BYU Football: The Case for Kalani Sitake

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Kalani Sitake just finished his third season as the head coach of BYU Football, and while he hasn’t been perfect he’s done enough to earn at least a few more years at the helm.

After three rollercoaster seasons at the head of BYU Football, Kalani Sitake has led the Cougars to an overall record of 20-19 following the Cougars’ blowout victory against Western Michigan in Boise last week. The bowl win had a cooling effect on Sitake’s seat, which was warming if a vocal, but small, segment of BYU’s fan base was to be believed.

Between huge wins, close losses and every variation in between, Sitake’s tenure has been a wild ride. Notwithstanding, Kalani Sitake is the right person for the job.

Shallow Candidate Pool

Head coaches at BYU must be active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and some speculate that a head coach must also hold a temple recommend). This alone limits the pool of potential candidates to an unknown number. While some may be displeased with Sitake’s performance after three years, it’s impossible to know whether the handful of qualified Latter-day Saint coaches could get the mandatory ecclesiastical endorsements, assuming they’re even willing to take the BYU job.

Not a Cake Walk

The head coaching position at BYU may be the most difficult coaching position in the FBS. Consider that the head coach must monitor an ever-changing roster due to missionary service (including early returns from missions), academic issues, and honor code-related issues, and the head coaching position feels like equal parts football coach, bishop, tutor, and life coach.  All of which Sitake willingly embraces.  Some believe that the grind of being at the helm of BYU football is ultimately the reason Bronco Mendenhall had a roving eye and left the program.

In addition, the head coach at BYU has to manage the lofty expectations of BYU’s fan base, which are on par with the fans of the best power conference programs, and the prospect of being paid less than many of his peers.

Love for the Program

Because of BYU’s unique nature, a coach’s love for football, coaching, and the players is probably not enough to create a winning culture that is compliant with BYU’s institutional requirements.

A successful coach at BYU must also love and understand the university, including its unique requirements.  Sitake expresses his love for his players, whether they graduated, transferred, or left for honor code violations, and his school regularly.  He knows the challenges the players face, and he knows how to help those players push through the unique obstacles of being a BYU student-athlete, because he navigated those same waters twenty-five years ago.

In short, Kalani knew precisely the challenges he would face coaching at BYU, and he still sought the position.

LaVell and Sitake By the Numbers

Sitake’s BYU career started on a promising note, going 9-4 in 2016, and losing those four games by a total of 8 points. Then 2017 happened.  A nine-loss season, the most since 1955, resulting in the dismissal of nearly all of the offensive staff.  With 2018 in the books, Sitake has led the Cougars to two winning seasons (capped by bowl victories in each).

While it is not fair to compare Sitake to Lavell Edwards, it’s probably worth nothing that Edwards’ record after three seasons was 19-14-1. During that span, Edwards only faced a total of five programs from the early 70s equivalent of power conferences (Big 8, Pac-8, Big 10, SWC, SEC, ACC, and Big East).  In Sitake’s first three years, he’s faced 15 power programs, as well as perennial G5 powerhouse Boise State.

The comparison is not perfect, but if someone would have told you after LaVell’s third season that BYU would win a combined 66 games between 1979 and 1984, and win a national championship, you may have wondered if that person was honor-code compliant.

Primed for Success

Most importantly, Sitake has primed BYU for success the next three years.  Jernaro Gilford and Ed Lamb have accumulated an impressive defensive backfield.  A surprising number of underclassmen contributed on both sides of the ball in 2018, including Zach Wilson, whose work ethic and athleticism could catapult him to the same status as the all-time great quarterbacks at BYU.

Has Sitake been perfect?  Obviously not.  But until the naysayers can come up with an alternative coach that lives the standards BYU expects, has better college coaching experience, who also loves Brigham Young University and willingly bears the burdens associated with leading its football program, then Kalani Sitake is the right man for the job.