Gordon Monson: Dr. Kalani Sitake is tackling BYU’s pandemic problems as much as mastering football

FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2019 file photo, Brigham Young head coach Kalani Sitake looks at a replay on the Jumbotron in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn. For the first time since 1989, BYU and Navy will get together for a football game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

One by one, Kalani Sitake channeled Dr. Gregory House or, for you old-timers, a kinder, gentler Marcus Welby, M.D., answering the questions he was asked during his weekly virtual news conference, most of which had more to do with medical issues and the effects of a pandemic than with actual football.
Sitake started the thing off all coach-style, talking about BYU’s coming matchup with Troy, looking forward to his team’s home opener on Saturday, mentioning that the Trojans had blown out Middle Tennessee State, winning by 33 points last week, and that the game would test the Cougars in all three phases.
And next thing, he needed Mosby’s Medical Dictionary to plow his way on through.
If anyone from past years had been fast-forwarded into this particular Q-and-A session, dropped in out of the blue, they would have wondered what the hell was going on. They would have thought Sitake was some kind of world-renowned epidemiologist rather than a dude who usually wears a floppy hat on his head and a whistle around his neck.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson made the news of the day by informing one and all that he’d contracted COVID-19 over the summer by getting together with football friends for a night of gambling. Turns out the real gamble there was exposing himself to a virus rather than risking a pile of Skittles inside a few hands of poker. That, too, was a bigger story at scrubbed-clean BYU than anything he had to say about reading defenses or leading an offense or spinning spirals down field.
He was a coronavirus survivor.
And a gambling man.
Good on him.
Senior hybrid linebacker-DB Zayne Anderson also addressed the pressing well-being issue, stressing caution on the part of himself and his teammates, urging them to make sacrifices for the health of the entire outfit. He added that discretion often rules around the program, saying even members of the team aren’t always completely sure who’s had COVID and who hasn’t. “You’re out there on your own,” he said.
At his turn, Sitake went ahead and responded to the questions as best he could, wishing all the while he had made it to and through med school rather than spending all his time filling up a private library full of notebooks on middle-dog crosses, whip and sluggo routes and full-slide protections.
Where was his copy of The Emperor of All Maladies when he needed it?
Nowhere in sight.
This was a different kind of malady.
But the questions came, anyway, and here are some partial answers.
He was asked about last week’s COVID-postponed game against Army.
“Everything’s been a transition,” he said.
He was asked for a health update on his team, and how he’s adapted to the positive virus cases.
“As far as we know, we have some more tests to go this week. But everyone’s still in play right now. Obviously, we had some education purposes to understand the virus a little more. It’s not too difficult to understand except the part with contact tracing. We have to be mindful of the situation. What’s difficult is when a guy tests positive, their whole apartment needs to shut down and quarantine.”
He was asked — wait, what? — about the Sun Belt Conference.

“They’re really well-coached teams.”
He was asked, with last week’s positive coronavirus cases, if he could hold full-team practices now.
“Starting today, we’ll be able to practice as a complete team. We’ll still use our masks and our shields on our face masks and still practice social distancing on the field.”
He was asked who could return to practice after virus testing today.
“I can’t answer that question fully right now, because there’s like four different answers in there.”
He was asked what his medical staff had told him about the impact the recent rise in COVID cases in the state of Utah could have on the status of Saturday’s game.
“We’ve been talking about understanding contact tracing more than anything and how to keep our guys safe. There’s going to be some accountability from our players being able to gauge their own lives and be smart about how they approach their everyday living. That’s been the key from our sports medicine department, educating coaches and staff and players. We’re all in the same boat here. This thing’s so unpredictable, you can do everything right and still contract the virus.”
He was asked if he were to be afflicted with COVID, what would he do as a backup plan.
“We’re prepared for it.”
He was asked how he and his team carried over from the Navy game after last week’s postponement against Army because of positives in virus testing.
“We’d love to play every week. That’s the plan from here on out. We just had a little hiccup.”
He was asked about playing host at home to the first college football game played in the West on account of stoppages because of the coronavirus — and the limited number of fans that might be allowed to attend.
“However many fans can get in there, they’ll be cheering for us.”
He was asked further about contact tracing and quarantining, about rules from the CDC and government agencies concerning when the team can play and when it can’t.
“I just know what our administration and what our sports medicine department tells us. … Who holds us to what protocols, I don’t know.”
He was asked about student-athletes doing classes online because of the virus preventing live attendance in some classrooms and the adjustments they had to make on the academic side.
“I’ve seen some really good teachers at this school and I’ve been really impressed how they’ve been able to handle the virus and pandemic and adjust their schedules … teachers who are reaching out and doing different things that are creative and innovative.”
Believe it or not, he was asked about Troy’s offensive schemes.
“They play great team football.”
When it was over, Sitake, having demonstrated good bedside manner, washed his hands, took his stethoscope and white lab coat off, not seeming to have minded the non-football inquiries. He knows what’s going on. He understands. He was just relieved — knock on wood — that his team can practice again, can get on the field on Saturday and do what it trains to do, what he coaches it to do, middle-dog crosses, whip and sluggo routes and full-slide protections included.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.
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