Two Utes chosen as Utah Sports People of the Year
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Year is coming to an end, so KSL Unrivaled has followed Time magazine’s steps and named its own Utah Sports Person of the Year starting in 2019.
KSL Sports’ Tom Hackett and Ben Anderson looked at a list of names from across the state, but chose a mix of players and staff from the University of Utah football team.
The 2019 season was one of the best ever and the team was one win away from reaching the college football playoffs.
Hackett chose Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham as Utah’s most influential sports figure. By only looking at this year, he’s taken Utah to heights and expectations that have never been achieved in Utah. Being extremely successful in Mountain West is one thing, but almost reaching the top of the Pac-12 is completely different.
“For me it has to be related to Utah football,” Hackett said. “They were fifth in the country and coach Kyle Whittingham is one of the main reasons for hiring Andy Ludwig, who you could say QB Tyler Huntley has joined Andy Ludwig at the hip, and the defense with Morgan Scalley is phenomenal. “
Whittingham bringing back Ludwig has been the real difference this year. The offense has improved exponentially and specifically at the quarterback position. Huntley went from an OK quarterback to one who was in consideration for national awards.
Whittingham needs a lot of credit for his return to an offensive coordinator he was successful with almost a decade ago – decisions like this make Whittingham and the elite coach.
Huntley’s exponential improvement
Anderson went with quarterback Tyler Huntley. Before Ludwig, Huntley would have had good and bad games – he lacked consistency.
That all changed with Ludwig leading the offensive.
His yards-per-attempt, quarterback and completion numbers skyrocketed from below average in the Pac-12 to leading in all three categories.
“Huntley changed my opinion of him as drastically as I changed of any athlete in the state of Utah,” Anderson said. “It’s not that I wasn’t aware of Tyler Huntley when Utah made the switch and I figured out what they were doing. I saw what he could do well but I also seen the things he was doing wrong very frequently, what was incredible this year were the ones that have all but disappeared except for the guess he made against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.
“He’s changed his stripes as much as any player I’ve ever seen in an offseason. Yes, it was Andy Ludwig and Kyle Whittingham, but so much the better for Tyler Huntley for not saying, “I know what wins football games and I’m going to trust myself and not this new guy who came along.”
Huntley trusted Ludwig to improve his game and it worked beyond belief making Huntley one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Person of the decade
Kyle Whittingham got the nod when the duo looked at the decade. There are so many mid-major programs that have a season once in a generation and the coach goes away and says the school is going down.
This was not the case when Urban Meyer came and went from Utah. Sure, there have been ups and downs, but Whittingham led Utah to an unbeaten season and a No.2 ranking in 2008, as well as last year as the Utes peaked as fifth best team in the country.
The transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 is no easy feat and in the power conference Whittingham got to grips with it.
“For a long time I would tell you if I had built a statue of any Utah coach on campus it would have been Urban Meyer,” Anderson said. “I remember Utah football before Urban Meyer and Utah football after Urban Meyer. It’s like a before and after in college football like everywhere in the world. Urban Meyer’s two-year stint saw Utah rank in the Pac-12.
There was also Ron McBride’s help in bringing talent to Utah, which had a top 10 in the 90s. McBride also sent a handful of players to the NFL, which set the stage for Meyer then Whittingham. There’s a lot of credit to be given before Whittingham, but he kept up all that momentum which is no easy task.
For Whittingham, really solidifying what has been built before him and supporting and even surpassing these other coaches is a testament to his quality as a coach.