PROVO – His players and staff are fully on board, passionately recognizing Kalani Sitake is the right coach to lead the BYU football program.
University athletic administrators, led by Tom Holmoe, get it, too, throwing their full support behind the sixth-year coach. The legions of BYU supporters around the country can’t get enough of Sitake, whose open personality is a genuine blend of humility and warmth that even his fiercest rivals can’t deny.
And now, thanks to his team on a 14-1 run dating back to last season, the fresh-faced Sitake is becoming a welcome revelation to the college football world. Albeit sacrilege to a degree, think another LaVell Edwards in the making.
Many hope so.
These are great times for the Cougars, nationally ranked at 15, starting 3-0 with wins over three Pac-12 South Division teams. If snapping a nine-game losing streak to nemesis Utah wasn’t joyful enough, the team thrashed the Utes only one day after officially accepting an invitation to join the Big 12 starting with the 2023-24 academic year.
All the attention likely will come at a cost, though. As his profile continues to soar, Sitake has turned into a hot coaching commodity.
Even before the Cougars beat Arizona State, marking the second consecutive game they beat a favored, nationally ranked team, Sitake was linked to the vacancy at USC. During the broadcast of the USC/Washington State game on Fox, he was pictured in a graphic along with four other coaches as candidates to replace the recently fired Clay Helton.
Only one of the other four coaches Bruce Feldman listed, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, has extensive experience in the Pac-12. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Matt Campbell of Iowa State have never coached in the conference, while Penn State’s James Franklin spent the 1998 season as the tight ends coach at Washington State.
Sitake has deep roots in the Pac-12, spending 10 years on Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah. He also was the defensive coordinator at Oregon State, a position he held for three seasons at Utah.
For all the BYU fans in denial, believe it, Sitake will draw consideration for the USC job. Truth is, and it can be verified, Feldman did not fabricate his report.
The time will come, sooner rather than later, for BYU to prove even more its commitment to Sitake. The two-year extension to 2025 he recently got is good for the time being, especially as the administration absolutely knew a Big 12 invitation was coming, but other programs will offer more money.
At some point, the university administration and board of directors will need to increase Sitake’s salary along with the pool for assistant coaches and overall football budget even more or risk losing him. Loyalty only goes so far.
Right on cue, here comes the argument that BYU is Sitake’s dream job, the place where he played as a fullback some 25 years ago. It’s true, he has stated the desire to plant roots firmly at his alma mater the way his former coach Edwards did for nearly 40 years counting his time as an assistant.
But the moment of truth comes in the form of a contract that will provide generational wealth for his family. Don’t forget, Utah County native Bronco Mendenhall had no problem trekking his family across the country when he quit as the BYU coach to double his salary for a similar position at Virginia.
For sure, Mendenhall also traded in BYU’s lot as an independent in football for Power 5 membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Early on, as the coach during the time BYU left the Mountain West, Mendenhall consistently stated playing as an independent wasn’t viable over the long term.
A better example might be the situation with Bryan Harsin. Having played quarterback at Boise State and at a local high school, Harsin was the head coach at his college alma mater for seven seasons but left last December to replace Gus Malzahn at Auburn.
At the moment, Sitake has all of BYU on his side. Going forward, the trustees may need to rethink their long-held philosophy of refusing to pay the going rate for football.