BYU has a few different philosophical directions they could go in its coaching search. The Cougars could go for the lowest risk, lowest likely return candidate, and stand pat with OC Robert Anae.
They could try to break the proverbial bank, change the way they do business, and make a run at Kyle Whittingham. They could try for a high risk, high potential return and grab Ken Niumatalolo from Navy. They could go for an older, more established coach, or perhaps somebody with NFL ties, or somebody much younger. All carry different risks and possible rewards.
There is one candidate out there that best manages those potentials risks and rewards, all while injecting BYU with a sense of excitement, and at a price the school can likely afford. That candidate is Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. BYU should hire him.
For the uninitiated, here's the basics on Sitake.
A former BYU fullback and graduate assistant, Sitake started his career coaching multiple position groups at Southern Utah (running backs, tight ends and the offensive line) before joining Utah's staff in 2005 as a linebackers coach.
For almost the next decade, Sitake would help engineer some powerful Ute defenses, both as a linebackers coach, and then later, as a defensive coordinator and associate head coach, becoming the first native Tongan to do so at the FBS level. Last season, Sitake left Utah to reunite with Gary Andersen at Oregon State, who he worked with in Salt Lake City.
If you're just looking at this season, Sitake's work doesn't look that great, as Oregon State's defense was a terrible 111th in total S&P+, but it's hard to hold that against him too much. Mike Riley left the cupboard bare in Corvallis, and the Beavers were young and overmatched at nearly every position group. There are some bright spots already though, as Oregon State has quietly put together a decent recruiting class for 2016, and their top recruit, a safety, is a composite four star with multiple Pac-12 offers. The Beavers have hit Utah hard as well, already securing three commitments this cycle.
But his work at Utah speaks for itself. The Utes had a top 30 defense in S&P+ in 2014 and 2013, a top 15 unit in 2011, and a top 20 unit in 2010. To do that, given Utah's schedule, and a lack of blue chippers at many positions, is a truly impressive accomplishment. Utah also has managed to get eight defensive players taken in the NFL draft since 2010, including defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, who went in the first round. That's pretty good, and Sitake deserves some of that credit.
One of the biggest challenges for BYU moving forward remains recruiting, as the talent level of BYU's opponents continues to increase. Except for maybe Stanford's Lance Anderson, there may not be an assistant coach out there with more of a record in aggressively recruiting BYU's natural recruiting territory (Utah, Arizona, Southern California, Pacific Northwest) than Sitake, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
You want somebody who can inject a sense of energy into the program? Sitake is only 40. You want somebody to fight against the Dan Smith reputation of BYU? Sitake is from Tonga. You want somebody who understands BYU, and what the school is all about? Sitake played football there. Plus, the fact he'll understand the Holy War better than nearly anybody, and that his hiring would probably tweak Utah a little bit, would be a lovely side bonus.
BYU isn't likely to throw $2 million-plus on any candidate, which likely rules anybody out from the NFL, Kyle Whittingham, and maybe even Ken Niumatalolo. But Sitake is only making around $750,000 at Oregon State, which means BYU can probably still afford him and stay in a $1.2-1.6 million budget.
If Sitake is paired with an innovative offensive coordinator (which might be fulfilled in retaining Anae), and at least one staffer with recruiting connections in Texas, (or another new territory east of the Mississippi, like Ohio or Florida), BYU should have the pieces to maintain the best parts of the program under the Mendenhall era, while positioning themselves to both obtain and develop talent, especially defensive talent, at a new clip. In the independence era, that's what BYU will need to do.
There may not be a perfect choice out there for BYU, but the best one, on multiple levels, seems to be Sitake. BYU should be aggressive and bring him home.