Despite changes in the coaching staff, BYU Football had a great season in 2016.
It was Kalani Sitake's first year ever as a head coach. Sitake is familiar with the program from his playing days in 1994, 1997-2000 as a team captain. Sitake played fullback under Hall of Fame coach, Lavell Edwards. Last year, Sitake was able to help lead the team to a 9-4 record, ending the season with a bowl game win against Wyoming.
Sitake has coached at many different places, working with defensive backs, special teams, running backs, tight ends, offensive linemen, and linebackers. He was the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at the University of Utah and Oregon State before accepting the head coach position at BYU.
In an interview, Sitake said coaching at BYU is a dream come true.
"I just feel really fortunate and it's a dream for me to go from a fan, to a player, to the head coach," said Sitake. "I like to think I'm running the team like a fan would, having a great time and having so much fun."
Sitake said there were a lot of questions going into his first year as a head coach but everyone was able to work together.
"We like to say that this program is not about one player and it's definitely not about one coach," said Sitake.
The Cougars lost their four games by a total of eight points. Although these close losses are tough, Sitake said as long as the team has done its best, it doesn't affect them.
"Never let an outcome of a game dictate how you move on in your life," said Sitake. "I like to think that my wife and my kids can't tell if we won or lost the game by the way I act afterward. It feels good to put everything you have in the game and just be content with the result. If you come to our office or come to our practice on Mondays, you couldn't tell whether we won or lost the Saturday before because we're onto the next one and moving on."
Many players from Sitake's first year were picked up by NFL teams, either in the NFL Draft or as free agents. Sitake said he feels he did little to help them succeed because of their talent and is proud of all the graduates who are moving on in life.
"Congratulations to them," said Sitake. "They achieved their goal of trying to get to the league and I think they will represent BYU and the Church well. However, their role is way more than just football and so I wish them the best just like I do the other graduating seniors that aren't going into football but are going to be great contributors in society and the community. I'm just really proud of them. I'm proud of the example they've set for the rest of the underclassmen going into the season."
A key player who has graduated and moved onto the NFL is former quarterback Taysom Hill, who was picked up by the Green Bay Packers as a free agent. With Hill gone, Tanner Mangum will be the starting quarterback. Sitake said Mangum has grown a lot being on the sideline learning from offensive coordinator and Heisman Trophy winner, Ty Detmer.
"He's a great young man, way better than he is a player and he's way really good at playing quarterback," said Sitake. "We look forward to him being a big-time guy this fall and I know he'll have great support from the rest of the team."
Sitake said the team has been looking great so far in the off-season and he has high hopes for another great year. Although many players have graduated or gone to the NFL, Sitake said the team is unified and excited for games to start in the fall.
"The schedule is difficult again but I think we just approach it like we did last year. I think that we've got a year under our belt with this system both offense and defense so there's some level of comfort there, but I think we need to keep pushing and keep demanding that we keep getting better," said Sitake. "I think our guys will work hard and try to play our best regardless of who we're playing but just because we have one year under our belt, doesn't mean that we've arrived."
The Cougars first game is at home against the Portland State Vikings on August 26, 2017. More information about BYU Football and other sports can be found on their website.
Click below to hear the full interview with Kalani Sitake.