He’s only been on the job since just before Christmas, but it’s become clear what new BYU coach Kalani Sitake is all about: old-fashion facetime recruiting.
If his mug were any more visible, he’d be on Fox News with Donald Trump.
At the press conference that announced his hire after the Las Vegas Bowl, Sitake made clear how important recruiting would be in his administration and he told reporters his approach would be personal.
Since his hire, Sitake’s days have been filled with a lot of administrative duties. Things like reviewing a budget, interviewing personnel, recommending hires to his boss Tom Holmoe, vetting those candidates, explaining his vision and goals to early hires and setting a culture with players and existing support staff.
Those items on their own would be time-consuming and smother pages of his day planner and calendar. But recruiting was always front and center.
Right out of the chute, he’s been engrossed with the task. His theme has been a simple one: You have to be present to win.
He’s led the way by example, right at the top. He’s put himself on the front lines of the fray. During the short time he’s had before Feb. 3, he’s put on his logo jacket and taken the fight to the grass-roots level, doing the menial, tedious detail work. His face has popped up all over social media, his arms around recruits and their parents and siblings.
Sitake has been impressive in how he’s set a tone about BYU recruiting and what the effort and approach will be. And then he has personally invested the time to get on the phone, make contacts, make home visits, show up at high school basketball games, see that his staff is visible and active and engaged and, like him, become a recruiting blur heading to the finish line.
When he walked out of the press conference at the BYU Broadcast Building, he tracked down Taysom Hill to have a chat. He phoned BYU commits and then called prospects BYU had not engaged or had given up on for whatever reason. Sitake then went on the attack, going after recruits who were leaning or committed to Oregon State, Southern California, UCLA, Alabama, Utah and others. And got a foot in the door with many of them.
Now we all understand that recruiting can be a pain. It takes time. It takes money. It takes effort. It works best for extroverts, masters of chit-chat, people who feel comfortable connecting, sustaining and nurturing relationships with young male teens who are sometimes spoiled, coddled, narcissistic and needy souls used to being babied, indulged and pampered. It can be humiliating and tiresome, a task to be knocked off more than enjoyed.
But some people, and Sitake is one of them, love this stuff. He has a reputation for being direct, caring and involved. Prospects and their parents feel this in his personality. He’s an artist at it.
Now, one may argue, this isn’t unusual, others do it. Yes, but unless you’ve been to Tonga and witnessed the hospitality in that culture, it’s tough to understand how powerful this tact is from his side of things when approached with humility the Tongan way. There is a reason Tonga is called the Friendly Islands. It is an accomplished science there, it has a purity to it; it is respected and renowned.
None of this means he’s going to knock it out of the park. But he’s up at the plate swinging, and his entire staff is on deck in the hole. They haven’t even set up their offices and coat racks.
At BYU he’ll find the most challenging recruiting of his career. It’s selective, exclusive and tough. It involves an Honor Code of behavior, higher academic expectations and qualifications. His predecessor discovered this very early after taking the head coach title. He found it easier to narrow the number of offers and prospects on the board; establishing a self-filtering system where prospects who really, really wanted to be at BYU rose to the top of the list.
Sitake’s approach after a few weeks appears different. Sometimes 17-year-old kids want to be chased, feel the thrill of this chit-chat game, be courted and befriended like their peers.
Sitake is eager to serve that stuff up. Play a game? He moves the chess pieces and awaits the next move. This is what he does, what he knows.
What he also knows is something extremely unique for a BYU head football coach. He has recruited against BYU, he’s been the enemy. He knows what works and what doesn’t. He knows what weaknesses BYU has had in past years and why. Because of that, he knows how to fix it with institutional knowledge.
He’s like the English spy who went behind French lines, rose up in the Legion, then made it back with codes and sketches to Whitehall in Westminster and was then made minister of defense.
He knows stuff. He just knows. Be it techniques, approaches, methods or what not. He strategically knows things no other BYU head football coach ever could because of where he’s been and what he’s done and said and witnessed in the culture.
This doesn’t mean Sitake is going to be a home run hitter all the time. He’ll strike out just like others. But he’ll get a lot of RBIs.
It’s only been weeks but, so far, one Sitake strategy really stands out.
In simple terms it’s like he’s taking an existing campfire and inviting more people to sit around the flames. He’s then tossing on a few more well-placed logs at just the right interval to make it warm and cozy. He doesn’t need to create a bonfire, he just needs those in the circle to feel a comfortable heat. A place where amiable, welcoming, pleasant, genuine, heartfelt friendship is a natural product; a place people feel wanted; a place not easily dismissed, a play on human nature, to be wanted and invited.
It’s basic to the core.
He’s made it work before.