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April 5, 2012
Anatomy of spring camp
That is all the time the NCAA allows a football team to be on the field during spring camp.
Spring camp, with its 30 hours, is divided into 15 sessions, spanning the course of five weeks.
It isn't much, yet in that short period of time, much is expected. Coaches expect players to make huge strides, learn an offense or defense, or become a significantly better player. Meanwhile, fans expect the team to show itself to be a contender, whether it's realistic or not.
Less than one work week for most, it brings pause while considering just how organized a typical work week might be in a typical business, or how productive or what exactly might be accomplished in a Monday through Thursday scenario. What, exactly, is expected of a typical employee throughout the course of their work week?
If those expectations were large, how might one organize that precious little time so as to maximize its effectiveness, while stopping to consider that at every turn, your work or results might be scrutinized, analyzed or criticized throughout, then reported to a hungry public afterward.
Welcome to the world of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham. Further, welcome to the world of a college football player.
An exercise in efficiency, Whittingham's camps, like most other camps run throughout the nation, waste no time, never allowing time to go unused as team transitions seamlessly from one drill or exercise to the next.
Each session is carefully dissected into 24 five-minute sessions, each of which, is stuffed full of productivity. Can anyone truly say that they section their day off into multiple, five-minute increments in which they are completely and fully efficient and productive? The answer is doubtful, at best.
The Utes currently carry 120 players on the their 2012 roster, so the prospect of moving that many players back and forth to different drills, in and of itself could take two minutes or more, if not carefully orchestrated.
With that in mind, a unit's spacing must be pre-determined, leaving it in close proximity to the next drill and the next, and so on.
Realizing this, it becomes immediately apparent that no one five minute session, no drill or really, no detail was left unattended in planning the whole of spring camp.
Whittingham discussed the process for perfectly orchestrating the logistics of such a huge event.
"The first step is that, we, as a coaching staff, sit down and discuss what the larger goals that we want to accomplish out of camp," he began. "Then we kind of work that, generally into the time frame that the NCAA has allotted for camp."
After deciding on the overall objective, the process is further broken down by day, which is also somewhat restricted by the NCAA.
"Within that framework, we still have to determine, again, according to the NCAA, what we can or can't do on specific days," continued Whittingham, referring to days designated for pads or no pads, tackling or no tackling.
Once the skeleton of camp is laid out, Whittingham and his coaching staff, whom he has repeatedly said is among the best in the country, get down to brass tacks, designating drills designed to improve, or teach specific skills.
"We've been at this a long time, so it isn't as tricky as it seems. We have, we think, a pretty good feel for the skill set of our bunch and so we begin to work around that as narrow our time down to specific practice days," Whittingham expanded.
That said, the structure of spring camp remains flexible, and is, in fact altered or tweaked based on how quickly the team, or a specific unit is advancing, or if they aren't nailing down a particular skill set.
"Absolutely, we look at it daily. We practice every other day for a specific reason, the coaching staff breaks down the tape of the practice from the day before. We'll designate areas that we feel we're strong in, or things that still need some work," Whittingham said. "Based on that evaluation, we might alter a drill by adding live defenders, or what have you, eliminate it or keep it in for the next day. Sometimes we'll increase the amount of time, or number of sessions we concentrate on it. It's certainly an on-going process and a living thing."
Also a process is the way that Whittingham has learned to build a camp schedule, through years of experience as both a player and coach, and through various accomplished head coaches and mentors such as BYU head coach LaVelle Edwards, Ron McBride and his father Fred Whittingham.
"I think it comes through just a lot of years being around football. You get a chance to be around, and learn from so many great coaches, who were pretty good at this, that it would be silly not to piece all of that wisdom together and use it," he offered. "I was lucky to be exposed to some of the great football minds that I was."
As a player, Whittingham has four years of playing experience at the professional level in the CFL, the USFL as well as the NFL.
Whittingham has coached college football since 1985, when he served as Graduate Assistant at his alma mater, BYU before moving to the defensive coordinator position at Eastern Utah for one year. Whittingham then moved to Idaho State to take on the linebackers and special teams squads for three years, before being promoted to defensive coordinator at the same school for two more.
In 1994, Whittingham came to Utah as the defensive line coach, before being given the defensive coordinator position, in addition to his defensive line duties from1995 to 2004.
In 2005, as history indicates, Whittingham was named the head coaching football job at Utah, where he has compiled a 66-25 record overall.
In addition to his wealth of experience in and around the game, Whittingham holds a degree in educational psychology from BYU, as well as a Master's Degree in professional leadership.