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December 30, 2018

Kyle Whittingham

San Diego, California

KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Great to be here. We've had a phenomenal week. Want to thank Mark, all the Holiday Bowl representatives, all the red coats, everybody that's made this week as great as it is.

A lot of what I would say, Coach Fitz just said. No need to reiterate that. Feel the same way about our experience. I had the privilege to play in the first four Holiday Bowls. Even better since I was a player way back when.

Our players have had a good time. Phenomenal week. The families have enjoyed it. I would like to thank our AD Mark Harlan, our president Ruth Watkins, making it a great experience. Really rolled out all the red carpets to the families, virtually everyone in our program. All our wives, everybody was able to bring all our wives, not just one, so that was positive. We're from Utah (laughter).

Anyway, it's been a great experience. Excited to play these guys. I think there's a lot of common ground with these two football teams, very similar in our approach, at least from my vantage point. Their style of play mirrors ours, as well.

When you're playing in a bowl game, oftentimes it's like a season opener: a lot of unknowns. You've had five or six weeks to make some changes, tweak some things. You have to be ready for anything.

Our guys have worked hard in practice, as they always do. Everyone asks me what our key to success is in bowl prep. Really nothing that we hold under lock and key, some secret practice plans. Just the way our guys go about business, knowing when to have fun, knowing when to get down to business. Our guys have done a great job of doing that. We're ecstatic to be here.

Questions, hopefully not as many as coach had there (laughter).

Q. Is it proper now that we need to acknowledge you as a Holiday Bowl Hall of Famer?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: No, it's not necessary. Totally unnecessary. But I'm honored to be in that, so...

Q. Can you talk about your experience back in the day, the Holiday Bowl.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Can't talk about all of it (laughter).

Q. The ones you can publicly. What does it mean to you to come back here with your team in a place that you're a Hall of Fame member?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: It's great. In some ways it's surreal. Way back in, what was it, 1979, '78, the inaugural game. Being able to play Navy, Indiana, SMU and Washington State. Think that was the order. I can't remember if Navy was first or second.

Anyway, to be able to come back some, what, 40 years later, that is pretty incredible. Like I said, we're just honored to be here. Had a chance to obviously play in the championship game, and fell short, which put us in the Holiday Bowl. This is where we wanted to be. If we weren't able to go ahead to the Rose Bowl, this is where we wanted to be. Our guys are having a great time, like I said.

Q. I'll ask you about your seniors. What do they mean to your program?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Meant so much. Those guys, I've been here at Utah for 25 years now, a large chunk of time. Since I've been head coach, pretty sure the entire time I've been here, just 11 of them. But great quality. I mean, the quality of this senior class is phenomenal. They've been great leaders. They're all graduated.

Coach mentioned they're number one in the country. Congratulations to that. I believe we're number five. We're right up there with the best of them. If we can be on the heels of Northwestern, that's pretty good company.

Our guys have done a great job in all areas. They're without a doubt leaving this a better place than when they arrived. Just can't say enough about Chase Hansen, Cody Barton, Lo Falemaka, Jack Barton. All those kids have been instrumental to us being able to have that breakthrough and win the Pac-12 South, which was a big step in the right direction for our program.

Q. In terms of coming so close to the Rose Bowl, did that cross your mind at all this month?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: No, it didn't. Like I said, it was a big step forward for us to win the Pac-12 South. Not that we did that and we were satisfied, that was the ultimate goal, but it's something we had not done before.

Bottom line, we've been in the league eight years, something we had not been able to achieve. Been close. Tied for it one time. We weren't able to get that outright championship that gave us an opportunity to play in the Pac-12 championship game, which obviously is the steppingstone to the Rose Bowl.

We're elated to be where we're at. Gives us something to shoot for in the future.

Q. Given your recruiting base, is it a help for you playing in a bowl game in southern California?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Yeah, without a doubt. Southern Cal is our primary area. If you look at our roster, the bulk of our team is from southern California, in-state and southern Cal, top two areas. To be able to play in that footprint is a plus. Our coaches work this area hard every year, have done so ever since I've been at Utah. That definitely is an added bonus to playing down here.

