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Analysis: Football coach Kalani Sitake’s new contract shows BYU is ready to play ball with the big boys

Known for paying less than market value to its top coaches in the past, BYU is finally stepping up to the plate and spending what it takes to be among the top sports schools in the country

BYU coach Kalani Sitake looks on before start of game against Boise State in Provo, Utah, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. On Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, BYU announced it inked its coach to a new contract that extends through the 2027 season.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake looks on before the start of game against Boise State in Provo, Utah, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

It may have taken a little pressure from some outside sources, namely interest in one of their high-profile sport coaches from the likes of USC, Oregon, Washington and possibly other Pac-12 and Power Five schools.

But BYU announced Friday with a “new, unprecedented” contract with head football coach Kalani Sitake that it is ready to play ball with the big boys when it comes to paying its top coaches fair market value for their services.

Better late than never, says the private school’s worldwide fan base, which collectively watched uneasily the past couple of months as various Power Five openings came up throughout the country and Sitake’s name surfaced as a candidate for almost every one of them.

Going 21-3 the past two seasons with recruiting classes ranked in the 70s and 80s will do that for a guy.

So they worried. Would BYU adhere to practices from those days of underpaying LaVell Edwards, Norm Chow and other talented coaches and assistants — Jeff Grimes, anyone? — and remain stuck in the 1980s and ’90s?

Friday afternoon’s message was simple and overwhelming: That’s a no.

Two days after Sitake reportedly interviewed with Oregon to replace Mario Cristobal as that well-heeled program’s gridiron leader, BYU eschewed its past and actually moved rather quickly this time, somewhat unbelievably.

Sure, there were the typical slow, grinding machinations that we’ve all come to expect — but nothing like before.

It was actually surprising, even refreshing, to see the school move at today’s pace, rather than the one from yesteryear. Better ball won out over bureaucracy.

Financial terms of the agreement were not released, but one can be sure Sitake will make a lot more money than he was making when he signed that contract extension on Aug. 31 that was to take him through the 2025 season.

About the only detail released from this “new” contract is that it takes Sitake through 2027.

In a Zoom meeting with reporters shortly after the release went out, Holmoe confirmed in more ways than one — we’re reading between the lines here, in some instances — that not only will Sitake be compensated more in line with what other Power Five and Big 12 coaches are hauling in, his assistants and support staff, all the way down to his office staff, will benefit as well.

Take that to the bank.

“Yes,” Holmoe said succinctly, when asked if more funds will be allocated to assistant coaches, etc., so BYU can keep the likes of red-hot offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, tremendously underrated defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki and the experienced and highly valued assistant head coach Ed Lamb from taking a better offer somewhere else.

“It is not part of Kalani’s deal, but it is part of our vision and how we put it all together,” Holmoe said. “Those are separate (negotiations) that are moving forward. … I would say that the assistant coaching pool, those contracts are coming together as we speak. So they will all be done and renewed (before) Jan. 1.”

Was that part of his vision for this deal?

“Of course,” said Sitake, who reportedly talked about getting more funding for his assistants, and for player needs and facility upgrades, before ever talking about his own salary increase. “For the staff, and for the players, I think this (movement) is well-aligned with what we want to do. We have done it really well, we just want to keep doing it better.”

Exactly what is “unprecedented” about the agreement?

Men’s basketball coach Mark Pope is prone to such hyperbole — and he’s loved by fans and the media because of it — but rarely does a BYU news release include such a bombastic word: unprecedented.

Yes, it is partly financial, Holmoe acknowledged, but it’s about much more. He went out of his way to make sure reporters knew the Cougars were only talking about themselves, and not about how this agreement is unique to college football as a whole.

“I believe that Kalani has dreams for BYU football, and we talk about those visions a lot,” Holmoe said. “And so when we talk about unprecedented, it is about what we can do at BYU.

“Kalani doesn’t really concern himself with other schools and how they do it. It is more about what he and his boys are going to do. I think that is where the unprecedented statement comes from,” Holmoe continued. “For me, I feel like we are taking this to another level here at BYU.”

Of course, the Cougars need to do that to stay relevant in the major sports — their other sports are having sensational seasons, if you haven’t noticed — as they enter the Big 12 in 2023. The aforementioned Pope needs a similar salary increase — and fast.

“This is about getting our players the opportunities and the resources they need, and that is why, in my opinion, the unprecedented part of it involves more than just me,” Sitake said.

The news came as no surprise, especially after Holmoe said Monday on BYUtv’s “BYU Sports Nation” that Sitake was “our coach” and talks were well underway and BYU wants him “for a long time.”

The message sent is that BYU not only values its employees it publicly affirms the importance of athletics to the school sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Gone are the days when BYU coaching jobs could be considered church callings and people should accept less for doing more.

Having been at Utah under Kyle Whittingham when the Utes made the jump to the Pac-12, Sitake (48-28 in six seasons) knows the steepness of the climb. As much as anyone associated with the Cougars, he knows what it will take to be competitive in the Big 12 from the get-go.

“Everything is still a work in progress, and I can tell you one thing: BYU is in a position we have never been in before — talking about athletics and what I see from the leadership,” Sitake said. “There are going to be opportunities for us to continue to be innovative and creative in how we do things and how we operate. … We are going to be giving all of our student-athletes, which means it extends also to our fans, and our students that are here on campus, and our faculty and staff, more opportunities to thrive and grow.”

And win.

And that takes money. A lot of money. Friday’s development shows the school is ready for the big-time — at least in the spending department.