LAS VEGAS — The last time Kalani Sitake faced the University of Arizona in a season opener, it was his first game as a collegiate head football coach.
His BYU team won, but it took a kicker with a golden effort to seal it.
This time, he’s fresh off an 11-1 season and a contract extension that puts some wind in his sail in Las Vegas and the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, where some 60,000 fans will pack into for a nationally televised affair.
Sitake’s rookie year is far behind him.
He took his lumps in 2017, learned lessons, matured as a head coach, more fully understanding what it takes to build culture, play politics, raise money, operate a charity and put his brand on a program.
He’s shuffled a whole bunch of coaches in and out, most recently hiring veteran coaches Darrell Funk (offensive line) and Kevin Clune (linebackers). He’s had loyalty and staying power from offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and Ed Lamb, both seasoned coaches and teachers.
He is fresh off his most successful NFL draft class of players, led by Zach Wilson, taken No. 2 by the New York Jets, and it looks like Wilson’s favorite target last year, Dax Milne, made the roster for Washington.
Yes, Sitake is in a very different place emotionally, mentally and financially than he was when the Cougars eked out an 18-15 win over the Wildcats in Glendale, Arizona, five years ago.
In many respects, back in 2016 he was guessing, hoping and wondering what he had. He was working with a far smaller coaching budget than he is today. This weekend he still might have those thoughts, but they are backed by knowledge, experience and a new vote of confidence from his bosses. He also has had half a decade worth of player emphasis on weight training done his way.
Kudos to BYU for extending Sitake’s pact before the season began.
Both Sitake and BYU were the beneficiaries of a major national news story earlier in August when Built protein bars officially underwrote all walk-on football players in the Cougars program with an NIL contract to represent that company.
Isn’t it interesting that that news broke first — taking care of those players — before Sitake got his extension.
That, in a nutshell, is Kalani Sitake and the brand he’s trying to put among his players.
“He’s just a 100% genuine and consistent human being,” said Roderick to media folks after the announcement this past week of the extension. “Kalani wears his heart on his sleeve and he loves everyone in this program. I love him and I love working for him.”
Watch: BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake has a message for your missionary — https://t.co/i2ikst0gTh— LDS Living (@LDSLivingMag) September 1, 2021
The late LaVell Edwards has mentored a lot of young coaches over the decades and many are still coaching in both the NFL and college. Sitake is one of those disciples and his ways and means of showing it are evident.
Will it translate into victories in 2021?
Good things should come to good guys, if they put in the work and effort.
Sitake has done exactly that since becoming BYU’s head coach.
In-state seasonal forecast: Utes go 10-2 and annex the South Division championship. BYU gets its share of Pac-12 wins en route to an 8-4 season. Blake Anderson will take this Aggies team back to winning and a bowl someday but this first year will be tough at 5-7.
This week’s picks
Oklahoma 42, Tulane 21
Wisconsin 24, Penn State 21
Stanford 28, Kansas State 17
Oregon 42, Fresno State 14
Alabama 37, Miami 24
USC 38, San Jose State 7
Purdue 31, Oregon State 14
Texas Tech 27, Houston 23
Georgia 34, Clemson 28
LSU 34, UCLA 17
Nevada 17, California 14
Notre Dame 37, Florida State 21
Utah State 24, Washington State 21
BYU 34, Arizona 21