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Here’s what Kalani Sitake had to say about the Washington Huskies coaching job

Also Monday, No. 14 BYU learns that its Nov. 27 game at USC will kick off at 8:30 p.m. MST and will be televised nationally by ESPN

BYU coach Kalani Sitake, walks off the field after a timeout as BYU and USF play in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, walks off the field after a timeout as BYU and USF play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. BYU won 35-27.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Fresh off BYU’s first and only bye week of the 2021 college football season, Kalani Sitake met with reporters via Zoom on Monday, and the first question fielded by the Cougars’ sixth-year coach came as no surprise.

What does he think of being a so-called “serious candidate” to replace second-year Washington coach Jimmy Lake, who was fired Sunday night?

Even less surprising was Sitake’s answer — or lack thereof.

“I mean, I know why you guys are asking those questions and things like that, but I am focused on getting our team ready for Georgia Southern and winning this game,” Sitake said. “That’s been my focus the entire season, whether you asked that question back in August, September, October and now in November, the answer is still the same.”

The 8-2 Cougars, No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings released last week and No. 14 in the AP Top 25, face the Eagles on Saturday at 2 p.m. MST at 25,000-seat Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia.

“We are trying to take this thing week-by-week and focus on getting these guys ready to play at their best,” said Sitake, who is also a candidate at USC and LSU, according to some reports. “We have got some changes in the lineups with health issues, trying to get guys back. So all my attention is on the boys and trying to give the fans what they want, which is performing at our best this weekend. I think if we do that we will all be happy with the result.”

Speaking of USC, it was announced Monday that BYU’s game vs. the Trojans on Nov. 27 at the Los Angeles Coliseum will kick off at 8:30 p.m. MST and will be televised by ESPN.

“I understand why (reporters) are asking the questions (about job openings), but that is my focus, finishing the season strong,” said Sitake, who is 46-28 at BYU since replacing Bronco Mendenhall after the 2015 season.

Asked whether BYU’s move to the Big 12 in 2023 is like getting a new, bigger coaching job, Sitake repeated past statements about how it couldn’t have happened without support from the fans and the administration.

“I think more than anything it just confirmed what I already knew, that we have an amazing fan base, and we are a big-time program, with the invite to the Big 12,” he said. “I can’t control what happens a year from now, or even two weeks from now. I can only control what happens today and this weekend. That’s my entire focus, is on Georgia Southern.”

Having gone 19-3 the past two seasons, including 4-0 against Pac-12 teams this season, Sitake signed a contract extension on Aug. 31 that added two more years to the agreement he inked in 2019 and takes him through the 2025 season.

Sitake and successful men’s basketball coach Mark Pope will surely be taken care of — perhaps with new contracts and pay raises — when Big 12 money opens up in a couple of years, maybe even before that, according to sources within the BYU athletic department.

That Sitake is becoming a hot commodity nationally is not a surprise, given his success and the winning culture he has built in Provo, rebounding from a 4-9 season in 2017 with four solid seasons. Sitake’s status is not a distraction, either, several players said Monday in the same press briefing.

“We are just kinda focusing this week on Georgia Southern and then USC and then just getting into the best bowl game we can possibly get,” said linebacker Ben Bywater.

Added tight end Dallin Holker: “I mean, it is sad (to think there could be changes), because you love your coaches and the people around you. But really, during the season, you just focus on the season and what you can control.”

Holker said it wasn’t a topic in the locker room when Sitake’s name surfaced for the USC vacancy after Clay Helton was fired on Sept. 14, and it isn’t now. Ironically, Helton has been hired to replace Chad Lunsford at Georgia Southern.

“You don’t really try to focus on, ‘Oh, maybe this guy is going to leave, or maybe the coach is going to leave,’” Holker said. “You just focus on trying to live in the moment and enjoy the season.”