Provo • Coach Kalani Sitake’s response to one of the worst seasons in the modern era of BYU football was to revamp his offensive coaching staff and replace relatively inexperienced coaches at the college level with veterans such as new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick.
But those are not the only off-field changes the third-year coach made as a result of the 4-9 season that cost assistants Ty Detmer, Reno Mahe, Mike Empey, Ben Cahoon and Steve Kaufusi their jobs.
Associate head coach Ed Lamb said Sitake, as much of a “players’ coach” as you will find anywhere, is demanding more out of his players than ever before. Accountability and discipline have been the watchwords this offseason, Lamb said.
“No question about it, coach Sitake has put a premium on improving our level accountability, discipline, buy-in, whatever you want to call it,” Lamb said. “The players have responded, and I would hope it will be very obvious to anybody who has been around a few practices or watches our team moving forward.”
That offseason of reflection and re-energizing ends Monday, Lamb said, as the Cougars begin spring practices with the new staff — safeties coach Preston Hadley, offensive line coach Ryan Pugh, running backs coach AJ Steward and receivers coach Fesi Sitake are the other newcomers — at the Indoor Practice Facility because winter arrived late in Provo and snow still covers much of the outdoor practice field.
Lamb said that only one or two guys decided to leave the program, “but no more than any other year,” and there hasn’t been a backlash.
“Everyone around here cares about the success of BYU, and cares about the contribution that they can make individually,” he said. “So I think everybody has appreciated the fact that the level of commitment needed [for someone] to remain in the program has been raised.”
Lamb said the top goal in spring camp is to carry the improvement in player commitment through March and into the summer when coaches aren’t there every day.
Sitake called a meeting on the Monday after the Cougars put lipstick on a pig with their 30-20 win over Hawaii and read the riot act to everyone in the program, from himself to the ball boys. The coach told everyone to stop the “culture of complaining, or using things like the honor code or strict academics as challenges,” Lamb said.
Instead, Sitake vowed that day to install of culture of commitment, discipline and accountability. Lamb said it has seemingly taken root, but the results won’t be evident until next fall.
“We can feel like our players are really improving their accountability, we can feel like our coaches are working efficiently in the offseason,” he said. “But this game is about production. This business is about production. Our offensive coaches, defensive coaches, special teams coaches, everyone in the program needs to produce this fall. That’s really where the only analysis that matters is going to take place.”
A few regulars will be limited in camp, Lamb said.
Senior quarterback Tanner Mangum, who suffered an Achilles tear against Fresno State, and tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who sat out 2017 with a Lisfranc foot injury, won’t participate in contact drills. Running back Ula Tolutau will be limited by a lower leg injury but is still in the program after being suspended midway through last season due to an arrest for marijuana possession.
And there are a few position changes.
Safety Zane Anderson will get spring camp reps at the linebacker position that Fred Warner played, while Sione Takitaki will move from open defensive end/dropback linebacker to a regular linebacker position. Dayan Ghanwoloku will move from cornerback to safety.
Linebacker Matt Hadley, whose senior season was cut short by a knee injury, is appealing to the NCAA to get the year back. Lamb said Hadley has been training and going through offseason conditioning as if he will get the hardship medical waiver.
The Cougars will go five straight weeks, practicing three times a week until the spring scrimmage on April 7 at LaVell Edwards Stadium which will be open to the public.
BYU football spring camp Important dates
Monday • First practice at Indoor Practice Facility on campus
March 21 • High school coaches clinic in conjunction with practice
March 30 • Pro Day at the IPF, 10 a.m.
April 7 • Spring Scrimmage and Alumni Day at LaVell Edwards Stadium, 11 a.m.