Journal Star that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was believed to have met with Eichorst on Wednesday,” Brian Christopherson and Steven M. Sipple reported.

Even if the athletic director was leaning toward Riley prior to the interview with Whittingham, the report Bielema turned down the job indicates he was the top candidate for the job. Worst case scenario:  Riley was the team’s third option behind Bielema and Whittingham.

There hasn’t been a report whether or not Whittingham was ever offered the position, though.

While Whittingham ultimately didn’t land the job in Lincoln, he was obviously a legitimate candidate. Whittingham is six years younger than Riley with a 84-43 overall record during his 10 seasons with the Utes. More importantly, Whittinghan’s teams are 7-1 in bowl games.

But the Utah coach apparently didn’t fit all the criteria Eichorst set forth for Nebraska’s head coach like Riley did.