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January 1, 2009

Kyle Whittingham


THE MODERATOR: Coach Whittingham, if you would like to join us, we'll go ahead and get started. Coach Whittingham, if you could talk a little bit about your week in New Orleans, how preparations have gone, then we'll open it up for questions.
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Happy New Year, and I mean that. How you doing?
Great week. You know, the Sugar Bowl committee, the organization of the whole trip has just been wonderful. Our players have had a great time; very good week of preparation as far as our practices are concerned. The activities have been tremendous. Just a positive week all around.
Very appreciative to the Bowl committee, the Sugar Bowl, for providing our guys with this experience. Like I said, the preparation week has gone well. We practiced yesterday for the last time. We'll have a walk-through today, polish things up. Then, of course, the kickoff is tomorrow evening.
Our guys have handled themselves well. They've enjoyed the city. At the same time, they understand why they're here. Primary objective is to go out and compete in the football game. I don't believe they've lost sight of that. I have a sense that they're in the right frame of mind and have handled their business the right way.
It's been a positive experience all the way around.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start to take questions.

Q. Being an old football player, understanding the mindset, how anxious are your guys to finally go play this?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: We're very anxious. It's been, you know, 40-some-odd-day layoff. You talk about going into two-a-days, that's only about 26, 27 days before you get to play a game. This is a much longer period of time.
I think we handled it about as well as we could have as far as taking some downtime early on, get them away from football for a couple weeks before we jump back into practice.
But there's no practice, they're ready to line up and play. It's been a long time. November 22nd is the last time these guys hit somebody other than themselves, so we're ready for that.

Q. What have you done to help your guys get back into it? Have there been any scrimmages?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: As far as our routine getting ready for the Bowl game, we have a model in place that we've used for several years. We tweak it from year to year, obviously based on the timing of the Bowl.
But, no, to answer your question, we have not done live work, tackling to the ground with the travel squad. We never have done that in our Bowl preparation. However, with our developmental squad, which is about half the team, the redshirts, the younger guys, they scrimmage every day. There's been a lot of opportunity for those guys to get better.
But as far as the travel guys, the guys you'll see in the football game, we are physical in practice, we pad up; but as far as live work, to the ground, we don't do any of that, nor have we in our past Bowl preps.
It's philosophical. Some coaches will say you need to do that; others don't. We just have not done that. It's worked well for us. So we've hung on to the same philosophy that we've had.

Q. When you look at the film of Alabama's offense, what makes their running game so effective?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: The offensive line. That's what makes everything go. They've got a physical offensive line. I've said that numerous times during the course of the preparation. That's the most apparent thing on tape. They've got good players around them, don't get me wrong. Coffee is an excellent tailback, over six yards a carry. Julio Jones, best freshman receiver in the country.
But what really makes things go is that offensive front. It's a very impressive group. That's a big challenge for our front seven, is to match up with their run game.

Q. On such a big stage, how do you account for and control those opening quarter jitters with a team that's never played on this kind of stage before?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Well, a handful of our guys have been in this situation. They weren't prominent players back in '04, but they've been here, experienced it. But that's, like I said, a handful of guys.
My experience as a player, regardless of circumstances, once the ball's in the air on the kickoff, you're playing, you are really oblivious to surroundings. The national exposure, all that type of stuff. You just get in football mode, you just start doing your thing.
I'm confident that our guys will not go out and press or be tight; just play their game, be loose, do what they've done all season long.

Q. Coach, being here, presumably winning the game, what does that do to advance Utah's program?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Well, if we're able to get a win, you know, it's a positive on a lot of fronts. Right now, not to toot our own horn, but we have the longest winning streak in the cup, both in Bowl games and in regular-season play. So obviously we'd like to hang on to that. That's a pretty unique, pretty positive accolade for our guys, to have those two things going for them.
Recruiting. Everything is tied to recruiting. Certainly if we're able to get a win, that would be a boost, another boost. Being here in and of itself is a big boost for recruiting. If we're able to come away with a win, that's another aspect of it. Just the national recognition, the national exposure for the university. There's a lot of things attached to it.
From a coaching standpoint, it's trying to keep that -- keep those two winning streaks alive, and recruiting aspect. Recruiting is 80 percent of what you do in college football. It's the most important thing you do. Anything that helps in that area is a big positive.

Q. You talked earlier about traveling, how important it is for Utah to travel down here. Have you got a sense of how well the fans have responded to that?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Yeah, you know, I don't have a number for you. Just the people around the hotel, the pep rally, seems to be a very good turnout. They're very ravenous fans. The ones that are here are very excited to be here. I'm sure we're going to have a good representation in the stadium. How many of them there are, I couldn't tell you. But it seems to be a pretty fair amount here. I guess we'll find out tomorrow night how much red's in the stands. We've got a sense that we've got a pretty employ following down here.

