During a personal talk with LaVell Edwards many years ago, as we were discussing important matters such as … um, appreciating mountain scenery, planting and caring for hundreds of begonias and snapdragons and philodendrons and daisies around his house, eating oatmeal and cornflakes with bananas for breakfast every morning, reading his favorite book, Lonesome Dove, hitting a 5-iron pure, and teaching young people to become what they’re capable of becoming, the conversation turned for some long-forgotten reason to guys who played for him who he thought would themselves — one day, some day — make good football coaches.
The first name out of his mouth was … Kalani Sitake.
That Edwards dude, he was visionary, smart and wise.
As fate would have it, BYU eventually hired Sitake, long after LaVell retired, having waded through Gary Crowton and enjoyed a boost back to respectability under Bronco Mendenhall.
Before Sitake ever coached a game for BYU, he uttered these words: “I love it here. I’m thankful to be here for as long as I can be. And if something’s not right, we’ll make it right.”
Now, Sitake will be the Cougars’ coach for many more years, having agreed to an announced contract extension on Tuesday. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, the man will lead the team at least through the 2025 season.
Good move on and for both sides.
“I am excited about the future of our program,” Sitake said.
Let’s put it like this: When Sitake was named BYU’s coach after the 2015 season, anyone who knew anything about the Cougars program knew at some juncture or another what Edwards recognized years before — it was a darn good idea, a snug fit.
Sitake played at BYU, understood the intricacies of the program and school from the inside out. Those who do not have that advantage should double-clutch before attempting to lead this parade.
It’s unique. It’s unusual. It can be weird.
As a coach, Sitake swam into BYU football. He compiled a 9-4 season that first year across glassy waters before nearly drowning under a series of tall waves the second year, when his team went 4-9. He said he learned a lot of lessons through that storm, namely to require more discipline out of his players and himself, to demand more effort, to be better organized, to better study his craft.
He did exactly that over the next couple of seasons, all of which crescendoed into BYU’s 11-1 record last year, when Sitake was a finalist for a national coach-of-the-year award.
He understands now what it means to captain BYU football, with all the extracurriculars at the school, so many beyond the typical responsibilities of recruiting, Xs and Os, organization, structure, leadership, development of players, evaluations of talent.
In truth, BYU hasn’t seemed to recruit quite as well as it might have, even with the restrictions of the honor code, given Sitake’s reputation as a great salesman. At least not according to recruiting experts who assign numbers and rankings to such things.
But the Cougars have mentored the talent they have quite well, which is a credit to Sitake and his assistants, as they’ve taught their charges, often profoundly advancing their abilities, their techniques, their skills, as they’ve worked.
That’s the best a coach can do — get the most out of what he has.
Sitake has done that on the whole, bumping and skidding along the way, at times, but moving nonetheless in an ascending direction. I’ve talked with players who love the coach, and talked with some who disliked him.
That’s the way it goes when a coach shepherds hundreds of players and personalities through the years. His record, including last year’s boost, is 38-26. Decent, not enough to blow your socks off, but solid.
Is Sitake a genius? No.
Is he a great coach? Not yet.
Is he improving with age? Yes.
Is he the best man for the job at BYU. Uh-huh.
Should BYU have extended his contract for another fistful of seasons? Indeed.
Way back before that first season, Sitake said: “What I do is, I learn and I get better.”
He does. He has.
Players and, just as importantly, recruits now know who to look to, who to follow at BYU, not just this season, but for many seasons to come.
Kalani Sitake is a son of the program, and the father of it now.
The Cougars are better for having him. And that fact, that realization makes what happened on Tuesday a strong move, a move the grandfather and godfather of BYU football, the man with his name on the side of the stadium, could see coming a long time ago.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.