SAN DIEGO — A year and a day after BYU named Kalani Sitake head football coach, he appeared before the media at the Poinsettia Bowl at the downtown Omni Hotel dressed in an executive-looking suit, white shirt and silk tie. He took to the podium. Spoke in the microphone.
And nothing’s changed.
Sitake spoke before Wyoming coach Craig Bohl. He was relaxed, candid and projected a genuine persona of humility and modesty. It is a trademark you cannot fake or create. And it is a personality trait Sitake brought to his job his first day, a grace he’s always had.
In a week when many are trying to resurrect the emotional aspects of a BYU-Wyoming rivalry that began before there was an Interstate-80, listening to Sitake, you’d have thought he worked for the Wyoming travel bureau.
For those trying to recreate memories of hateful feelings, intense grudges, and ugly stereotypes of hard-drinking Wyoming fans and pious BYU fans and thrust it all upon these two Poinsettia Bowl teams, whose players have known none of it, Sitake provided absolutely no fertilizer.
In fact, his natural talent for the opposite ruled.
He praised Bohl for Wyoming’s remarkable success. He said Bohl’s tremendous coaching, emphasis on fundamentals, hard work and attention to detail is evident on film. He said Bohl silenced a lot of critics by challenging for the Mountain West title.
“He proved a lot of people wrong,” said Sitake.
Sitake praised Wyoming’s hard-working, dedicated fan base. He reminded everyone that his mentor LaVell Edwards married Patti, a Wyoming native from Piney. He saluted the people who lived in Wyoming.
Sitake said BYU’s staff watched Wyoming all season and had pulled for them every week. He said Bohl’s balanced offense was the personification of what a successful attack should be — that it made it hard to defend. He praised Wyoming’s quarterback Josh Allen, running back Brian Hill and receiver Tanner Gentry.
Sitake came prepared. He knows Wyoming. He knows all about Bohl and his coaching tree link to Nebraska’s Tom Osborne. He praised Wyoming players for hard play, for sportsmanship, for Wyoming pride.
And that was before he talked about his own team.
“This is a great way to end a season against a great opponent.,” he said. Of the bowl experience his first as a head coach, he said, “You have to live the moment and enjoy. This is a great venue, a great stadium, a great city to be in this time of year.”
Sitake didn’t use any notes. He didn’t pull out any cheat cards. He spoke from his heart. He looked reporters in the eyes and he spoke in plain, simple, heartfelt terms. He was gracious, respectful and genuine in his praise for Bohl and Wyoming.
He called his BYU job a “dream come true” and acknowledges support from administrators and fans as “awesome” this past year.
“Let’s keep this thing going,” he said.
Then, after a short question and answer segment, he sat down so Wyoming’s coach could come to the podium.
“That,” said Bohl, a veteran college coach, “is a tough act to follow.”
Bohl then spoke and was classy, just as Sitake had labeled him.
Wednesday’s kickoff at the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in Qualcomm Stadium pits a rookie coach in Sitake against Bohl, who has had three years at Wyoming after winning three straight national titles at Division IA North Dakota State.
Bohl said it will be a matchup that will draw plenty of national attention for a myriad of reasons. And he’s right.
It will be a reunion between two storied rivals from the days of the Mountain West, the old WAC, the Skyline Conference that’s stretched back to the 1920s. And yes, it will be a uniting of two programs that have had their dark days, and predictable rhetoric, jokes and insults.
But as for Sitake, color him a figure in a new chapter of this decades long affair. He isn’t so much taking a different tone, than he is just being himself.
And the unforced authenticity of it is admirable.