Q. I'm sure you don't want to share this, but how is Tyler Huntley looking?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: He looks great. He's doing a great job. Still unknown really, unknown about tomorrow. He's practiced, ready to go. If he's allowed to go, he's ready to go. But that's really, by all definitions, a game time decision.

Q. What do you see when you look at Clayton Thorson on tape?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Great player. Like coach said, he's been a stalwart for them. He does a great job running the offense. We have our hands full with these guys. A great matchup. The style of play is so similar, at least in my estimation. It's going to be an interesting matchup.

Q. Do you feel like with your bowl record your team maybe tries to push a little harder for that? Everybody wants to win the bowl, but does that play into effect?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: I think without a doubt. Each successive group wants to uphold the tradition, not be the group that lets the previous guys down. There's been literally hundreds of players that have amassed this bowl record. There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of classes that have come through here. It's almost self-perpetuating that the current class wants to make sure they uphold their part of the bargain and get it done.

Q. How have you found the redshirt rule to work for you?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Like Coach Fitz said, we think it's absolutely phenomenal, one of the best rules if not the best rule that's come along in a lot of years.

I think we managed it very well. At the very beginning of the season, we said, Here is the pool of kids we hope to be able to preserve the year. We tracked it every staff meeting after the game, the next day e would put up the redshirt list, make sure we're tracking participation. I thought we managed it as good as it could have been.

We were able to redshirt every guy except one, that guy was because of injury, injuries at a certain position, so he was pressed into duties fairly early. Not like we made a mistake, we just had to use him.

Got a little tricky at the very end to manage it because we weren't sure if we were going to be in the championship game. Every game counts whether it's an extra game at the end or a bowl game. That being the case, I think it turned out just right. Six guys that have one game left that will play in this game tomorrow night, special teams primarily.

Like coach said, that's a huge advantage academically. You get guys that can get at least a good chunk of their masters program done if not the entire program. Very positive.

Q. How important is it to send your seniors out with a win?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: I think it's very important. We talk about that all the time: send your seniors out the right way. The senior classes that have come through here have been undefeated in bowl games for eight years in a row, something like that. It's something that we take a lot of pride in.

Like I said, the senior group is very special. To be able to have them go out never having lost the rivalry game, never having lost a bowl game, is something pretty special.

Q. Kyle talked about the similarities between both teams. Talk a little bit more about the similarities that you see, also your style, you dress the same in press conference.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Well, we're told how to dress (laughter).

I've never had the opportunity to be around coach when he's in action on the field. We sent our staff there a few years ago. When they came back they said it was like a mirror image as far as how we run things, they run things, just the structure, the energy, the type of practices they have. From what I get from my staff, there's a great deal of similarities. I take that as a compliment. If we can be like these guys, I think that's a big positive.

Q. If this game comes down to the kicking game, do you think that gives you an advantage?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Well, we think we have an advantage in the kicking game every week. I'm biased because I work with the kickers. We have two really good ones. First time ever that a Ray Guy Award winner has teamed up with a Lou Groza Award winner on the same football team. Between Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky, we've got a great set of weapons there. Mitch to flip the field, pin the opponents deep in their territory. Matt to score points for us literally anywhere from 60 yards in. Now, down here at sea level, might not be that much range. Back home that's what it is. He scored well over a hundred points last two years in succession, which is phenomenal for a kicker.

Q. Do you have an opinion watching the games yesterday the Playoffs expanding?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: I would love to expand. I've been a proponent of that when they announced four. Why not eight? Why not 16? I think probably 16 is the best number.

I think eight is very doable, no reason not to. I don't think there's any way it won't happen in the next few years. I really do.

Q. You have lost three coaches in this off-season. How is the coaching search going?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Good. In no hurry. More important we get the right guy than the timing of it. I'm thoroughly thinking it through, mulling it over. That's what I do pretty much 24/7 is go through scenarios, what the best move is going to be.

I really haven't had time to do much interviewing with bowl prep and recruiting. That will be job one when we get back to Salt Lake City, jump into that process, ideally get it wrapped up in the next week, 10 days, two weeks tops. If we don't find the right guy by then, maybe it goes along. It's a priority for us right now.

Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

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