It was important for BYU’s head football coach to bring a pair of Polynesian coaches onboard in the transition from being an independent to being a member of the Big 12 Conference in 2023.

Any contact with the ever-growing Polynesian communities that stretch from the South Pacific to Hawaii, from California to Washington, and from Utah to Kansas has become important to major college football programs across the land.

This underscores the importance of hiring eight-year NFL veteran Sione Po’uha and former Cougar linebacker Justin Ena from San Diego State to aid new defensive coordinator Jay Hill. 

“Sione Po’uha and Justin Ena are game changers, not just on the field, where they have developed incredible players, but off the field as well,” according to Moose Bingham, co-president of War Room and CEO of Recruiting Pro.

“They are opening doors to the Samoan pipeline. With Jasen Ah You taking a job in academics, it was imperative that Kalani and Jay Hill hire coaches with Samoan roots and they hit it out of the park. I believe that coach Hill brought a dream team together for a defensive staff that will do great in the Big 12, especially in recruiting.”

Hill, the former Weber State head coach, replaced Ilaisa Tuiaki (a Tongan), as defensive coordinator after the New Mexico Bowl, BYU’s postseason finale.

Sitake, who was born in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and his cousin, pass game/receivers coach Fesi Sitake and running back coach Harvey Unga (Tongan), represent a culture that has supplied college and the NFL with significantly talented athletes over the decades.

The parents of Po’uha, a Tongan, attended the same Nuku’alofa branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with Kalani Sitake’s father Tom Sitake in the ’60s. Ena was a roommate and teammate of Sitake when both played at BYU.

Sitake expanded his reach with the new hires.

This hire by Sitake brought some Poly pipeline depth. He had tremendous success with former recruiting coordinator Ah You (Samoan), who left Sitake’s staff to work in BYU athletic academics this past year. 

How important are these cultural ties to football programs, especially in recruiting?

You don’t have to go far to ask. Or you could go across the country.

Ask just-hired North Carolina State offensive coordinator Robert Anae (Samoan). 

Anae, known for his tough, no-nonsense approach, has coached at Hawaii, Ricks College, Boise State, UNLV, Texas Tech, BYU (twice), Arizona, Virginia, Syracuse and now the Wolfpack. He has followed in the footsteps of much-traveled former BYU and Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a native of Hawaii.

Anae was instrumental in bringing Vic So’oto (Samoan) to Provo out of Southern California in the Bronco Mendenhall days. After an extensive NFL career, So’oto is now an outside linebacker coach and key recruiter for Justin Wilcox at Cal after coaching stops at Virginia, USC, and briefly at Colorado.

Ena just left Brady Hoke’s staff at SDSU and has coached at Utah, Utah State, Weber State, SUU and Utah Tech.

Having a Samoan or Tongan coach on a major college team is almost a priority in many P5 programs. Washington State just picked up Frank Maile from Boise State, a hot commodity after he left Utah State following a player campaign to elevate him when the school went another direction three years ago. Also on the WSU staff is former Cougar and Virginia RB coach Mark Atuaia (Samoan).

Former Cougar defensive end Shawn Nua (Samoan), left Provo for the NFL and later was hired by Ken Niumatalolo (Samoan) at Navy before landing jobs at Michigan and Arizona State, and is now at Southern Cal working for Lincoln Riley.

When living in Tonga in the mid-’60s, my family embraced a widow/seamstress and her son Tiamani became like a brother. When he later migrated to Utah, his son Beni was an undersized running back at Snow College and has had a long career on the football staff at Oklahoma State where he is currently player development specialist.

Some may think Oregon’s defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi is Polynesian, but he is of Italian heritage, the grandson of a millionaire immigrant Tony Lupoi. Tosh’s father John Lupoi played for BYU (1967-69), and Tosh does have Tony Tuioti coaching Oregon’s defensive line. 

Tuioti, a former player at Hawaii who grew up in Laie on the North Shore of Oahu, is Samoan. He is a recruiting engine for the Ducks having coached at Nebraska, Cal, Hawaii, Michigan and for the Cleveland Browns. 

At UCLA you have former Ute all-WAC player and native of Maui, Hawaii, Chad Kauha’aha’a, who has chiseled out a coaching resume at UNLV, Boise State, Oregon State, Utah (2011-2012) and Utah State (2009-2010). 

We could play this game for a long time, but before dropping more names, check most coaching rosters. You will find Polynesians are hired for a lot of reasons, but the primary expertise among them is recruiting,

So, how big was it for Sitake to hire Po’uha and Ena? 

Well, there’s the combined 12 years of NFL experience, their knowledge of coaching techniques and moves, but more than that, it’s who they know, their relations, cousins and nephews

Now that Po’uha and Sitake are working together today, let this sink in. Their parents were friends before either was born some 6,000 miles away on a flat coral island in the South Pacific.

That is how important Polynesian relationships tend to be.