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Las Vegas • Two weeks and a day after head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced he was leaving BYU for the same job at Virginia, the Cougars have found a replacement, a former Cougar football player whom athletic director Tom Holmoe said he feels "lucky and blessed" to have landed.
Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, 40, a former BYU fullback, will become the school's fourth head coach since 1972, Holmoe said after the Cougars' 35-28 loss to Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
Sitake will be introduced in Provo at a Monday afternoon press conference as the 13th head coach in program history. Holmoe said Sitake is working on compiling a coaching staff and will talk more about that on Monday.
"Kalani is a former BYU football player who understands BYU, in talking to him and discussing his passion for BYU," Holmoe said. "Many of my friends at the University of Utah [where Sitake coached for 10 years] have told us, 'you are getting a golden boy. He's great.' And we feel really good about that."
Holmoe said he told BYU's players in the locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium after the game about the hire, and the reaction was "solid and good."
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Saturday morning that Sitake had taken the job.
"I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead the BYU football program," Sitake said in a statement. "I am grateful for everything BYU gave me as a player. It is a dream come true for me to return home. I love the university and what it stands for and I am looking forward to helping the young men in the program reach their goals athletically, academically and spiritually."
Late Friday night and early Saturday, several of Sitake's former teammates at BYU began congratulating him on social media.
"He's the perfect man for the job," former BYU player and past Sitake teammate Reno Mahe told The Tribune. "The Polynesian community is thrilled with this hire. I think BYU just turned the tide on the Polynesian pipeline that it really, really needs."
Because Sitake is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he surfaced as a candidate for the job almost immediately after 11-year coach Mendenhall announced he was leaving for Virginia.
The Tribune reported Thursday that BYU's first firm offer went to Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, but the eight-year coach at the Naval Academy elected to remain in Annapolis. Niumatalolo's son, Va'a, is a linebacker for the Cougars. When Niumatalolo turned the job down, Sitake emerged as the leading candidate.
Asked Saturday night if Sitake was his first choice, Holmoe declined to reveal the process, saying that he "interviewed everyone that you might think."
Holmoe had said the new coach must be an excellent recruiter, and those who have worked with Sitake say that is one of his strengths. The athletic director mentioned that Saturday as one of the reasons Sitake got the job.
Asked if he contacted Utah coach Kyle Whittingham about the opening, minutes after Whittingham had left the press area at Sam Boyd Stadium, Holmoe basically acknowledged that he did.
"If he is LDS and he's a very good coach, I talked to each one of them," Holmoe said.
Sitake played fullback at BYU under legendary coach LaVell Edwards, graduating in 2000, and has been considered a rising star in the coaching profession.
He joined the Oregon State staff in December of 2014 as defensive coordinator under former Utah State and Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, whom he worked with at Utah. Andersen was critical of what he perceived to be a drawn-out search process, telling The Oregonian on Saturday morning that if the whole process was a book "it would be a joke book."
Sitake began contacting potential assistant coaches several days ago. He is expected to make a run at OSU linebackers coach Ilaisa Tuiaki, a Provo native whom he coached with at Southern Utah. Sitake is also close friends with Utah State defensive coordinator Kevin Clune and Utah co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, a former BYU player.
Other possibilities to join his staff include Utah assistants Justin Ena and Lewis Powell, or U. student assistant Sione Pouha.
Mendenhall announced last week that he is taking six assistants from the current BYU staff with him to Virginia. Receivers coach Guy Holliday, defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi and linebackers coach Paul Tidwell are remaining in Provo and certainly will be candidates to join Sitake's staff.
Sitake coached at Utah for 10 years, and built a defense in 2014 that led the nation in sacks with 55.
OSU's defense struggled this past season, ranking last in the Pac-12 in points allowed (37 ppg.) and total defense (481.5 yards allowed).
Sitake was making $730,000 per year at OSU.
From Nuku'alofa, Tonga, the coach's full name is Kelaokalani Fifita Sitake.
Upon graduating from BYU, Sitake gave the NFL a shot and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent in 2001, but was forced to retire due to a back injury.
He is married to the former Timberly Friddle and has two daughters, Skye and Sadie, and a son, Kelaokalani, who goes by K.K.
Twitter: @drewjay Kalani Sitake's BYU football career
• Began playing fullback for BYU in 1994, interrupted his career for a two-year church mission in 1995-96 to Oakland, Calif.
• Resumed playing for BYU in 1997, but redshirted that year due to a back injury
• Was a regular in the lineup from 1998-2000, but broke his leg against Wyoming in 1999 and missed last two games that year.
• Was named BYU's most valuable running back in 2000 and graduated from from the school in December of 2000
Kalani Sitake's coaching career
2001 • Defensive backs coach, Eastern Arizona Community College
2002 • Graduate assistant, BYU
2003-04 • Coached various positions at Southern Utah University
2005-08 • Linebackers coach, Utah
2009-11 • Defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, Utah
2012-14 • Defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, assistant head coach, Utah
2015 • Defensive coordinator, assistant head coach, Oregon State