Q. What do you see in John Parker Wilson, a kid who's not really flashy, but that gets the job done?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Just what you said, he get's the job done; he was 12-0, led the team to a 12-0 regular-season record. You know, credit Alabama. Anyone in the SEC that can go through that schedule unblemished, that's an accomplishment. He is the guy that manages the offense. He's making the decisions, throwing the football. He does exactly what they need him to do: he manages the offense. He does a great job not turning the ball over, not putting them in bad spots. Of course, like I talked about the offensive line, Julio, the running game, he's got some nice weapons around him. But he does a nice job doing exactly what they need him to do for them to be successful.

Q. Getting ready for your last game with Coach Ludwig and Andersen, what has that been like for you? What are your emotions going to be like?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Well, I'm not a big drama guy. We're not having a meeting and cry on each other's shoulder, any of that type of deal. But it's been a positive experience working with those guys for four years. They were two of my original hires. Gary was the first, I think Andy was the third. So, you know, it's been a nice run. I appreciate the hard work they've put into the program over the last four years.
For this Bowl prep, we've operated just as we have over the last four years. Gary is running the show on defense; Andy is running the show on offense. Nothing has changed as far as our standard operational procedure.
Obviously we're going to have to replace Andy after the Bowl. That's where my attention will turn as soon as the Bowl game is over. We've already replaced Gary as far as a coordinator being named. Obviously got to bring a defensive line coach in here.
The storm is not over. We have coaches that are wanted. We may have a couple more guys to replace. We'll see what happens. But that's part of the game. We've been fortunate over four years we've only lost two coaches, exclusive of the ones we're losing this year, which is a pretty stable situation, provided a lot of consistency. Really that's helped us in achieving where we are today. Getting to where we are today, a lot of it is due to the continuity of the coaching staff we've been able to maintain.
Bottom line is we'll miss them. Hate to see them go. But it's great opportunities for both of them in different ways.

Q. Did you have to address the issue of agents trying to contact your players? Did you have to talk to your players about this week?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: We address the agent situation each and every year a couple times a year. At the beginning of the fall camp, we have what we call the Utah Experience. We have different people come in and speak about different subjects. That's one of the topics we cover, is the dos and don'ts of agents, so forth.
We also do it at the end of the year with the senior crew, the underclassmen that may be thinking about coming out. We make sure we address that. I think every coach in the country does that. I don't think there's anybody at the Division I level that doesn't have some conversation with their guys about that. I don't think we're unique or ahead of the curve in that respect. But we certainly do address it.
Just making sure it's more an education thing, what you can do, what you can't do, just making sure they're up to speed on what can get them in trouble, what to stay away from.

Q. This is the second time in the last five years Utah has been undefeated. What do you believe needs to happen in the future for Utah to have a chance to play for the national championship?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: National championship, I've said this before, I think that would take the perfect storm. We'd have to run the table, obviously, get a lot of help, a lot of circumstances would have to line up. Now, I guess that's a relative statement.
A big part of it is where you start the season. If you can start the season fairly highly ranked, that certainly gives you a better opportunity. We started the season unranked in most polls. To go from unranked to getting yourself in the championship game, that situation I don't think is real likely. But if we were able to -- I say "us," any non-BCS automatic qualifying team started the season somewhere in the top 18 or 15, then you never know. But, again, even in those circumstances, you'd have to have some help along the way.

Q. Coach, given your contract extension this week, would you like to have a Lavelle-Edwards-type career at Utah?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Wow. Tough question. I mean, he was there 30-some odd years. I had a chance to play for Coach Edwards. I have a great deal of respect for him, what he did there.
I'm not sure that's me. I'm not sure that's my master plan. I love Utah. I'm just not sure I want -- you talk about I've been doing it four years, 26 more years would put me 70-something. No, I can tell you right now, I'm not going to go that far (smiling).
I love it here. I hope to be here for a while longer. But the JoePa of the world, that, I can guarantee you, that's not going to be me. So, no, I guess, is the answer to that. That's the short version.

Q. With Andre Smith no longer in the lineup, do you consider that a relief or...
COACH WHITTINGHAM: I know one thing, our defensive end, Paul Kruger was looking forward to that matchup. Every football player that's competitive, has that burning desire from within to be the best, wants to play against the best. Andre Smith is the best offensive lineman in the country. I know Paul was disappointed. Not like, okay, I'm going to go out and kick his butt, but to go out and play against a guy of that caliber. As a coach, you want to play teams at their best. It's Alabama. They got guys. SEC teams are typically very deep. You probably have a lineup of four, five star recruits in that offensive line waiting in the wings. There's going to be a very capable replacement. We understand the left guard is moving out to tackle, bringing in a new left guard.
You know, we're certain that it's not going to change what they do schematically. They're not going to alter their game plan because of it. We're not going to alter our defensive game plan. Next guy steps in and away you go.

