This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
During a vacation last week, Kalani Sitake was visiting Disneyland, battling through crowds, buying $17 hamburgers and $8 ice cream cones, grinning and grimacing, finding fistfuls of so-called happiness, hitting everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with his wife and kids, same as many husbands and fathers of a lot of families do.
The difference was, strangers kept coming up to him, talking to him about BYU football. He wore no BYU gear, but that brought little anonymity. At one point, a large group of people lined up to chat with him. And here's the weirdest thing of all: He stopped and listened and chatted back.
"I don't expect people to come up to me," he said. "My kids don't understand why they sometimes do. But I want them to feel comfortable. It's good for fans to express themselves, whether it's positive or negative. I have no problem with that."
Some fans complimented the coach, some had suggestions.
"I get all kinds of feedback," he said. "I'm good with it. I'm open to learning. I'm open to criticism. It's OK. If it can help me be a better coach, why wouldn't I be open to that from anyone?"
And then, he said this: "I appreciate fans BYU fans and Utah fans and their passion for the game. … I wish I could give every BYU fan, every Utah fan, a hug."
In the realm of modern big-time college football coaching, Sitake is an anomaly, although, he doesn't want to be singled out as that. He doesn't want to be singled out as anything, really. He wants to wrap his arms around darn near everybody and everything. He looks at himself simply as a lucky man doing a job he loves. He sees himself as a living, breathing sponge, fortunate to have learned from the mentors of his past LaVell Edwards, Gary Andersen, Kyle Whittingham, among others and present, even the ones he would like nothing more than to beat by five touchdowns come September.
He's been the head coach at BYU now for 486 days, returning to the place where he played after coaching at stops from Eastern Arizona to Southern Utah to Utah to Oregon State. He won nine games in his first year atop the BYU program, and looks ahead to winning many more. But he never expects to stop absorbing knowledge because, he said, "We're all learning here. The day I think I know it all is the day we'll be in trouble."
Here is a list of eight things Sitake has learned or relearned since taking the helm:
To communicate directly • "Sugarcoating things is a waste of time," he said. "I've wanted to create a culture where the exchange of ideas among coaches and players, ideas about philosophy and individual thoughts and love, are shared. I don't want to be a coach who tells players, like a parent sometimes tells his kids, 'Do it because I say so.' You say what needs to be said, but it's important for players to say what they think. Let's hear it out. If you have a level of trust, you can say and hear anything. … How many wins that translates into, I don't know."
To make football fun • "When it's fun, it doesn't feel like work," he said. "Some people think I'm all about fun, that I should get more serious. Come on, bro, life is supposed to be fun."
To be flexible • "I had an idea about what I wanted to do as head coach here, but then, when you're in it, you change," he said. "It's like when you get married, you think you know what it's going to be like, but then …"
To deflect praise • "I get too much credit for the good things," he said. "There are so many people who do so much and have such a big role."
To motivate players in different ways • "When you have 120 guys, they're all different," he said. "And they don't all depend on me to be motivated. There are all kinds of catalysts here. I just try to be real."
To be himself • "When I became head coach, I don't know if it was my training that helped me as much as my life experiences. It's a part of what I've lived. I've lived in Tonga, Hawaii, Oakland and San Francisco, St. Louis, Arizona, Utah, Oregon … and been around a lot of different people. I learned a lot from mistakes, struggles, success, it all develops your character. I've benefited from other people's love. I try to build a culture of love and trust.
"I loved LaVell, but I can't be him. I have to be me. When I got the job, that's what he encouraged me to do. That's all I can do. I've lost my cool, at times. If we do something dumb, I get mad. If I'm happy, I get excited. If we score a touchdown, I let it out. I get pissed off when things don't go my way."
To see players as people • "That's my No. 1 thing," he said. "They are people. Care about them that way."
To pick up the trash • Coaching is like this, he said. "You see a piece of trash on the floor, you have options: You can call a custodian to come clean it up. You can pick it up yourself and make sure everybody knows you picked it up. Or you can just quietly pick it up. What's the best way to keep the building clean? Just do what should be done and go on your way."
GORDON MONSON hosts "The big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.