Kalani Sitake showcases why he’s a players coach during National Championship

College Football fans across the country got a taste for the type of Coach Kalani Sitake is on Monday night during the National Championship game.
Photo courtesy of BYU Photo

Kalani Sitake has breathed new air into the BYU football program. His approach at developing a family atmosphere is one he adopted from his former coach, and mentor, LaVell Edwards.

Sitake has built relationships within his coaching staff based on love, respect, and trust, and that has been reciprocated among his players. This attitude has carried over into how Sitake coaches on the field, and how he speaks of his players to fans and the media.

On the field, he has gone to battle with officials when he disagreed with a call assessed to his players. The game against Utah is a great example, Kai Nacua and Austin McChesney were both ejected on back-to-back “targeting” penalties. Sitake adamantly disagreed with the officials and was penalized for his conduct.

When it comes to a post-game press conference, if a player makes a great play, Sitake credits the player. If a player comes short, Sitake will take the fall, saying that it was HIS fault things didn’t go to plan. He isn’t one for attention, and in general is very soft spoken. BYU fans have had a chance to see this for themselves in Sitake’s first season as the Cougars’ head coach.

On Monday night, the nation got a taste for the type of person Sitake is.

Sitake was featured in a coaches roundtable during Monday’s national championship. While he wasn’t as talkative as Baylor’s Matt Rhule or Syracuse’s Dino Babers, Sitake provided valuable insight into the X’s and O’s of football, when he wasn’t being spoken over.

On fourth down, Sitake poked fun at himself saying that he would run a fake punt – referring to when BYU did so from their own end zone against Boise State this season – if he were calling the shots. He shouldered the blame instead of putting it on an assistant coach or player.

But two instances made Sitake’s jovial attitude disappear.

The first, was when a targeting call was made in the game. Sitake was asked to share his thoughts on targeting and spoke at length, about his disagreement with the way it is assessed. Sitake said that he believes most cases are unintentional and players shouldn’t lose playing time or an unintentional hit, they spend countless hours working towards 12 games in a season, and one of those can be taken away for an unintentional mistake – an attitude that BYU fan’s are familiar with based on his actions in episodes involving ejections during the season.

The next, came when Dino Babers made a pointed joke toward the age of BYU football players, “It’s a lot easier to protect when those offensive linemen are a little bit older than everybody else.”

The room erupted in laughter from the other coaches.

Sitake fired back, “They didn’t go on a mission to Gold’s Gym, I can tell you that. These guys are riding bicycles and eating ramen noodles for three years.”

When asked, why he was so fired up about the topic he said, “I’m defending the missionaries, he’s attacking the missionaries. Those are my guys.”

He followed up with, “If it was a great system to develop your athletes, Alabama would be doing it. Not one of their guys is going on a mission, case closed.”

The reaction from BYU fans was instantaneous, tweets featuring quotes and videos spread like wildfire among the BYU faithful who had long defended their athletes against similar attacks and backhanded compliments.

Kalani Sitake knows first hand the BYU experience. He lived it, he endured it, and he came out on top. Now, he leads a group of athletes going through the same trials, and he’ll go to battle for them.

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