Facebook Twitter

Navigating transfer portal is no easy ride for BYU coaches

Why spring transfer portal windows are so critical for BYU teams — now perhaps more than ever

SHARE Navigating transfer portal is no easy ride for BYU coaches
BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, and BYU basketball coach Mark Pope take a selfie.

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, and BYU basketball coach Mark Pope take a selfie during a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. Both BYU coaches will have an interesting spring navigating the transfer portal ahead of their first seasons competing in the Big 12.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

It’s open season for college sports. The doors of the basketball transfer portal blew open Monday with a record number of student-athletes charging through it in search of greener pastures. Some want more playing time, some want more NIL money and some just want a fresh start.

The next transfer portal window for football is April 15 through April 30. The portal for all other sports is May 1 through May 15.

This is the last battalion of potential reinforcements on the open market before BYU joins the Big 12 on July 1 and starts competition in August. For every coach on campus, this is a critical time for evaluation, alteration and execution.

Evaluation starts at the top, with each coach assessing his or her own performance, the staff, the roster, the recruits, the relationship with boosters and the portal. If Kalani Sitake, Trent Pratt, Gordon Eakin, Ed Eyestone, Mark Pope, Amber Whiting, Jen Rockwood, Diljeet Taylor, Shawn Olmstead, Heather Olmstead, Bruce Brockbank, Carrie Roberts and the others aren’t glued to the transfer portal, they likely have someone on their staff who is.

Navigating through the portal process is hard for a head coach. It’s like walking through a showroom of used cars — some still have their brand-new shine, while others feature the wear and tear of overuse and underappreciation.

All claim to be drivable, but none carry warranties.

The true challenge is to find out what’s under the hood. What shape is the engine in? How many miles does it still have? Sadly, and often regrettably, with so many potential buyers, there is hardly time for a test drive, let alone a thorough inspection.

The most sought-after portal players are here one minute and gone the next.

This is where the portal puts an unfair burden on coaches to know just what they are getting themselves into. Unlike the typical recruiting process, which can last for years, some of these portal decisions for top-end athletes are made in days, even hours.

It’s easy to sell BYU and its world of opportunities, but when the pitch also includes the expected lifestyle that comes with it, things can get tricky. Eat, drink and be merry is still a thing and not every college kid is enamored by having an honor code.

Finding those who do is the hard part, but on the occasion when lightning strikes, the payoff can be enormous both for the student-athlete and the program.

Understanding that nothing stays the same puts an emphasis on making alterations. A suit or dress that doesn’t fit the way it used to can still be put to good use, but only after a few stitches are altered. The portal certainly challenges a coach to alter his or her roster to make room for additional players.

With the mounting pressure to compete in the Big 12, and only a certain number of spots available, the coach gets the tough task of deciding who goes and who stays. To fans, it may seem like a simple business decision driven by performance, but to the coach who recruited the student-athlete and his or her family to BYU, there is nothing simple about it.

Alterations are delicate. If done right, they can extend the life of a pair of pants. If done poorly, they can ruin them. Avoiding the portal can cost a coach a key player while signing too many transfers can cost a locker room. Each coach on campus has to decide which formula works for them, but for most teams, additions can’t come without subtractions.

This is where execution comes into play.

Football coach Kalani Sitake announced with his February recruiting class that he was keeping a few extra scholarships open in case the transfer portal presented additional opportunities. Without question, he or his staff watch the daily developments.  

Sitake has already added 10 portal players since the end of last season, including quarterback Kedon Slovis (Pittsburgh), running back Aidan Robbins (UNLV) and center Paul Maile (Utah). The football team also lost players to the portal.

Other sports at BYU don’t have the luxury of football’s massive roster, so the tough decisions come with a smaller margin for error. For example, women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting’s first recruiting haul is up to seven and touted as among the best classes in program history. However, she loses just two senior players from a roster that will host Rice on Friday night in the WNIT (7 p.m. MDT, BYUtv). Whiting, after her first season in Provo, has some emotional decisions ahead.

Men’s basketball coach Mark Pope also faces roster shuffling and portal shopping, along with every other coach on campus that is looking at every means available to get better. It’s not an easy job. Coaches today not only have to know the Xs and Os of their sport, but they must also be masters of the mystic arts — capable of managing the present while seeing into the future.

The future is in the Big 12, for all sports but men’s volleyball — and that makes the present, with the transfer portal, about evaluation, alteration and execution to offset the exasperation, consternation and frustration that already come with the job.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake works the sideline during game against the Utah Tech Trailblazers at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

BYU Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake works the sideline during the game against the Utah Tech Trailblazers at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.