BYU football: Unbreakable bond with his father has shaped Kalani Sitake's life, coaching philosophy

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake shouts in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Southern Utah, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Provo • Whether it is cleaning out the garage, going to a movie or watching a football practice, BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s philosophy is simple. He surrounds himself with close friends and family members whenever possible.

“The way I look at it, there are two ways to do things that are considered work, like cleaning your garage,” Sitake said. “You could take the approach that you are going to work hard and kill it and be done in an hour. And that’s fine. Or you could put on some music and invite your family over and enjoy it and have fun. It may take a bit longer, but that’s how I like to do things.”

Family first is the stamp that Sitake has put on the BYU football program as he enters his second season at the helm. His father, Tom Sitake, almost always is around — even at games on the road, firesides throughout the country and blistering hot practices at the end of July.

Kalani’s younger siblings, Toakase, Pamrose and T.J., also can be seen at games and BYU football-related events, or on social media posts enjoying time with their beloved big brother.

KALANI SITAKE’S EARLY LIFE <br>• Kelaokalani Fifita “Kalani” Sitake  was born in Tonga, but his family migrated to the United States when he was a child. <br>• After his parents divorced, Sitake mostly was raised by his father, Tomasi “Tom” Sitake, and the family lived in Laie, Hawaii, before eventually moving to Provo. <br>• The Sitake family moved to the St. Louis area during Sitake’s teenage years, and he graduated from Kirkwood High in Missouri.<br>• Sitake became BYU’s 14th football coach in December of 2015. <br>• He and his wife, Timberly, are the parents of three children.

“I am close with all my kids, every one of them. Kalani just happens to be in the media, the spotlight, so that’s what people see,” said Tom Sitake, the man his adult children refer to as “Pops.”

Kalani said he talks to his father by cell phone or in person at least once a day, and sometimes more often. It’s been that way all 41 years of his life, except for the two years he spent in Oakland, Calif., as a missionary for the LDS Church.

“He has been a great advisor and mentor to me, along with just being my father,” Kalani said. “There are a lot of things that just he understands.”

One of those is the importance of family.

“In Polynesian families, the oldest is expected to be protecting and caring and be responsible when the parents are not home,” Tom Sitake said. “Kalani has always been that way — so families are very, very important to him.”

It isn’t just Kalani’s father and family members who are on the practice field or hanging around the football offices at the Student Athlete Building on campus. It seems like the children of almost every assistant coach in the program have played hide-and-seek in the lobby and hallways at one time or another since Kalani was named BYU’s 14th coach in December of 2015.

“I want everybody’s family to be around,” Kalani said. “It is fortunate for me that we came back to my hometown and my dad [who lives in Orem] can be here. We have a lot of coaches’ family members in the offices and everything. It is just kind of what we want.”

Tom Sitake is seemingly ever-present despite holding down a full-time job as director of vocational rehabilitation at the Utah State Hospital in Provo. He will report to work at 6 a.m., get off at 4 p.m. and swing by the football offices 15 minutes later.

“We talk a lot about things related to family, about his life, his children,” Tom Sitake said. “It’s not always about football. It’s just like any other father-son relationship.”

Although Tom Sitake always has been a BYU fan, that relationship was just as strong when Kalani coached for the rival Utes for 10 years. Tom said he hardly ever missed a Utah road game because coach Kyle Whittingham made sure he had a seat on the charter flight.

He hopes to catch every BYU road game this season because his son, T.J., who is named after him, works for an airline.

Tom Sitake said Kalani’s best characteristics are his humility and how much he cares about other people. He said Kalani scored just one touchdown in his entire four-year career as a fullback at BYU, but he was proud of the way he opened holes for backs such as Jamal Willis, Luke Staley, Mark Atuaia and Hema Heimuli.

“He doesn’t focus on himself. He is all about paving the way for others,” Tom Sitake said. “That’s his gift.”

Kalani said the tight bond he has with his father was nurtured and developed by BYU football.

“We watched games together,” Kalani said. “We were at the Miami game together, me and my dad. BYU football has always been a big part of our lives. I would like to think that somewhere out there the next BYU football coach is watching our games with his dad and family and enjoying what they are seeing on TV or in person.”