LAS VEGAS (AP) — Utah's Kyle Whittingham doesn’t care what conversation he’s involved in when it comes to the chatter of today’s top college football coaches.
But after his Utes dismantled College Football Playoff-hopeful Southern California 47-24 on Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game, it may be time to place his name alongside those considered today’s greats.
“I don’t know why it’s not. Like, back-to-back Pac-12 championships, come on now, he’s been here too long for people not to be talking about him,” Utah running back Ja’Quinden Jackson said. “One of the best coaches that I’ve been around. It’s time.”
Utah, which was playing in its fourth Pac-12 championship over the last five seasons, is bowl eligible for the 14th time under Whittingham, the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and second longest in the FBS.
“It’s an anomaly to be at a school as long as I have, that just doesn’t happen in this day and age,” Whittingham said. “I’m very grateful and blessed to have been at the University of Utah for as long as I have ... close to 30 years as an assistant coach and head coach. Most coaches in that time-frame have been at 10 or 12 different places, so I feel very fortunate.”
Whittingham said his focus has never been on him, but more so on keeping his job.
The only way to do so, he added, is by winning.
The Utes have finished with a winning season in 16 of Whittingham’s 18 years as head coach, and have nine consecutive years of winning seasons since 2014.
“It’s all about relationships and building those relationships with the players and your coaching staff, and even coaches from other teams,” said Whittingham, who is 154-73 since taking over the program. “Again, if you don’t win enough you won’t be around long enough to build relationships. I’ve been fortunate in that regard. And I have no really no opinion on should I be in whatever conversation.”
Nevertheless, while the Utes were going to the Rose Bowl whether or not they won or lost Friday, it was their second win over the favored Trojans this season, a victory that sweetened the pot for Utah before heading to Pasadena.
As they did in the regular season matchup, in which it fell behind by 14 points thrice, Utah shook off a 17-3 deficit and outscored the Trojans 44-7 en route to its blowout victory to claim its second consecutive conference championship.
And with the Utes up by 10, and the Trojans driving to close the gap, senior R.J. Hubert intercepted Caleb Williams' pass to send a good portion of the announced sellout crowd of 61,195 into a frenzy.
Moments later, Jackson raced 53 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach, reigniting the crowd and further cementing Whittingham’s legacy.
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