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Kalani Sitake knowing when to back off will be good for BYU football

Kalani Sitake isn’t Bronco Mendenhall. Sitake trusts his defensive coordinator.

BYU Introduces Kalani Sitake Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The big news following BYU football media day was that BYU’s defensive scheme would be switched to a 4-3. Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki indicated this was to generate more pressure on the quarterback and more turnovers than the 3-4. More sacks, more turnovers? Sounds good.

Another important revelation emerged concerning a change to the BYU defense.

When Dave McCann on BYUtv asked head coach Kalani Sitake, “Coach, how much will you have your nose in (Ilaisa Tuiaki’s) business as the defensive guy?”

Sitake replied:

Oh, he knows what he’s doing. And having Ed (Lamb) in that room and Jernaro (Gilford) and Steve Kaufusi. That’s a great defensive staff. In addition to the graduate assistants that we have there. They know what they are doing. I’ll spend some time with them. It is important for me to know what’s going on on both sides of the ball and also what’s going on with special teams. And these 3 (Detmer, Tuiaki, Lamb) run the show there. I will be involved in every aspect of the game and every part of the team. I’ll give them my two cents. But we are all on the same page when it comes to the identity that we want on defense. What we want to do on offense. And what we want to do as a special teams unit. So, there’s not going to be a lot of change there.

Respectfully Coach Sitake, that is a MASSIVE change there!

There have been loads of discussions about the differences between Bronco Mendenhall and Kalani Sitake. Almost always it comes down to how personable each of them are. Kalani is more comfortable with being the lead ambassador of the program than Bronco was. The shift for the “Band of Brothers” reads similarly to the book. BYU Football just traded Captain Herbert Sobel for Captain Dick Winters.

But Sitake’s approach to defensive oversight is a major difference from the previous regime.

If Bronco Mendenhall were to be asked if he was going to have his nose in Nick Howell’s defensive coordinator business there is no chance that Bronco would have replied, “Oh, he knows what he’s doing.”

Last summer, I wrote a column about Bronco’s tendency after each season to scapegoat one of the members of his staff. In that piece, I felt that the worst position in all of college football is to be the defensive coordinator under Mendenhall.

Name me a bigger sitting duck than being a defensive coordinator under Bronco Mendenhall. Nobody should ever take that job again. It took seven games for him to give a vote of no confidence for Nick Howell.

For the better part of his tenure, Bronco Mendenhall was working 2 jobs. He was both head coach and defensive coordinator. Maybe Bronco simply didn’t have time to be personable. He was busy having to outwit, outwork and out-coach two men by himself. The fact that he successfully won 99 games — most of them working two roles — indicates that Mendenhall was a brilliant, hard-working maniac.

However, this is his blindspot as a coach. Bronco’s inability to trust defensive responsibilities to others yielded moments in games where he simply couldn’t keep up with the intensity, thought, effort, and creativity of both the head coach and coordinator on the opposing sideline. This explains how things like icing the PAT and punting on the opponents 40 happened. It gives reason to the frequent issues of clock and timeout management. How could Bronco be in tune to all the considerations of managing down and distance with field position if he’s busy coaching defensive scheme adjustments?

This is why I LOVED Sitake’s response.

This season, when BYU plays Utah. It’ll be the first time Kyle Whittingham’s staff will be challenged by two football minds at Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator on the BYU sideline since 2009 — the last time the Cougars beat the Utes. If BYU needs to make a decision to punt or go for it on 4th down, no one will need to distract the head coach from his clipboard.

Two complex, intricate jobs are now going to worked at by two men. This time, the head coach trusts that the defensive coordinator “knows what he’s doing.” That’s a big change. A change for the better.