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Gordon Monson: Will Kalani Sitake stay at BYU? Or will Provo look beautiful in his rearview?

Washington’s coaching vacancy has sparked new speculation about Sitake’s future

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates the win as the Utah State Aggies host Brigham Young University Cougars at Maverik Stadium Oct. 1, 2021. The Cougars attempt a second straight win for the Wagon Wheel, the trophy of the in-state rivalry, while the Aggies will try to recapture the trophy.

What would you do if you were Kalani Sitake and you were in the middle of your career and got a bigger offer to coach at a school with a bigger name up on a bigger, brighter marquee with a bigger stack of historical wins with a bigger, better football tradition?

You would dump BYU in a half-second and leave Provo in your road dust.

You would.

Even you zealous BYU fans would. Most of you.

For a special few, that school might be the mothership, the Hub of All Things Great and Small, but how many of the few are gifted head football coaches?

In September, I wrote a column asking whether BYU could hang onto Sitake if he kept winning. I thought the Cougars could — if they addressed his every concern and opened up their most voluminous bank vaults, emptying them at his feet. And as long as they treated his assistants in proper proportional manner.

Doing so would be problematic if the university stuck to its standard reaches of the past, wherein football coaches — head and assistant — typically operate well under the norms set at schools BYU sees as equals.

There has been some progress made in this regard, dispensing with the silly notion that coaching at BYU is some sort of church calling, thanks to wealthy boosters who have both the cash and the inclination to contribute to the wondrous cause of football success. The plain truth is, in this modern day of college ball, if an outfit doesn’t have the right coach or coaches in place, it will not win, not with any consistency.

It might get lucky now and again. And even with BYU’s strict honor code, getting lucky would be OK with them. But it wouldn’t and won’t last.

God himself could be running the university and without the right hires, it wouldn’t matter. Besides, he’s already busy coaching at Alabama.

Sans top-drawer mentors in place, schools lack the organizational and motivational leadership necessary to win, in part because substandard coaches whiff on big-time recruits, athletes who not only have skills, but also monetary options these days, large ones, that often are tied to the bluster a program can stir. The bigger the bluster, the bigger the payouts to players who will benefit by way of trunk-loads of cash handed out through corporate — read: booster — “sponsorships.”

You get the right coach leading your program, watch the wins and everything that rolls in with them pile up in excess.

Roll Tide, baby.

That’s why Nick Saban makes the $10 million-plus-per-annum Alabama is paying him to run its program. ‘Bama is fairly certain as long as Saban is its guy, it will go on shaking hands with victory. And victory adds up to … yep, more money/donations/attention/prestige for the university.

As much as it pains to admit it, Saban is worth every penny he is paid. It’s crazy. It’s out-of-whack. But … it’s capitalism.

So, what is Sitake worth?

More than he’s getting.

There are guesses as to what that exact amount is, improved as it is, at least according to whispers around the BYU program. What is certain is that it isn’t the equal of what Sitake could receive if USC — or some school like it — came calling.

Sitake talks regularly to his friend Kyle Whittingham at Utah, and the subject of adequate pay has to have emerged from time to time. If coaches/friends like that share/compare plays, you think they don’t share/compare pay?

Of course they do. And everybody knows Whittingham is making somewhere between $4M and $5M a year, enough to be investing in, among other things, condos on Maui.

Money has always mattered in college athletics, and even more now.

Just about anytime you hear about a top prep athlete signing with a college football or basketball program, in this time of NIL appropriations, you can be certain that no matter how much that recruit claims they’re coming to a school because they love the culture or style of play there, the larger reasoning at play is because of what they can get paid.

As long as BYU has fervent boosters like Ryan Smith, you’d think that a suitable salary for Sitake would be doable in Provo. The corporate sponsorships that could turn big-time recruits into Cougars, could also keep Sitake a Cougar.

The question that remains is, will BYU treat its coaches that way? Will it be allowed to do so by the powers that be who may get their jollies by being associated with a winner, but who also worry about upsetting the salary structure and overall perception of priorities at a school that’s supposed to be centered on the gospel of Christ, not the gospel of the College Football Playoff committee.

It better. It better if it aims to win in the Big 12.

If it won’t, why would Sitake want to stay at BYU?

These aren’t the bygone years of LaVell Edwards.

If he can make twice as much or three times what he’s being paid by the Cougars, why should he stay?

Yeah, yeah, money’s not everything. But the thing that it is is huge.

Especially in a coaching environment where the pressure comes heavy. And anyone who doesn’t believe coaching football at BYU is filled with that pressure hasn’t been paying attention. If a coach doesn’t win at least to some degree in Provo, he’s gonzo, the same way he’s shown the door at schools with bigger names.

It might not be to the same level as it is at, say, USC, but it exists and is abjectly felt by the dude running the show. Most coaches put enormous pressure on themselves even without the external burden.

I’ve said it before that if Sitake were to compile the same record over his first four seasons at, say, USC that he put up at BYU — 9-4, 4-9, 7-6, 7-6 — he wouldn’t have been kept around for last season’s 11-1 and this season’s 8-2 (at this writing).

With what he’s learned along the way, Sitake would not make the same mistakes at a big-name school that he made leading the Cougars as a first-time head coach. And if he were recruiting to USC instead of BYU, the latter being where much in and around the school makes it a more difficult sell to premier athletes (unless, with NIL, the specific money were off the charts), he’d have better teams to field because he’d have more better players.

It’d be a risk going to a top school in temporary disarray. But it could also be a gigantic reward. At this point in his career, what’s the real risk in going for it at a place that has gold to dig in the ground all around it? Most successful coaches — and Sitake is one of them — have substantial belief in themselves, especially if they have the support around them to do their job the way it needs to be done.

If the man can win at BYU, he can win at a place like USC.

And if he were to win at a place like USC, he’d be one of college football’s elite coaches. And if he were one of college football’s elite coaches, he’d also be one of its highest paid. Occasionally, a fortunate head coach — one like Whittingham — can find himself in a position he loves in a place he loves and gain respect and get highly paid. Altogether, all good.

Most coaches get into coaching to make a difference with their athletes and if their athletes are better than most of the other guys’ athletes, then winning comes in tow.

If you think BYU has generous deep-pocketed donors willing to help in that cause, paying recruits and players in the name of winning, in the name of NIL, and coaches in the name of getting strong leadership, think about what schools like USC have. They only lose if they hire the wrong guy at the top.

Is Sitake the wrong guy?

Would you be if you were him?

Would you think you were if you were him?

It’s doubtful Sitake sees himself that way.

It’s likely he wants to reach the highest levels of his profession.

Only he knows for sure.

What would you do?

As beautiful as Provo is, given certain opportunities, it would look just as beautiful in your rearview.

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