BYU coach Kalani Sitake is balancing bowl prep, recruiting, and a staff in limbo

One key factor for BYU will be not having a defensive coordinator during this critical moment on the college football calendar

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake takes the field before football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Baylor Bearsat LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

There is quite a challenge sitting in front of every bowl-eligible football coach in the country right now.

Simultaneously mining the transfer portal, trying to retain their own roster, preparing for an unfamiliar bowl opponent and recruiting high school players, it’s an avalanche of tasks in a short amount of time.

It is the perfect storm created by the NCAA transfer window opening up on Dec. 5, just one day after most bowl games were announced. Over 500 players are in the portal now waiting to be recruited, and it could hit 1,000 by the end of the month.

And for BYU, it is staring at all of that knowing there is one more factor at play: It doesn’t have a defensive coordinator on staff.

Head coach Kalani Sitake dismissed the idea that BYU would be hurt in this transfer cycle by not having a defensive coordinator after longtime assistant Ilaisa Tuiaki stepped down a day after the regular season ended.

“No, we will be fine,” Sitake said.

But he also acknowledged the next defensive coordinator will have the authority to start putting his own coaches in place for the rest of the staff. That puts the current staff in limbo.

And when trying to pitch the program to recruits, it can be hard to do that without knowing who will be on the staff and what the scheme will look like. Sitake, though, pushed back on that thinking.

“I think it is not about the coach. It is about the place,” Sitake said. “It is not about me, it is about the program itself. It is about the school and the people that are here. There is more to the official visit than just the coaches that are running the program. There are teammates and a lot of different variables in the decision-making process for recruits. We have a usually good retention rate when we get guys on campus. So, that is the goal, focusing on that.”

There are a lot of goals for the Cougars’ staff at the moment.

These next 12 days, from the opening of the transfer window until the New Mexico Bowl, require a tricky balance of managing resources and time. Do you keep a coach home to help practice, or send them on the road to recruit? Not to mention, when they do go on the road, it is an odd recruiting pitch to make when recruits don’t know exactly which coach they will be playing for.

“There are enough people here to make it work,” Sitake said on how he is approaching this critical time on the college football calendar undermanned.

Logistically, the plan is for Sitake and the 11 recruiting coaches to alternate going on the road to recruit while also attending practices to prepare for the New Mexico Bowl.

Sitake said he will spend most of his time in Provo helping the team prepare for the game. When he is not there, he is having players and graduate assistants lead scouting meetings and some practice activities.

By his estimation, BYU will be able to get in nine or 10 practices from this point until the bowl game.

But the bigger challenge, by most estimations, is the effect not having a defensive coordinator will have on BYU’s ability to bring in recruits over the next 12 days.

Sitake acknowledged that he would like to hire a defensive coordinator soon so that element of the recruiting pitch can be tightened.

“As soon as we can,” he said. “In terms of getting everything solidified in terms of roles in place, we want to do that as soon as possible. That is what we are working towards.”

This transfer window lasts 45 days, but the feeling is that many of the top-end Power Five players will be out of the portal and at their next destination much sooner.

BYU also had five players leave the program and enter the portal themselves. Quarterback Jacob Conover, offensive lineman Campbell Barrington, wide receiver Terence Fall and linebacker Tate Romney all announced their plans to leave in the last few days. Sitake said those departures were more or less expected.

“The transfer portal is open for everybody. That is part of college football now and we will have to deal with who comes and goes,” he said. “People used to transfer for playing time. Now there is a lot more involved.”

Still, Sitake ended his thoughts on the next 12 days by saying his main focus is on the game first. He joked he might have to go to extremes, like watching film on his phone while taking elevator rides. It will be a challenge, but he thinks his staff can do it.

“The key is to get ready for the bowl game and focus on the opponent, “ he said. “... We are organizing and scheduling it so we can balance it out. We have a big recruiting weekend this weekend. The timing for us will be to prepare last week and this week to get us ready for the game.”