Q. How much fun have you allowed your team to have, enjoy the City of New Orleans?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: I think they've had a good time. One thing I can say about this Bowl is they do a great job of structuring some activities, some dinners, but also giving you some downtime just to be with your families and do your own thing. They don't smother you, which is a big positive. Our guys have had a great opportunity to get out on their own. We've had midnight bed checks every night. We have not had anybody miss those. We had a 1:00 bed check the first night. Since that point in time, it's been midnight. I think they've handled their business very well and had a good time.
Again, like I said at the very onset of the conference, they've understood the entire time what the primary reason is that they're here for.

Q. Can you talk about what this game means as a measuring stick for the program over the entire history.
COACH WHITTINGHAM: Well, I think every game's a measuring stick to a certain extent. I think every time you line up, you're making a statement one way or the other.
But I think, you know, it's certainly one of the -- I think Liz told me we may have played another team in the past that was the same ranked No. 4, maybe No. 3. We've been here before in that respect. But you always want to play well, regardless of circumstances. It's a chance for us to certainly make a positive statement for the Mountain West Conference, for the non-BCS schools.
Like I've said several times since we got the invite, it's a process. One game is never going to make or break the entire non-BCS structure or the entire Mountain West. It's just a process. When we beat Pittsburgh, it was a positive. When Oklahoma got beat by Boise State, it was a positive for the non-BCS. Last year it was a setback when Hawaii lost. It's a positive when we go out and beat a team like UCLA, or Michigan or Oregon State.
So it's all a process. It's just one more cog in that process of trying to play your way into respectability. You can't talk your way into it; you've got to play your way into it. Nobody really pays attention to what you say; it's what you do on the field. It's just another opportunity for us to line up and see how we fare against an extremely good opponent.

Q. If next year you want to be in the national championship game, let's say, do you have to win this game?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: You know, I don't think that's probably a hundred percent necessary. Obviously it would give you a big boost if you're able to win this game. Rankings into next year, so forth, would be certainly higher.
A 12-1 season, 13-0 season, I believe both those scenarios should get you some respectability and credibility, some decent attention pre-season-wise next year. But certainly it would help. That would be a big help.

Q. There's no doubt more people can name every team in the SEC versus the Mountain West Conference. As an ambassador to the Mountain West Conference here, do you feel it is becoming more well-known?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: I think without question. This may be the best year the Mountain West Conference has ever had. We have three teams ranked in the top 25, at least prior to the Bowl season. Afterwards we'll have to see how it shakes out.
You know, as I've said again several times, the Mountain West is 6-1 against PAC-10 teams this year. So I think we're making a statement that you know we play good football in the Mountain West. Like I said, the only way to do it is to go out and prove it. I think we've done that this year.
TCU winning their Bowl game was big. I think they'll end up in a top 10 or 11 situation. So I think that, you know, the Mountain West has definitely made some noise this year. Hopefully we'll have that continue.

Q. Considering Coach Saban's comment about the real BCS, do you think your guys will play a little faster tomorrow night?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: You know, our guys are excited about this game regardless of external circumstances. But they're not oblivious to things. They hear things; they read things. You can't worry about that.
But I think that they're very motivated to go out and play well. One thing about this team, and really I saw it from -- we had a tough loss against UNLV in the previous season. Since that point in time, which was Game 4, I believe, of the '07 season, they've come ready to play each and every week for 21 straight weeks. We haven't won all 21, but we've won 20 of those 21. You know, if my assumption is correct, they'll come with that same mindset tomorrow night and play well. Whether that's going to be good enough to win, we'll find out. I know they're going to have the right mindset and be ready to line up and go.

Q. Talk about your offense. You said for Alabama it starts with their O-line. Where does it start for you guys?
COACH WHITTINGHAM: With our offense, it starts with Brian Johnson. He's our team leader. He's a fifth-year senior quarterback. He's had a very good year. His numbers have not been what some of the other quarterbacks in the country have put up. But he has done a great job, a lot like John Parker Wilson. Managing our offense, directing traffic, you know, his win/loss record is the best in Utah football history as far as of the number of wins, which says a lot when you consider we had Alex Smith in the program for a number of years. All he does is win ballgames. He's invaluable to our football team. He is really the guy that makes it all go.
Like John Parker, he's got a good supporting cast. He's got a couple of runningbacks that are physical guys. He's got an offensive line that has played very efficiently all season long and some wide-outs that are doing some things, good things. Freddie Brown, David Reed, some guys that have really made plays for him this year.
Our key in the game tomorrow night is Brian Johnson being sharp and making good decisions.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

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