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BYU football: Sitake taking a more hands-on approach in spring practices

Published March 10, 2017 5:12 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Through his first season as BYU's head football coach, Kalani Sitake mostly took the route that his hero and mentor, LaVell Edwards, took when it came to coaching in practice.

He delegated.

"I think in the first year I wanted to take care of all the head coaching duties and kinda see where I could create some time to maybe help out, whether on offense or defense or special teams," he said.

This year he's taking a different approach.

Sitake acknowledged after practice Wednesday that he's looking to be more involved in practice, especially on the defensive side of the ball. That's where the former fullback's expertise lies.

As you can read in this piece on assistants Steve Kaufusi and Ilaisa Tuiaki trading assignments, Sitake is opting for a more hands-on approach in 2017. That's sort of what Bronco Mendenhall did in the last few years of his tenure, as he started coaching the nose tackles.

"Now going into our second spring ball, and having everything set, having the schemes set and all, I think coach Tuiaki doesn't need me on the defense. He and his staff do a great job with the defensive roles, so I trust them," Sitake said.

But … "I am just going to be there to kinda help out a little bit. Where ever I can help out …. I have tried to do that this spring, and hopefully it makes us a better team. … But more than anything, it just gets more eyes on coverages and gets another opinion. But I don't want to step on anyone's toes. I want to help out where ever I can. I just want to make sure everyone understands that those guys are very capable in what they are doing. They did a great job last year."

I talked to Kaufusi and Tuiaki yesterday, and both said they are not only in favor of the big switch, they are also looking forward to getting more help from the head coach in their new position assignments. Sitake directed the linebackers from 2005 to 2014 at Utah, keeping that assignment and adding additional assignments such as defensive coordinator (2009) and assistant head coach (2012) along the way.

"I love every part of it," he said. "I am just really appreciative of the role as head coach. I might do some things a little differently as most head coaches, I understand that but I think my mindset is to help the players, number one, and then do whatever I can to take care of the staff. As long as I am doing that, I think my job is fairly easy. I get a lot of good credit for a lot of stuff I don't control. You know what I mean? I have mentioned to a lot of different people that our coaches do an amazing job mentoring these young men not just in football, but off the field. I think we are all on the same page here. I happen to be head coach, but we are all working together in the same direction, and it is a lot of fun."

Tuiaki said when he followed Sitake from Oregon State to BYU last winter that he knew it would only be a matter of time before Sitake did more hands-on coaching in practice and put his extensive knowledge coaching linebackers and defensive linemen to good use.

"The biggest [reason for the switch] was just getting Kalani involved," Tuiaki said. "We kinda laid off of it last year just because he was a first time head coach.

"He is such a personable person, and spends so much time with people, that we wanted to not strain him too much, as far as the on the field stuff," Tuiaki continued. "As soon as he started to feel comfortable in what he was doing there, we felt like we could still use him a little bit and have him start helping out with the 'backers.

He can obviously coach anything, but his expertise with the backers and what he sees, is really the big thing.

I came to him in the offseason and asked him if he could be more involved with helping me with the backers. I was naturally already involved with the D line, just because of my past experience.

We felt like instead of having Steve Kaufusi in limbo, we should let him learn under Kalani, which he was really, really excited about.

Instead of him being in limbo and me kinda being in both the D line and backers room, we just put Kalani and Steve in charge of the backers and I went to the D line. Now we are using a head coach who is a really good coach, and D line coach who has been there for years that is now learning the backers. And I am completely with the D line now."

Kaufusi said the coaches talked about making the switch when they got back to work after the holidays in January, and he immediately welcomed the change.

He won't be able to coach his son, Corbin, but he will inherit perhaps the best unit on the team. Fred Warner, Butch Pau'u and Francis Bernard return to potentially form one of the top linebacking groups BYU has ever had.

"We've got some really good starters at linebacker, but I think we need depth," Kaufusi said. "The first three have had a year of experience. But it is fun to coach the younger guys, too. The [starters] have become coaches themselves and are helping the younger guys. So we have to find a two deep."

Kaufusi said Morgan Unga and Johnny Tapusoa have impressed him so far. Phillip Amone, Kavika Fonua, Va'a Niumatalolo, Adam Pulsipher, Rhett Sandlin, Rylee Gautavai, Moala Sia'anga and Isaiah Kaufusi are showing potential.

"We have enough bodies," Steve Kaufusi said. "We just have to improve. Everybody has got to find a role, find what their strengths are. It is nice to be well-rounded, but some of them are better at playing the run than dropping. We will figure out their strengths. It will all sort itself out."






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