Kalani Sitake, BYU players express gratitude, relief for coach’s contract extension
Sitake, entering the final games of his fourth season in Provo, is signed through the 2023 season, says he is mostly grateful for his players and the way they’ve bought in and turned the season around
PROVO — Mammoth defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, the most promising NFL prospect on the BYU football team although he is only a junior, said it felt like a big payday had just arrived for him, rather than his beloved coach.
“Man, for me, it meant the world,” Tonga said, reacting Monday afternoon to the announcement made an hour earlier that BYU was giving fourth-year coach Kalani Sitake a three-year contract extension. Sitake’s new deal takes him through the 2023 season.
“If felt like I was getting a contract extension,” Tonga said, summing up the feelings of his teammates as well as himself. “For Kalani, it is more than just football. I am just happy for him and happy for his family. We love coach Kalani and everything he stands for.”
Tonga said he’s not sure yet whether the news will cause him to stay around another year, but he’s certain that everyone associated with the program is thrilled to have the popular coach’s future secure for the next few years.
“For Kalani, it is more than just football. I am just happy for him and happy for his family. We love coach Kalani and everything he stands for.” — BYU defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, on Kalani Sitake’s extension
Appearing at his weekly press briefing shortly after the announcement came via a BYU news release, Sitake said the agreement was “finalized” on Monday morning and declined to discuss many other details, referring questions to athletic director Tom Holmoe, who did not speak to reporters Monday.
Because BYU is a private institution, terms of the contract extension will not be made public.
“I am just excited to keep coaching, keep working,” Sitake said. “I am just thankful for, first of all, our players, and the hard work they’ve done and the belief they have in our system and our program.”
Sitake also thanked Holmoe, school president Kevin Worthen, his assistant coaches and the support staff.
“My family and I, we love it here in Provo and we are just looking forward to spending more time here,” Sitake said.
Sitake’s current contract was set to expire after the 2020 season, and there was rampant speculation that he was on the hot seat after the Cougars lost back-to-back road games at Toledo and South Florida to drop to 2-4 on the year. Those puzzling losses came on the heels of wins over No. 24 USC and Tennessee of the SEC.
But they have won four straight to get bowl eligible and accepted an invitation to play in the So-Fi Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve (6 p.m. MST, ESPN) at Aloha Stadium after downing Idaho State 42-10 on Saturday.
Clearly, school officials were waiting for the Cougars to get their sixth win before giving Sitake the extension. The former BYU player and defensive coordinator at Utah and Oregon State is 26-23 as a head coach.
|2018||7-6||W, Famous Idaho Potato|
|2019||6-4||Accepted Hawaii invite|
|Totals||26-23||2-0 in bowl games|
“Through this time, Tom had been communicating with the right people in all of it,” Sitake said. “I have been trying to just focus on football, so that’s all that matters to me.”
Sitake said Holmoe told him to “not worry about it” at the beginning of the season and to “trust the process” and let it play out.
“They allowed me the opportunity to keep coaching,” he said. “That’s all I am thankful for.”
In the school news release, Holmoe said the program, which will be making its third bowl appearance in Sitake’s four seasons and 14th in 15 years, is on the right track after the Cougars went 9-4 in Sitake’s first year but dipped to 4-9 in his second season. The Cougars went 7-6 last year.
“We believe in him and the direction of the program,” Holmoe said. “Together we are committed to creating a bright future for BYU football.”
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who replaced BYU sports icon Ty Detmer after the disastrous 2017 season, said administrators made the right decision during his Coordinators’ Corner program Monday morning.
“Great news for him. Great news for us, for the program,” Grimes said. “Obviously, he’s the right man for the position. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel that was the case. He has shown over the past few years this program is moving in the right direction.”
Grimes said he “bought in” back in 2017 because he believed Sitake was righting the ship.
“He obviously represents the school, represents (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), represents the program in the way it ought to be done. There is no one that loves this school and this program more than him,” Grimes said.
As reported by the Deseret News on Saturday night, Holmoe entered the BYU locker room after an ESPN representative extended the bowl invitation and unveiled a royal blue T-shirt with #EXTENDKALANI written on it.
He shared the extension plan with the team at that time, according to the BYU release, then took a jacket off to reveal the T-shirt.
“It surprised me, but it was cool,” Sitake said of the unusual reveal. “I like the way he delivered it. It was a good moment. Our guys had the opportunity to dance again in the locker room. So whenever that happens, it is a good sign for us and a good sign for the program, and a lot of fun for the fans.”
Tonga, running back Sione Finau and defensive tackle Uriah Leiataua said Sitake’s tenuous contract situation had weighed on the minds of the players all season and it was “a relief” to have resolved. Many players had lobbied for Sitake to get more time.
“It was something that was always in the backs of our minds and we are all super happy for him now,” Tonga said.
Sitake succeeded Bronco Mendenhall in December 2015, becoming BYU’s 14th head coach. He has led the Cougars to several notable wins, including victories over Wisconsin, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Tennessee, USC, Arizona and Boise State.
However, he’s 0-4 against Utah, 1-3 against Boise State and 2-2 against Utah State — the three programs BYU considers its biggest rivals.
BYU is currently 6-4 and has faced four top-25 opponents. The Cougars finish the regular season with road games the next two weeks at UMass on Saturday and San Diego State on Nov. 30.