After beating Idaho State — in which the Cougars became bowl eligible and accepted an invite to the Hawaii Bowl — BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe was in the locker room watching as players and coaches celebrated another victory.
Little did they know the party was just getting started.
“This is your coach, right?” Holmoe said in front of the team. “He’s my coach, and he’s our coach.” Holmoe then unzipped his jacket to show that he was wearing an #EXTENDKALANI T-shirt and the rest was history. Two days later, the school announced that Sitake received a three-year contract extension that will keep him in Provo through the 2023 season.
— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) November 18, 2019
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) November 18, 2019
“It surprised me,” said Sitake on Holmoe’s t-shirt reveal. “It was cool. I liked the way he delivered it. It was a good moment and our guys got the opportunity to dance again in the locker room… so that’s always a good thing.”
“Great news for him and great news for us and for the program,” added Offensive Coordinator Jeff Grimes. “Obviously, he’s the right man for the position. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel that was the case. He has shown over the past few years this program is moving in the right direction.”
For those who don’t know or have already forgotten, Grimes was at LSU two years ago — yes, that same Tigers team that is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation right now. To be able to get Grimes to leave LSU and the SEC for an Independent program shows that Grimes has a lot of respect for Coach Sitake — and while the promotion from offensive line coach to becoming an offensive coordinator played a part of it — Grimes also saw a lot of potential in the program.
For some Cougar fans, the idea of extending Sitake — who is 27-23 overall and just 3-9 against some of BYU’s biggest rivals (Utah, Boise State and Utah State) — was a message that the Cougars were content on settling for mediocrity. At the same time, others, including BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe — as well as current past and former players — will argue that there is nobody better for the program.
So which is it? Is Sitake the right person for the job or is the school and athletic department just content on winning just six or seven games every year and getting to a bowl game?
The answer is both. Let me explain.
Looking around the college football landscape, the majority of teams that are and continue to be successful are either: 1) The traditional blue-blood programs that will always get 5-star recruits or 2) Those who have long-tenured coaches who are efficient and get everything out of their program. There’s a reason why Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama continue to dominate, while there are those like Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham — who is now in his 15th year — that continue to lead their program to new heights. Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall was also a great example of this before he left for Virginia.
When new coaches come in, Athletic Directors across the country face this tough dilemma. How long does the new coach get? Two or three years, or four or five so that he has time to get all of his recruits on the field?
There’s no answer other than the fact its a judgement call by AD’s. Just look at recent examples this year with Arkansas and Florida State firing Chad Morris and Willie Taggart after less than two years on the job. Morris went 4-18, while Taggart finished 9-12 before being let go.
The Seminoles, which haven’t been relevant in years now, will soon be on their third head coach since 2017. On the other hand, Nebraska’s Scott Frost received a two-year contract extension through 2026, despite having back-to-back disappointing seasons. Frost, who signed a seven-year, $35 million contract to coach his alma mater in 2017, had an overall record of 8-14 when the extension was announced.
Nebraska’s reasoning for Frost’s extension was about commitment and giving the coach ample time to get things right without his staff or future recruits worrying about the future. Compared to 8-14, surely, 27-23 doesn’t sound so bad right now right Cougar fans?
Remember, LSU’s Ed Orgeron went 9-4 in his first year at LSU, including a historic loss to Troy at home. While most programs would enjoy a 9-4 season, at LSU, that’s nearly the equivalent of a losing season. Now, the head coach has the Tigers undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. And you can bet that USC fully regrets not making him their head coach after they passed on him and his 6-2 record as the interim guy back in 2013. It was a great lesson for the Trojans and for sports fans in general that the “grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
State of the Program
Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall wrote a book titled: “Football Comes Fifth.” It was based off of his order of importance which is faith, family, friends, school and then football.
You could also make the case that football comes fifth at BYU. While football is important, it’s not necessarily at the top of the pecking order in Provo like it is for most collegiate programs across the country. With the arms race that is collegiate athletics, the top programs are constantly upgrading and building new facilities. Clemson built a $55 million facility specifically for football players while LSU just recently spent $28 million for an immaculate weight room, nutrition area and player lounge. The facility also includes an innovative locker room that replaced conventional closet-style lockers with individual sleeping pods.
Meanwhile at BYU, the football team is only allowed to use the indoor practice facility (IPF) for a couple of hours each day and is forced to not only share it with other club and sports teams, but also with intramural and extramural sports.
Former BYU football players Hans Olsen and Ben Criddle, along with a host of other former players, tweeted about their experience with the IPF and how they were “shewed off the field” to give time to intramural students.
This is just one of several challenges that come with being a head coach at BYU (Honor Code, missions, etc.), that make it unique and different than anywhere else. Remember, a head coach at BYU must also be an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that’s why Tom Holmoe just can’t go out and hire anyone he wants.
But let’s be honest.
It’s not like there was a great replacement waiting in the wings. Who would BYU replace Sitake with? Is Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid going to magically walk through the door? No, but that would be nice! Would the Cougars go after Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo — the same coach that supposedly turned the Cougars down before because of stipulations in the contract? Kyle Whittingham isn’t going to be leaving Utah anytime soon either which leaves us with Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as the only potential big-time hires.
|2016||9-4||24-21 win over Wyoming (Poinsettia Bowl)|
|2018||7-6||49-18 win over W. Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)|
|2019||7-4||Accepted invitation to Hawaii Bowl|
|Totals||27-23||2-0 in bowl games|
If we compared what Sitake has done in his first four seasons to what Mendenhall did during his first four years of Independence, fans can see that Sitake isn’t far behind. During this time frame, Mendenhall had compiled a 34-18 record and had nine wins against Power Five (P5) programs. Sitake is 27-23 with two games left in the season and has seven wins against P5 programs. At the same time, Mendenhall was fortunate to have some of those P5 games spread out throughout the season, unlike Sitake who just went through playing four consecutive P5 opponents at the start of the year — with three of them ranked at the time. In bowl games, Mendenhall went 2-2 during BYU’s first four years of Independence. Sitake is currently 2-0 and will look to keep that unbeaten streak going next month in the Hawaii Bowl.
Giving Sitake an extension was arguably the right thing to do. The first-time head coach has had his ups and downs over the years and dropped some games that the team should have never lost. However, at the same time, he’s managed to win a number of high-profile games against college football’s blue-blood programs (i.e Wisconsin, USC, Tennessee, etc.) and has put the program back in the spotlight as evident with the Cougars playing two afternoon games in nationally televised games on ABC in September.
Consistency from week to week hasn’t been as good as it was under Mendenhall, but the team is improving. And while BYU has always been hit hard by injuries, it’s been nothing compared to what Sitake has had to go through since he took over. Just this year, the Cougars have started three different quarterbacks and have needed to convert linebackers into running backs for the second year-in-a-row due to season-ending injuries in the backfield.
Sitake and his staff have a great eye for talent. While the star ratings may not always show it, the Cougars have lost out on a number of highly-rated players who flipped their commitment after getting offers from top programs such as Washington and Alabama. And the fact that the players love him and have been very outspoken about keeping him at BYU, it was probably best to keep the program stable instead up starting all over again with a new coaching staff.