Is Kalani Sitake’s seat heating up? BYU AD Tom Holmoe has the answer

Holmoe says Sitake has made the necessary program changes for future success.

Las Vegas • Kalani Sitake doesn’t like to talk about other jobs.

It’s not because he shies away from questions about different positions or openings that might fit him. It’s because the job he has now, as head coach at BYU, is the destination he’s always chased. He grew up a BYU fan, played for LaVell Edwards, and was a graduate assistant in Provo two decades ago.

“I’m living a dream right now,” he said. “So it’s kind of hard when people are asking me about a different dream. Like, ‘Wait, hold on, I’m still on the ride.’”

But like all rides, most people aren’t allowed to stay on forever. And Sitake’s ride took a major bump last year as his program stumbled in its first Big 12 season.

The Cougars went 5-7, were blown out on the road several times, and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2017. It at least raised the question: How long is athletic director Tom Holmoe willing to give his head coach to figure it out?

In Holmoe’s mind, the answer is rather clear. Sitake is not on the hot seat. He has confidence he can be the long term solution and turn around the program.

“He’s our coach,” Holmoe told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Look, if you come to a game, come to a place like this at media day, people come up to me and say, ‘You got a great coach.’ ... Just the way that he represents [BYU] and what he means to our players and our fan base. He is the guy.”

Sitake’s current contract runs through at least 2027. Holmoe said Sitake has not asked for a contract extension beyond that.

“The contracts and stuff like that, I just know that I’m going to do my best,” Sitake said. “Do what I can, and do what I feel is right for the fans. And then do right by my players.”

Holmoe’s confidence in Sitake’s trajectory stems in part from the internal changes he made this year.

Sitake shook up some of his offensive staff, firing offensive line coach Darrell Funk and tight end coach Steve Clark. Holmoe thought a large issue in 2023 was BYU’s inability to execute a game plan. That was particularly true in the run game, where BYU ranked 110th in the country in rushing yards per game. It averaged just over 100 yards a night — worst in the Big 12.

“I think some of our offensive plays and plans and strategies didn’t come to fruition like we thought they would,” Holmoe said. “Some of those things had to change. ... I’ve seen the things that happen behind the scenes that should be happening [with changes].”

Sitake hired offensive line coach TJ Woods in Funk’s place. He thinks that will solidify the running issues.

“The O-line, sorry, but that should be an advantage for us in every game,” Sitake told The Tribune. “Add TJ Woods to the mix, and then you add some more depth and competition to that line, I think that will give us a good chance.”

Holmoe also reasoned that last year’s team had to deal with injuries. That wasn’t all Sitake’s fault, he thought. Linebacker Ben Bywater went down after one conference game with a shoulder injury. Micah Harper tore his ACL before the season. Talan Alfrey broke his collarbone. The depth did not hold up.

“I knew last year was going to be super challenging,” Holmoe said. “We had a couple of tough, difficult injuries on the defensive side that caused some issues. And I think we shored up a number of things having to do with physical abilities [this year]. It’s all about talent acquisition, coaches, players, all of these things are factors. And I think that we’ve done that.”

Sitake was equally forceful in his defense of the direction of the program. Even with a 5-7 record, he thought there were games where BYU was competitive.

Against Oklahoma, BYU was undone by a pick-six thrown by quarterback Jake Retzlaff. It took Oklahoma State to overtime on the road — a team that played in the Big 12 championship. That, he says, is progress.

“I would be a little concerned if we were just not even being able to be competitive. Against the really good teams and the top teams,” Sitake said. “Now, have we been in phases where we weren’t competitive? Of course. But if that’s the norm, where you saw us not being competitive and there’s a huge divide between our talent and everybody else, I definitely would be concerned. I would feel more pressure right now.”

Sitake also believes that a second year under defensive coordinator Jay Hill will help close the gap. Hill is starting to recruit a higher-level player. He signed the third-ranked player in the state this recruiting cycle.

“Don’t get me wrong, if you just look at the schedule, and you look at the results, you’re going to come to your own conclusion on what the team is about,” Sitake said. “But if you see who we’re bringing in, and how we’re going to be transforming our team from one year to the next... I think when you look into the details of things, I think you’d be a little bit more excited like I am. I feel like we’re in a really good spot. I really like our staff.”

For now, Holmoe agrees. Contract extension or not, he sees Sitake working out long-term.

“If he was not concerned about how the team is, how the team is going to perform, then I’d be concerned about it,” Holmoe said. “But he’s more concerned than anybody. No fan, no media, it’s him.

“I just see the team. I know the players. My finger is on the pulse of those players. I’ve seen it. When I say I feel close to the players and the coaches, I speak with them. I see the plans. I see the changes that people haven’t seen. You’ll see it, you know? Hopefully it translates on the field,” he finished.

So the ride continues.