LAS VEGAS — A jovial, wise-cracking Kalani Sitake stole the show at the Big 12 football media days a year ago in Arlington, Texas, using his typical self-deprecating and easygoing style to introduce himself to media members who cover the league.

It was a different Sitake, in that respect, who showed up Wednesday at this year’s conference talk-fest at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

BYU’s nine-year boss was a bit more defiant, more resolved, and more serious this time around. That’s what an 11th place finish and the accompanying 2-7 record that produced it in a Power Four league will do to a guy, apparently.

A year after the Deseret News reported that Sitake “charms, entertains reporters” at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, he was still affable and playful at the home of the Las Vegas Raiders, but also solemn and resolute.

Asked about that subtle change of demeanor as the two-day event was winding down Wednesday, Sitake said it wasn’t by design.

“I crack jokes all the time, man. Last year, we were kind of the new guys still. That was our first time being in media day,” he explained. “So I still got jokes. You just have to ask me the right questions. Maybe you guys are the ones that are more serious, asking me more serious questions.

“But no, I feel like I am the same person still. Yes, there is definitely a sense of urgency now that we know what we are up against in the Big 12. I am excited, more than anything. I may look serious, but I am excited,” he continued. “I have a hard time just talking about it. Talk can be really cheap. I just want to get to the season, get to the games, and see all the hard work (pay off) for our guys.”

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Said longtime Big 12 observer Berry Tramel, now a columnist for the Tulsa World: “Kalani seems a little more reserved this year.”

Not that Sitake is feeling a different kind of heat than what Sin City is experiencing this week — record-setting temperatures of 115-120 — but it is clear that he knows the powers-that-be are not going to accept another losing season (BYU was 5-7 overall last year) and bowl game miss without thinking about making some changes.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency throughout the program,” he said.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe also attended football media days this week and told the Deseret News that he is “OK” with the leadership of the football program. He even offered Sitake a vote of confidence.

“A number of people have asked me that. I tell them Kalani is our coach. I like him. I go and talk with him a lot,” Holmoe said. “My job as the AD is to have my finger on the pulse of all of our coaches, to see where they are at. I can see some that are struggling, for reasons that are going to be hard to change, and I can see some struggles that we have had in football that are workable.

“And that’s where I feel we are. No one can look at last year and go, ‘Oh, no problem.’ We had to make some changes, and we are going to have to make some changes that will show improvement. That’s why I say I am ready to go,” he concluded.

So what will it take to avoid another losing season, a losing season that could get the heat turned up on Sitake’s seat?

Speaking from the podium set up in the south end zone of the cavernous stadium Wednesday, Sitake said more physicality and more consistency are what it will take to get the Cougars back to a bowl game in 2024.

He said that the finish to the 2023 season — close losses to nationally ranked Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on consecutive weekends in November — gave him the belief that they aren’t too far away.

“We’ve had flashes of some really cool things happen,” he said. “I mentioned being physical. This conference is a physical conference. You have to be physical. That’s got to be part of our identity, but I don’t want to keep talking about it. I want to get out there and play.”

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There was a tone of defiance in his address, although he stopped far short of criticizing the media for picking the Cougars to finish 13th in the 16-team league when he stepped off the podium and stood in front of the usual scrum stage left.

“There are a lot of unknowns with us,” he said. “What have we done to earn the benefit of the doubt? It would be hard for me to get mad at (the media) for not voting for us (to finish higher). Well, you don’t know enough about the things that we can do. Our players and myself, we know what we can get done.”

Throughout this spring and summer, Sitake has expressed a quiet confidence that his team will be better than expected, saying attention to detail, consistency of effort and focus on the main things have ruled the day.

His players agreed, while also acknowledging some subtle changes in Sitake’s approach.

“He is still himself, but he definitely knows that this is an important year for us and that there is no messing around,” said receiver Chase Roberts.

“I have seen a little bit of that from him. He is always a joyous and jolly guy. That hasn’t changed, but I have seen a more focused group overall, as a team.”

Offensive lineman Connor Pay noted that the Sitake the media sees is a bit different than “the Kalani I’ve always known.” Sitake on Wednesday was a glimpse of that guy.

“There is a different energy. … Just that juice that comes from, for lack of a better word, embarrassment for how we played last year,” Pay said. “I think everyone on the team feels the way that Kalani has kinda presented himself today.”


Defensive lineman Tyler Batty, the only Cougar named to the All-Big 12 preseason team, said he noticed a few changes in Sitake’s mentality immediately after the 2023 season ended.

“I would say our entire program is laser-focused right now,” Batty said. “Guys are intent on what we want to accomplish and are excited to do so.

“They are really looking forward to just playing football and so I think that is the mentality, the general feeling that we have right now.”

And Sitake is leading the charge.

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