Feb. 27, 2009

By Adam Caparell

Don't think for a minute that success has gone to the head of Kyle Whittingham or anyone associated with the Utah program.

Only two months removed from its second BCS bowl victory and most successful campaign in school history, it's been business as usual around the offices in Salt Lake City.

"We've been through it before, this is not new territory for us," the Utes' head coach said.

But wins like an upset over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl always bring about change, for better and for worse. And while the win has done wonders for the Utes in the recruiting department, Whittingham is charting some new territory this off-season, having been forced to undertake the task he hates more than any as a head coach.

Hiring assistant coaches.

"I don't like losing coaches and having to find new guys, particularly when the staff you did have intact was so cohesive."

Utah Coach
Kyle Whittingham

"It's my least favorite part of the job, I can tell you that," Whittingham said. "I don't like losing coaches and having to find new guys, particularly when the staff you did have intact was so cohesive."

Staff continuity has been a trademark of Utah football since Whittngham took over in 2005 and it's a big reason why the Utes are considered the most successful program in the Mountain West Conference and arguably the best non-BCS program over the last four seasons.

Utah is 37-14 under Whittingham, 4-0 in bowl games, and 7-3 against BCS schools all while maintaining a nearly stable corps of assistant coaches, no small feat in today's world of college football.

Most successful non-BCS schools, and even upper-echelon BCS schools, experience significant staff turnovers at the end of each season as assistants look for that next best position, one that will undoubtedly pay them more, and oftentimes double.

Except, it seems, at Utah.

"That's not been as big a challenge (for Utah) as it is at some universities," Whittingham said.

That is, until January.

During Whittingham's first three seasons as Utah's head coach he saw only two assistants leave the program, a remarkably low number for any program. Compare that to the turnover you see with some of the game's more notable schools, like Miami, USC, Alabama, LSU and Florida. Try counting up all the comings and goings on those staffs over the past four years.

But the man who took over the reins from Urban Meyer has been working with pretty much the same set of guys since his promotion from defensive coordinator in 2005. Sure some of the big boys in college football have won championships in spite of staff turnover, but sooner or later, it catches up to you. Just look at Miami. The Hurricanes, under Randy Shannon, will feature their second offensive coordinator in two seasons and third defensive coordinator in three seasons when fall rolls around. Now that's not the only reason Miami is just 12-13 under Shannon, but it plays a big role.

"Staff continuity is vital to your success," Whittingham said. "Staff chemistry is something that plays a big part or what type of success you're going to have."

If you ask just about every coach, they'll tell you staff chemistry is vastly overlooked. In college football, success makes the head coach and his staff hot commodities. And this off-season, after going 13-0, Whittngham's staff was in demand. 

Whittingham had to rifle through résumés to hire three new assistants over the past two months after two coaches left Salt Lake City for jobs at Kansas State and defensive coordinator Gary Anderson was named the head coach at Utah State. The Utes will feature new coordinators next season and they just filled their final opening Feb. 24, hiring J.D. Williams to coach the cornerbacks.

Whittingham essentially had a fourth position to fill before wide receivers coach Aaron Roderick changed his mind and decided to return to Utah - for a variety of reasons, most notably family - after accepting a position on Steve Sarkisian's new staff at Washington.

"People like working here and they don't want to leave," Roderick said. "First of all, you're working for a guy who is a great coach and treats everybody well and always puts the players first. Coach Whittingham has established a great working environment and you add that to the fact that this is a great place to live and your quality of life is so high that a lot of guys who have bounced around the country, once they land here they realize, man, this is a good deal. Moving around doesn't sound so good."

Whittingham calls Utah the best kept secret in the country. He'll readily talk up the quality of life Salt Lake City has to offer before talking about his program, a program that's looking more attractive every year to recruits. That's one of the reasons Roderick ended up never really leaving.

"I realized I'm walking away from something great at Utah," Roderick said. "And once I got away from here I realized how much I love it here."

Now, with success in his back pocket, it's a matter of whether Whittingham can show his assistants the love.

"You try to take care of your coaches as best you can," Whittingham said. "Who I work with is very important to me. I would not change jobs just for a little bigger increase in salary. Now that's a relative statement because if you have a chance to double your salary that's a different deal."

It's a delicate situation for Whittingham or any head coach at a non-BCS school where budgets are tight. A head coach never wants to hold his assistants back from landing that next job because they've pretty much been in the same boat at one time or another. But at the same time, a good majority of assistants around the country are looking to climb the ladder, hoping to coach at the highest levels of college football, and make the big bucks some day.

"Their budgets are so much more extensive than ours; that's really the thing that can pry people out of here is when you have a chance to double your salary or close to that," Whittingham said. "That's tough to turn down."

But it's apparently a little easier at Utah.

Most non-BCS schools can't compete for assistant coaches when a BCS school comes calling. The allure, the resources; it's too much to overcome. Except, it seems, at Utah, where money only counts for so much.

Quality and continuity mean a whole lot more.