Whatever is written in the newspaper; whatever is posted on the Internet; whatever is said over sports talk airwaves, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t reading, browsing or listening. And if he is, he doesn’t care what's out there.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a coach in America who took what happened to his ball club in 2012 more personally than Whittingham. In his mind, it was so unacceptable that the word “unacceptable” isn’t even acceptable to describe it. To hear him talk about it, you’d think his Utes went 0-12 and lost each game by an average of 35 points.
The reality is the Utes lost seven games last year -- their most since 2000 -- by an average of fewer than 14 points. It was just their third seven-loss season since 1990.
One loss came in overtime after losing their starting quarterback in the first half. Another was a blown lead against USC that led to a 10-point loss. The end result overshadows some high points, such as the win over No. 25 BYU and blowout victories over Cal and Washington State. But the end result is all that Whittingham cares about – and it’s how he judges his program and himself as a coach.
“No amount of external pressure will ever be more intense than the pressure I place on myself and my coaching staff places on themselves,” Whittingham said. “I don’t even think about the external pressures. It’s not in the scope of my thought process.”
It would be easy for Whittingham to make excuses for two seasons of sub-.500 conference ball (7-11 in conference, 13-12 overall) since the Utes first joined the Pac-12 in 2011. After all, they’ve been tossing loaded dice since leaving the Mountain West after enjoying an average of nearly nine wins a season during their 12-year run. Among the challenges was coping with significant injuries and inconsistency at certain positions -- issues that can be devastating to a team lacking the depth to compete in an elite conference. Plus, Utah was only getting a 50 percent of conference revenue last season (that bumps up to 75 percent this year and they’ll be a full member in 2014-2015). The building process has been challenging.
Not an issue, says Whittingham.
“We knew it was going to be very competitive and a situation where several aspects of our program,” Whittingham said. “I don’t want to sound like an excuse because it’s not. But we knew there would be challenges financially, depth-wise, facilities and things of that nature. We all understood that. But I don’t think anything has taken us by surprise. There’s nothing that has caught us off guard.
“We’re in this business because we’re competitive and because we want to win."
The Utes took a big step forward last week when they unveiled their new $32 million facility, complete with all the bells and whistles that puts them one step closer to being on a level playing field with the rest of the conference.
But even the Taj Mahal of recruiting wouldn’t erase the sour taste of a proud program having to stay home in December for the first time in nine seasons. And it’s not just the fact that they were not going to the postseason, Utah had an 8-1 bowl record since 2003 -- including a pair of BCS bowl victories. While Whittingham understands there was a learning curve coming into a major conference, it doesn’t mean he’ll just accept it.
“You want to be on a level playing field resource wise and we’re getting to that point,” he said. “But we started out behind the eight-ball with the three-year ramp-up period. We’re playing catchup in that area as far as the funds and the resources. But we feel like we’re making up ground.”