BYU football takes an important step in its Big 12 preparation

The Cougars are closing the gap on their future Big 12 foes by making eight new staff hires, but say more work is still needed.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young head coach Kalani Sitake smiles as the Cougars celebrate their win 42-14 win over the Aggies, in football action between Brigham Young Cougars and Utah State Aggies in Logan on Nov. 2, 2019. Monday, BYU announced a wave of new hires to help the Cougars' football program move closer in size to other Big 12 schools.

Almost immediately after BYU was officially admitted to the Big 12 conference, Jon Swift requested a sit-down meeting with head football coach Kalani Sitake.

As the director of football operations, Swift had some understandable trepidation about the conference change. From an organizational standpoint, he felt, BYU football was not nearly ready to compete at the Power Five level.

Their strength and conditioning staff had two open spots. The recruiting operation was bare-bones at best, with the equipment operations manager often moonlighting as a talent recruiter. And the rest of the support staff — positions like analysts, nutrition and development — were basically nonexistent.

“I said let’s get together and evaluate what our current organization looks like and how it compares to [the Big 12],” Swift said. “And we saw that there was a big gap there.”

Over the next several months, Swift and Sitake outlined an organizational chart more befitting the Power Five level as they prepare to begin play in the Big 12 in 2023. Swift moved from director of operations to chief of staff to oversee the additional hires. Athletic director Tom Holmoe was brought into the discussions to talk about the constraints of the budget.

And since March, BYU has made staff increases in two waves. The latest of those waves came on Monday, when Sitake announced eight new hires — three of which were promotions — to begin closing the gap on the rest of the Big 12. Most of it was reshuffling, but it was still a step forward.

“We’re [still] looking to add more obviously,” Sitake said. “But this is a great foundation for us to build [upon], specifically in the supporting staff area.”

Sitake has been careful not to call any individual hire as “unprecedented.” That, of course, was the promise Holmoe made when he signed Sitake to a long-term contract extension this winter, saying BYU would make “unprecedented” commitments to bolster the staff.

Sitake will take this, though.

BYU now has a full strength and conditioning staff of five coaches, the maximum allowed by the NCAA. It also has a more robust complement of analysts, the area where most Power Five programs separate themselves. The NCAA does not put a cap on analysts, with teams like Texas having upward of 22.

“I’m not really patient,” Sitake said. “And that’s OK. I’ll keep asking [Holmoe for more people]. And in the meantime, we’ll keep working toward getting this team ready to play and that’s this season.”

Sitake can take solace in the overhaul of the organization chart that Swift has implemented. His move to chief of staff cleared the way for BYU to bring in a new director of player personnel, Justin Anderson.

BYU needed someone with Power Five experience at that position and a new perspective on how to build a Big 12 recruiting blueprint. Anderson comes from the University of Virginia, where he built a winner in the ACC for five years. He will now oversee Sitake’s vision to expand the recruiting ties into Texas, Florida and Ohio.

Moreover, Sitake says the restructure is allowing people to be spread “less thin.” Billy Nixon, previously the director of equipment operations, was promoted to the director of football operations. At one point last year, Nixon was simultaneously running equipment and the “player experience” role.

“I think we all felt a little stretched thin,” Nixon said. “And so it’s gonna be nice to be able to take every aspect of the program a little bit farther and get a little bit more innovative as we head into the Big 12. Be able to focus on our lane a little bit better and not wear as many hats.”

Monday’s additions are not being lauded as an arrival for BYU, with the Cougars still operating with a smaller crew than most Big 12 schools. But it is a step forward, a closing of the gap as Swift would say. And until the gap is closed, Sitake will keep asking for more.