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Ed Lamb explains his decision to leave SUU and join Kalani Sitake's staff at BYU

Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb, center, talks with his players near the sidelines in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Mobile, Ala.  (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)
Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb, center, talks with his players near the sidelines in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)
G.M. Andrews, AP

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It was something Ed Lamb borrowed from his assistant coaching days under now-Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh that helped him realize he was ready for the challenge of joining Kalani Sitake's new coaching staff at BYU.

Lamb served as an assistant for two years in the mid-2000s under Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, taking on the role of special teams coordinator, recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach.

When he headed to Southern Utah to take over as head coach in 2008, Lamb said he borrowed Harbaugh's set of program goals as his own for the Thunderbirds. Among them was the goal "to win multiple conference championships while treating people in a first-class manner."

"In 2008 and 2009 when we were first getting started, multiple conference championships seemed like a pretty audacious goal," Lamb told the Deseret News, hours after being announced as assistant head coach on Sitake's staff at BYU on Saturday. When Lamb arrived at SUU in 2008, he inherited a program that had won just four games in the previous three seasons, including a winless 2007 campaign.

But after four winning seasons in Cedar City in eight years, including a Big Sky championship in 2015 and two trips to the FCS playoffs in the past three seasons, Lamb saw there was an opportunity both for him and the T'Birds to grow from their recent success.

"In hindsight, at the end of this season and after taking the call from Kalani and thinking about some new challenges and new opportunities, I felt like not only was it the right time for me to move on but quite probably the right time for someone else to take SUU to maybe some new heights and set some new goals," Lamb said.

Making that decision to accept a position on Sitake's staff, at Lamb's alma mater, was by no means easy.

"It was pretty clear to me right away when I first got a call from Kalani what I should I do. And I felt like the right thing to do was make the move and join BYU, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly hard," said Lamb, a BYU graduate and Cougar linebacker in the mid-1990s under LaVell Edwards. "It just took me several days to get my mind fully around the concept of leaving something that we’ve worked so hard to build here."

Now, Lamb steps into a situation at BYU where there are four coaches announced so far — including former Cougar quarterback Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator and Provo native Ilaisa Tuiaki as defensive coordinator — and Lamb is the only one currently with any head coaching experience at the collegiate level.

"He’s going to be able to provide unbelievable counsel and assistance with all the day-to-day operations," SUU athletic director Jason Butikofer said of his former head coach.

It's a situation where Lamb said he can help Sitake as he learns on the job, "but the reality is he'll have to do things in his own way."

"He’ll have to make this his own program and I’ll have to be as much of a support as I can but also flexible and ready to adapt to his vision of how he wants to run the BYU program," Lamb said of first-year head coach Sitake. The two were short-time teammates at BYU in 1994, when Sitake — then going by the last name Fifita — played fullback as a freshman and Lamb redshirted at linebacker as a JC transfer from Ricks College.

One thing is for sure, though, about Sitake's coaching style: Lamb knows his new boss lives up to his reputation as a strong recruiter.

"Recruiting is certainly about organization and work ethic, but most of all it’s about being able to read people, connect with people, make people feel like they are an important part of what’s going on in your own life," Lamb said. "Kalani is able to do that. That will continue to be his strength as a head coach."

And Sitake isn't shy in declaring he is looking to fill his staff with strong recruiters.

"We're going to have a staff that's going to be able to recruit," Sitake said during his introductory press conference last Monday. "We're going to be able to be in line with myself and Tom (Holmoe, BYU athletic director) and how we think about what is best for these players."

As of yet, Lamb's role on Sitake's staff hasn't been completely defined, other than being an assistant head coach, and that's by design, Lamb said.

"What Kalani and I have set out to do is provide as much flexibility with bringing the rest of the staff onboard, and I’ve expressed I would feel confident in coaching a number of different positions, either on defense or on offense. Certainly, special teams is something I’ve done before and feel confident with that," he said.

"I’m trying to provide Kalani with as much flexibility as possible. We’ve both been leaning towards the most likely scenario being special teams and tight ends."

Much like when Lamb left San Diego for SUU, he is leaving behind a wake of success as he heads around 200 miles up the road to Provo this time around.

The Toreros won three straight Pioneer League titles during Lamb's time in San Diego, and at SUU, he helped the T'Birds produce their first NFL draft pick, quarterback Brad Sorensen, compile a 45-47 record in eight seasons and come within striking distance of the school's first FCS playoff victory. Against Sam Houston State in late November, the T'Birds led in the fourth quarter before a touchdown with 3:55 left gave Sam Houston State the 42-39 win in the opening round of the FCS playoffs.

Those type of moments help paint a picture of what kind of resume Lamb takes with him to Provo.

"I think SUU football is on an upward trajectory. There’s a lot of happiness for me about returning to BYU and there’s certainly some sadness about not being able to see SUU through for another period of time," Lamb said. "It was a great eight years, and I’m confident we could have had another great eight years together."

Email: bjudd@deseretdigital.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd