Kyle Van Noy and Kalani Sitake make a habit of talking at least once a week. Their conversations can range from anything from building to the Big 12 to the pressure of being a racial minority on BYU’s majority white campus.
Van Noy, a former All-American at BYU, considers himself a supporter and friend of Sitake. But more recently, the two-time Super Bowl champion is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of support Sitake has received from the athletic department and university to build a Power Five caliber program.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Salt Lake Tribune last week, Van Noy discussed his new deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, expressed concerns about BYU football’s readiness for the Big 12, and called out institutional university issues that, he says, continue to hold BYU athletics back, including BYU’s strict Honor Code.
Closing the financial gap
It is no secret BYU football heads into the Big 12 with a significantly smaller budget than the rest of the conference.
According to the most recent Department of Education data, BYU had about $18 million in football expenses in 2020 — less than half of what Texas spends annually (about $42 million). This gap in the budget is reflected in BYU’s relatively smaller staff size, recruiting infrastructure and facilities.
BYU spends far more on football than any other athletics program. Still, Van Noy believes the university can do more.
“BYU needs to stop bulls------- and giving [money] to other programs,” Van Noy said. “We know football needs more money. Hopefully, the commissioners from the Big 12 came and told [athletic director] Tom [Holmoe], they need more money because that’s the truth.
“Do you think they have enough to compete with the Oklahoma States? No? Exactly, everybody knows that. So what do you need to do? We need to step it up. And I think everybody needs to be called out there and everybody needs to step up more.”
Holmoe has said the university plans to make “strategic investments” in the football program over time. So far, he has green-lighted the hires of several more support staffers this offseason.
But Van Noy is displeased with Holmoe’s gradual approach. BYU is slated to join the Big 12 in 2023. As Van Noy sees it, Holmoe could be making a more robust commitment to the football program but is choosing to be more conservative.
“He wants a pat on the back for getting in the Big 12,” Van Noy said. “That’s not enough. … Obviously, I’m not there everyday. This is just outside looking in. But I’m not stupid. I understand the business. I understand what championship pedigree looks like today. I know we don’t have it yet.”
Notably, Sitake said last week he was pleased with the steps Holmoe has taken thus far to add some additional staff, but the head coach stressed he will continue asking for more help.
When Sitake was signed to a long-term extension this winter, Holmoe promised BYU would make an “unprecedented” commitment to the football program by taking care of assistant coaches and support staff.
“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.”
Van Noy also said the financial blame should extend to the university at large. He said the university has the financial capacity to immediately put BYU on par with the rest of the conference. To him, it is choosing not to invest.
“Everybody knows how much money the church has,” Van Noy said. “And that’s why it’s so disappointing, because they don’t really care about sports. Like let’s be honest. The only people that care about sports are the ones that are in it.”
“I don’t think the [football program] has everything they need in order to make it, especially to compete with the schools that we’re about to compete with.”
An issue with the Honor Code
Van Noy has long been critical of BYU’s strict Honor Code. During his freshman year, Van Noy was sideline because of a DUI arrest that, among other things, meant he was not in compliance with the school’s Honor Code.
But Van Noy said he was routinely profiled at the school beyond that; BYU’s Honor Code has been criticized for targeting minority students on a majority white campus.
“There’s other schools that have honor codes that aren’t nearly as harsh,” he said. “BYU’s is almost like a badge of honor for them. Suspending players and kicking students out is almost like fun for them.”
Van Noy noted that BYU’s campus is 81% white. The football program, however, is composed of mostly minority athletes. It means the Honor Code disproportionately affects the football program and players involved.
“It’s disappointing and I hope people stand up,” Van Noy said. “I know I’ve been outspoken about it for years because of the things that have happened to me. I just hope some of it changes and I don’t think it ever will unless someone speaks up about it.”
Earlier this year, Holmoe said BYU would try to relax part of the Honor Code — particularly the dressing and grooming standards — as it heads into the Big 12. But he quickly walked back his comments 24 hours later with a correction.
“I feel like it’s the opposite of what we’re supposed to be about,” Van Noy said. “All that matters is if you’re a good person and you’re trying to do right.”
Support for Kalani Sitake
Van Noy and Sitake call once a week, where the NFL linebacker gives his thoughts on the program. Like any fan, he says, his feedback varies from positive to negative. But, overall, Van Noy is a believer in what Sitake has built thus far.
“I have faith in him as a coach. I have faith in his staff,” Van Noy said. “He’s a great man. He’s a great leader, and he really wants to be the best.”
Their relationship extends beyond football. Van Noy says he can understand the pressure Sitake feels being a Polynesian head coach at a majority white school.
“As someone who has been a different color scheme at a predominantly white school, I know how he feels,” Van Noy said. “I know the pressure he has. I know all of those things. I’m truly rooting for him.”
The pressure on Jaren Hall
The way Van Noy sees it, the 2022 season is about getting over the hump. Last year, he says, BYU was plagued by injuries down the stretch that led to three losses.
This year, it all starts by quarterback Jaren Hall being healthy. Hall missed three games last year and has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career.
“I don’t want to put pressure on him, but I’m going to put pressure on him,” Van Noy said. “Jaren has got to stay healthy. I think he knows that. He’s been very injury prone, and he’s gotta fix that if he wants to be an NFL quarterback. He can’t be fragile.”
“He’s gotta win those big moment games. I’m excited for him because I think he’s gonna take that challenge.”
A new deal in L.A.
After winning two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, Van Noy signed with the Los Angeles Chargers last week.
Van Noy was released by New England in March and waited several months to find a new home. He says he was confused why the Patriots had lost faith in his ability to play, even if his stats remained consistent after nearly nine years in the league.
“People think you can’t play even though your stats are the same as they’ve been for the last six years,” he said. “It is just being patient. I knew I was gonna be on a team. It was just a matter of time and the Chargers came and I was ready to go.”
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