BYU wants to win in 2022 — but the Cougars’ checklist for success this season has more to do with Big 12 readiness

In 2022, a successful year will be marked by Big 12 preparation just as much as a record

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tom Holmoe and Kalani Sitake at BYU football media day in Provo on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Provo • It took just one question for Kalani Sitake to pull out the canned answer he has been using for months. It’s the one he deploys every time he is asked about the program’s preparations for the Big 12.

“All I am focused on is making sure we perform at our best in 2022,” he said. “That’s it. We can’t control anything beyond that.”

But looking around the room Sitake was sitting in, it would be hard to take that answer at its face. A new era has already taken hold. The Big 12 logo was plastered on the walls of BYU’s media room. On its final media day as a football independent, almost all of the programming was geared toward the future.

And just a couple of tables down from Sitake, BYU’s athletics director Tom Holmoe was holding court with a scrum of people, talking about the feeling of change in the air — and what it would take for BYU to be prepared for the Big 12.

Because for BYU this season, winning is only half the equation. The rest of it will be about bringing the program up to speed to enter a Power Five conference for the first time.

It is a tricky equation really. BYU wants to win to remain relevant in the short term. But in the big picture, this season will be remembered by whether the program completed its checklist to be Big 12 ready come July 1, 2023.

  • Did it hire enough support staff to be comparable to a Big 12 program?

  • Did it receive a significant bump in resources, and how did it allocate those to the football program?

  • Did it start consistently landing recruits who are Power Five level?

  • Did it restructure the football and athletic department staff to support increased resources?

  • Did it settle on a transfer portal plan that works at a Power Five level?

“I’m not sure the season, and how [much we win], dictates how we enter the Big 12,” BYU offensive line coach Darrell Funk said. “Would it be nice to have a season that you want and go in? Absolutely.

“But I don’t think of it that way. Maybe I’m supposed to, and maybe we will as a team when it gets to the first game. But I’m not sure.”

Funk instead will measure his readiness by his recruiting level and the amount of resources he is given. He has already started to operate as a Power Five recruiter, taking calls from kids who wouldn’t be interested in BYU a year ago.

The program has added over a dozen support staffers, including several analysts and assistant coaches. Nearly every month, the program and the athletic department have announced an overhaul of the staff, introducing new voices to key positions.

On the football side, Justin Anderson was named the new director of player personnel in May. He comes with the new charge of recruiting heavily in Florida, Texas and Ohio. He also has his own approach to the transfer portal and roster construction fit for a Big 12 team.

On the athletic administration side, Holmoe has added new financial and communication directors. Dallan Moody and David Almodova respectively will report directly to Holmoe, a clear sign of how important fundraising and an increased national blueprint will be. On Friday, the school announced the hirings of Patrick Hickman as the director of recruiting, Jan Jorgensen as a defensive analyst, Christiana Roberts as executive assistant to the head coach and Anna Lamb as the football office manager.

And with all of these people currently around the football program, it is hard for the overall mission not to seep into 2022. The players, who have been largely isolated from the change, can feel it on a day-to-day basis.

“We are focused on [the season],” tight end Dallin Holker said. “But you hear about it from the coaching staff about hiring other coaches. It is cool to have more people to help us out.”

There will be questions this season about the football team, sure. Will Jaren Hall take the next step and become an NFL quarterback? Will BYU handle its toughest independent schedule yet and make a push for a New Year’s Six bowl game? Will the defense markedly improve?

Answering those questions in the affirmative, though, won’t necessarily translate to a successful 2022. Former BYU players Kyle Van Noy and Jim McMahon have already started the dialogue on what needs to happen in the next year. Van Noy publicly challenged Holmoe to be more aggressive in allocating resources to the football program.

Hall of fame quarterback Steve Young also gave a blunt assessment of what needs to change now.

“We have to think of ourselves as leaders of the Big 12,” the former BYU player said at media day. “We have to recruit that way. We have to play and coach that way. And, obviously, there are a lot of challenges right now with everyone. … There are a lot of expectations but we should step into those shoes.”

And the next year will determine if that is able to happen. Sitake will keep hiring coaches. The resources will continue to be on Holmoe’s desk.

“We have more people on the job, it makes it easier,” Sitake said. “I like that there has been a progressive change. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s keep it going.’ I think Tom said it has changed a lot faster in the last 10 months. Of course, but you are going to see a lot more progress in the next year.”

So, as BYU heads into the final leg of independence, the football team will only be part of the show. The real storyline has everything to do with the future.