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SALT LAKE CITY — Now that BYU has reached the halfway point of the season at 2-4, losing twice to Group of Five teams, the fire Kalani Sitake crowd is growing in increasing numbers.
Get rid of the fourth-year coach, the frustrated say, and blow out his entire staff. Naysayers quickly point out the Sitake regime has underachieved with a 22-23 record, replete with several embarrassing losses.
But, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, BYU fans.
Firing coaches, unless the given program is embroiled in flagrant NCAA violations or an absolute mess, should not be done simply for the sake of change, particularly at BYU, which is unlike any institution with its extensive hiring process.
At the introductory press conference announcing him as the new BYU basketball coach last spring, Mark Pope remarked, albeit slightly in jest: “Some might say it’s harder to gain top-secret security clearance to the CIA than to become the BYU basketball coach.”
Religion, obviously, plays a significant factor with regard to BYU head coaches. Full participation in the university’s sponsoring faith is mandatory, a stipulation that drastically reduces the candidates.
It can also limit possible assistant coaches. A potential quarterback coach could not join Bronco Mendenhall’s staff at one point due to not being an active Latter-day Saint member even though he belonged to the church.
As the candidate said, in confidence to me, he stood a better chance to get the job if he had never been baptized as opposed to not attending Latter-day Saint services anymore.
There’s also the issue of drifting into the no-win cycle of firing and hiring head coaches every few years in hopes that one of them finds sustained success. Using the Pac-12 South Division as an example, five of the six schools have combined to hire 16 head coaches since the conference added Colorado and Utah before the 2011 season.
Amid all the instability, Utah’s administrator has stayed the course with Kyle Whittingham during the nine years despite the program suffering losing seasons in 2012-13. Under the former BYU linebacker’s guidance, the 5-1 Utes are ranked No. 13 and are the heavy favorite to represent the South in the Pac-12 championship game.
Participating in the coaching merry-go-around often is a dicey proposition, leading to repeatedly building only to start over again and again. However, none of this is to suggest keeping an incompetent coach and his staff simply to avoid the hassle of going through another hiring cycle.
The case to replace Sitake has merit, even if it comes at the expense of ousting a wildly popular ex-BYU player and overall outstanding person. Maybe the best solution is to stay with the coach but demand changes to his staff.
Consecutive losses the last two games on the road to Toledo and South Florida have provided the critics massive amounts of ammunition. The Cougars led for most of both games only to slog through uninspired fourth quarters, during which they were outscored by a combined 27-0.
By now, nine years into playing without any conference affiliation, BYU has trouble consistently beating the slew of Power Five programs that annually highlight the early part of every schedule. Recent history has shown the Cougars can’t compete against the likes of Pac-12 powerhouse Washington, which has won the last two years by a total score of 80-26.
But all these losses to crummy programs has got to stop. Sitake can review all the game film he wants, which is usually his response after every setback, but his job deserves to be in jeopardy until BYU figures out a way to beat G5 programs.
No matter the coach, the university administration that goes far above the athletic director has got to increase the commitment to providing the football program with a much better chance at success. Substandard financing, rigid academic requirements, the Honor Code and the being in the no-man’s land as an independent are some of the obstacles the program has to handle even if a dream coach is out there somewhere.