SALT LAKE CITY — Practically before the thousands of field-stormers had even touched grass, the suddenly new legions of Kalani Sitake supporters were demanding a contract extension for the BYU football coach.
Social media was flooded with a chorus of praise for a coach thought to be possibly in jeopardy of losing his job. Many included the #ExtendKalani hashtag on Twitter.
Two weeks ago, after Utah extended its win streak over the Cougars to nine games, many of those same voices wanted Sitake gone. Much of the angst vanished after thrilling overtime victories on consecutive Saturdays against Tennessee and USC.
Perhaps releasing years of frustration, many in LaVell Edwards Stadium poured on the field the celebrate last week’s win over the Trojans. Players and coaches were back in good graces before the home faithful.
So goes the fickle nature of college football coaches. A few plays that went BYU’s way dramatically changed the perception of the program, which went 11-15 over the last two seasons.
“I don’t really care about all that stuff,” Sitake said in his postgame press conference. “I’m just trying to coach football and have fun with these kids.”
Reportedly signed to a five-year deal, Sitake is under contract through the 2020 season. The former BYU fullback has experienced quite the roller-coaster ride during his tenure, mixing exciting moments in team history combined with the program’s worst season in 50 years in 2017.
Known as an affable friend to everyone, Sitake took a major hit to his reputation during the dreadful losing season. Critics claimed his buddy-buddy approach lacked the discipline required to manage a staff and roster of more than 100.
But he got tough immediately following his only losing season in three years, dismissing the overwhelming popular Ty Detmer as the offensive coordinator. Hard decisions also followed when other former BYU fan favorites were let go as coaches.
In training camp before last season, in an interview with me, Sitake issued a warning to any doubting his ability to get nasty.
“Just piss me off and see what happens,” he said.
The refocus did not produce startling results, but BYU rallied to go 7-6 last season and drill an inferior Western Michigan team in the Potato Bowl in Boise. This season, with some prognosticators predicting an 0-4 start, the Cougars going into this week’s home game against Washington with a 2-1 record.
To date, with several tough games remaining, Sitake has silenced the detractors. His team can play with the mental and physical toughness necessary to beat Power 5 teams, as BYU proved the last two weeks.
Maybe now is time for the BYU administration to ride the newfound momentum and offer Sitake a contract extension. Send the message to recruits that the coach is here to stay.
As an independent, without the opportunity to win a conference championship and a longshot to play in a more prestigious bowl game, BYU is somewhat of a tough sell to high-profile recruits. The program does not need any uncertainty with the coaching staff.
Plus, it is not like BYU can conduct a nationwide search for a new coach whenever Sitake is no longer at BYU. For now, all the would-be candidates are either assistant coaches at the professional and college levels or not a Division I FBS head coach.
With a high number of players leaving to serve two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sitake and his staff needed time to build a program with their recruits. Many of those players have returned and are playing vital roles this season.
Any interruption to this process would set back the program. At this critical juncture, BYU needs the continuity that extending Sitake would bring.