We’re going into week three 1-1. Many are dissatisfied thus far with the on-field performance of the UCLA football team, while others still see opportunity for growth. I say it’s early, and let’s not judge the entire season in two weeks. However you feel, there’s a game this Saturday in a state where UCLA has historically underperformed and been downright embarrassed. Last year the Bruins took on BYU at home and won in dramatic fashion. This is some of what CJM had to say after last year’s close win at home:
We had to overcome a lot to win that game tonight. There was a lot of adversity. It starts with a very good BYU team. They were physical and tough and gave us all that we could handle. We had to overcome one of our players getting ejected from the game, three interceptions and one allowed onside kick. We just stuck to what we feel like we do well, which is run the football and get after the passer. I’m proud of our young men for never blinking, for showing resilience and trusting each other, for playing hard until the end and coming up with a really hard-fought, significant win for this program. We have had some times when we’ve gotten into games like that with teams similar in structure to a BYU and have not come out with a win. Tonight, while we were down seven at half, we never had any doubt that we would grind it out and get a win. It’s a big win for us. I’m excited about it. I’m happy for our players.
If you were there, you probably needed a defibrillator in the second half. This year, there is a new head coach with a Pac 12 history and a slew of new coaches under him. Let’s take a look and see who our staff is up against.
Kalani Sitake was named the new head coach of the BYU football program back in December of 2015, replacing previous head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who had been at BYU for ten years (Mendenhall has since moved on to coach the Virginia Cavaliers). Coach Sitake is a former Cougar running back and also served as a defensive graduate assistant in 2002. He then moved onto Southern Utah University for two years, but most notably, spent ten years at the University of Utah. He started at Utah in 2005 as the linebackers coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2009 before also being named assistant head coach in 2012. Most recently, he served as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Oregon State (fun fact: he is the first FBS head football coach of Tongan descent).
This year, the Cougars are returning a large number of players from their missions. Coach Sitake says:
"We’re going to draw on their strengths and things they’ve already accomplished in life and transfer that to the football field. I think we’ll have a great outcome. I’ve said it before — our team has more guys that have sacrificed more than anybody else in the country when it comes to life. In the prime time of their lives, they spent two years away from their families, paid their own way to go serve the Lord. Not a lot of people are doing that these days and we have a team full of them. We’re going to draw upon those experiences and that maturity and experience."
Experience is something they need. With an entirely new coaching staff, the returning members of the team could provide the stability needed to have a successful season.
Coach Sitake is described as a "players coach". According to senior quarterback, Taysom Hill, "Kalani is literally the definition of a player’s coach. Everything he does is to benefit us as a team and us as players," (I find it interesting that a player would call their coach by their first name...never heard a Bruin call their coach "Jim", but I digress...). He is widely respected by coaches and players alike, and gives everyone around him a sense of empowerment. Players have alluded to the fact that Coach Sitake really brought the team together after the departure of not only Bronco Mendenhall, but most of the coaching staff and individuals that recruited current team members. Hopefully this respect for others will rub off on the team members, since BYU has been accused of playing dirty in the past.
Assistant Head Coach
Ed Lamb was added to the Sitake regime this year after serving as the Southern Utah head coach from 2008-1015. He is a two-time Eddie Robinson Award finalist for national coach of the year and was named the American Football Coaches Association Region 5 Coach of the Year in 2015. SUU earned many accolades under Coach Lamb, including turning a 19-game losing streak in 2008 into a conference championship in 2010. He is also serving as the Special Teams Coordinator and Safeties Coach. Additionally, Lamb served as an assistant for two years in the mid-2000’s under Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, taking on the role of special teams coordinator, recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach. At this point, Lamb is the only one on staff with previous head coaching experience. "He’s going to be able to provide unbelievable counsel and assistance with all the day-to-day operations," SUU athletic director Jason Butikofer said of his former head coach. Incidentally, Coach Sitake (then going by the last name Fifita) and Coach Lamb were teammates at BYU for one year in 1994 when Sitake was a Freshman fullback and Lamb was a redshirt JUCO transfer at the linebacker position. To hear a recent radio interview with Lamb discussing their loss at Utah, their decision to go for two at the end of the game, and looking forward to UCLA, click here.
Coach Ty Detmer, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee, was hired by the Cougars to serve as the new Offensive Coordinator. He has extensive playing experience in the NFL with five teams over 14 years, and is the prodigal son returning home since Detmer won the Heisman for the Cougars in 1990. This is his first job at the collegiate level. He previously served as the head coach for St. Andrews Episcopal School, a private high school in Austin, from 2011-2015. Some might say this new coaching position is a huge jump, but Sitake says, "When he was a player, he was a mentor-slash-coach. He already had that role. It just seemed like it would be an easy transition for him". Detmer is not unlike Sitake, as he too has a loose connection to the Pac 12 (or, Pac 10, as it were). Detmer’s offensive coordinator at BYU was none other than Norm Chow, who taught him how to make the offensive schemes match personnel he is working with. Players have been drawn to Detmer’s message, which on offense is rooted in none other than BYU legend LaVell Edwards’ pass-heavy and timing-based system. Detmer speaks of his inspiration:
"Overall, I think I take a little bit from everybody," Detmer said. "And at the end of the day, it has to be within your personality. I just try to take some of those things that I learned along the way and implement them into me, and my style. For me, maybe it’s a little more relaxed, but you’ve still got to demand things a certain way."
Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach
Another new hire and previous staff member from Oregon State is Ilaisa Tuiaki. According to his bio, Tuiaki joins the BYU staff from Oregon State where he coached linebackers and was the special teams coordinator in 2015. The Provo native brings eight years of college coaching experience mentoring linebackers, defensive linemen, tight ends and running backs during stops at Oregon State, Utah and Utah State. Tuiaki was a 2013 nominee for the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach—the only non-coordinator to receive such recognition, and was a 2014 top-five finalist for the Football Scoop Defensive Line Coach of the Year honor. In the Pac 12, Tuiaki coached four Pac-12 postseason honorees at Utah, including first teamers Nate Orchard in 2014 and Trevor Reilly in 2013.
Tuiaki credits Kyle Whittingham, Gary Andersen, and Kalani Sitake with influencing the most in his coaching career. He brings a 4-3 defense with him to BYU, and when asked about his defensive style, he says he likes to use an MMA analogy. he says, "If you’re standing there to fight somebody, you’re not just going to throw five overhand rights the whole time, you know. There’s got to be set up, there’s got to be this and there’s got to be that. Mike Tyson’s got his style, but he still sets his up with jabs and all that stuff, changes up timing, throws one thing and counters with another". He says he is a hands-on coach and taking on the coordinator position puts a lot more on his plate. But at the end of the day, he says he wants football to teach his team members to be good people when they leave.
That’s your coaching preview for UCLA at BYU. There are a lot of unknowns for this game, but you can be sure Sitake and Company will be out for a huge win at home after their loss at Utah. Game time this Saturday is 7:15.