One On One With Kyle Whittingham- Part 3 of 3

In the final installment of our sitdown with the Utah head coach, Kyle Whittingham talks about the return of Nai Fotu, expectations, Brian Johnson, his dream job, and more...

You're going to take a few losses off of that defense this year. You've got two starting linebackers coming back in Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker. You get Nai Fotu back. Hopefully JJ Williams will be fully healed. Where does Fotu fit into the defense?

Well Nai is a multi-talented guy. He's part linebacker, part defensive lineman. In some respects, he's a tweener. Right now the plan is to use him at linebacker in our 4-3 package, which is our base package. He'll also see some defensive end in our sub-packages. He has experience at both positions. Time will tell exactly how we'll settle on him. He's a good player who can rush the passer. He's a great defender against the run as well.

You redshirted VJ Fehoko. A guy with a real ceiling. A very physical guy. You get to release him next year. What is he going to mean to that defense and the physicality he brings to the table?

Well VJ and Jacoby Hale are two young linebackers that we redshirted last year that we think have a bunch of upside. This spring will be big for both of those guys. We'll see what they can do when they get their reps in spring. They did a fantastic job on the scout team last year and doing whatever we asked them to do last year. They did get a lot of time working with the travel squad as well. Coach Sitake started to get them integrated into the reps of the travel squad and they handled that very well. Both those guys we think have bright futures and we'll see how they react this spring when they have a chance to run with the travel squad on a regular basis.

Like I said earlier, some of the fans might be disappointed despite a ten win season. Many people are touting you as the Pac 12 South favorite going into next season. Have the expectations been pushed beyond a reasonable level?

That's a good problem to have. The expectations have been raised high. That means you've been doing some good things. We think our fans are great and we've averaged a sellout for three years now. The bar is raised high and the expectations are high. Making the transition into a very competitive conference like the Pac 12, there are going to be things that are going to be big challenges for us and it will be interesting to see how things stack up.

What are realistic goals and expectations for Utah football next year and within five years as you move into a new conference?

Realistic goals. My first thought is making it to the Pac 12 championship game would be our goal. It's a lofty goal, particularly when you are a new team in a conference. We're coming from a non-AQ status into a BCS league with high standards. Winning championships is what it is all about. I believe that being in a situation like we're in, where we've had success, I don't think your goals should be anything other than at least making it to a conference championship game.

Is a national championship a realistic goal?

We don't talk about that, or will we ever. You've got to take it step by step and the first step, in the Mountain West Conference, you had to win the conference because there was no championship game. In the Pac 12, in order to win the championship you've got to get to the championship game. You've got win your division.

Do you like that championship game or is it just another chance for an undefeated team to falter?

I think it is good. We're excited about it. With the SEC championship, and conferences like the Big XII that do have those championship games seem to have very exciting situations, so I think it is a good thing.

Brian Johnson. His first year had the quarterbacks start off well, but tail off towards the end of the season. How did he progress as a coach over the course of the season and what can we look for from him going forward?

I think Brian did very well. Relative to his strengths as a coach, he did a great job for us. The quarterbacks made strides this year and Dave Schramm built that foundation last year when both Terrance and Jordan were fresh into the program. That's where the foundation was laid. Brian built on that.

Is he the kind of guy that can be an offensive coordinator one day?

He's got a very good mind. He has a very good feel for our offensive scheme. Like all of our guys, he's not just locked into the quarterback position, He knows what all 11 are doing before the staff, but that is something that is potentially in his future.

With every high profile job that opens up, your name is mentioned. Is this the dream job for you and what is the ultimate coaching plateau in coaching for you?

I never really understood the dream job term. What is a dream job? I love coaching football and this is a great place. I don't believe there are a lot of better jobs out there than what we've got here at Utah. The current job you have, that's where all your focus, all your attention, and all your energies should be channeled. I'm not a guy that is always looking over the fence at that next opportunity. I'm not a grass is always greener on the other side person. That's just not how I'm built. It's flattering to have your name circulated and mentioned for some of these high profile jobs, but the only job I ever talk about or think about is the one I have.

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