It was really a great experience to have that first opportunity to be the guy in front of them, talking, letting them know of expectations and the things we're going to do to help them be successful. —Ty Detmer
PROVO — BYU coach Kalani Sitake called a team meeting Tuesday morning to meet with his football team for the first time.
Early on, there was angst in the room, which was understandable, given what had transpired over the past few weeks. Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who had been at the helm of the program for 11 years, announced Dec. 4 that he was leaving for Virginia and he eventually took most of his coaching staff with him.
Sitake was officially named the Cougars’ new head coach after BYU’s 35-28 loss to archrival Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, as players went their separate ways during the Christmas break. Over the next several days, BYU announced that Ty Detmer had been hired as offensive coordinator, Ilaisa Tuiaki was named the new defensive coordinator and Ed Lamb had become the assistant head coach.
Tuesday, the day after winter semester classes started, was the chance for Sitake and his assistants to talk with the players and set the tone for the future.
“The team meeting was a special moment,” Lamb said. “Kalani allowed his personality to come out. There was a tremendous amount of nervousness in the room before he entered the room. When he entered the room, you saw dozens of players grab for their hats and sit up a little straighter. He immediately put them at ease and went about being himself.
“He credited coach Mendenhall and the previous staff for the job they did and he credited the players with being one of the premier programs in the country,” Lamb continued. “That understanding from the players that there’s not a new coaching staff coming in here to turn around a winning program. We’re looking to take what we know and try to do the best here in our time.”
“It was a good meeting. It was simple and it wasn’t long,” Tuiaki said. “They kind of got a taste of what Kalani’s like. He’s a laid-back, good person. They’ve been used to how Bronco was but Kalani’s just a little different. That’s the best way to put it. And it’s a good thing. Everybody’s accepted the change and are excited. We’re ready to move forward with that.”
Quarterback Taysom Hill, a senior graduate who could transfer to another school, and running back Jamaal Williams, who withdrew from school last August, were among the players that attended the meeting. Players have not been made available to the media for interviews this week.
“It was great to finally have interaction with the players,” said Detmer. “It was really a great experience to have that first opportunity to be the guy in front of them, talking, letting them know of expectations and the things we’re going to try to do to help them be successful.”
And what was the message to the team?
“We’ve got to out-execute people. We’ve got to be ready to go and jump in and learn the new system and new terminology,” Detmer said. “There’s going to be some rough spots along the way and questions but we as coaches want them in our offices, communicating, and feedback from them as well. This is ‘our offense,’ it’s not ‘my offense.’ We want feedback and communication and for everybody to be accountable to each other.”
As Tuiaki, a Provo native, worked with Sitake at Utah and Oregon State, he could see Sitake as a future head coach.
“Absolutely. He’s a good man, a good leader, a good motivator,” Tuiaki said. “He’s got great influence on kids and he cares about kids.”
“He brings that feel of ... assures everybody that he’s here for them. He’s here to help them succeed,” Detmer said of Sitake. “Just that natural leader type of feel with him. He’s not going to blow you away with speeches and try to create those kinds of things. He wants guys to feel at home here and to feel a part of it. He’s just a natural leader. He doesn’t feel like he’s got to be the guy in front all of the time. He gets our opinions and makes the final decision. He’s been great to work with thus far. He gives you confidence that we’re going to do this. As a former player, you appreciate that, a calming demeanor that everything’s okay. If we do what we’re supposed to, things will be good.”
Lamb, who played with Sitake at BYU in the mid-1990s and coached with him at Southern Utah, has been a close friend of Sitake’s for quite a while.
“I’d say we’ve been interviewing each other, to put it in a business sense, over the last 15 or so years,” Lamb said. “We’ve kept track of each other. It’s neat to see guys grow. Oftentimes, guys that we played with, if we don’t stay in contact we tend to keep them in the same box that we knew them 20 years ago as young guys. He’s grown tremendously. I’m so proud of him and what he’s accomplished. It’s an honor for me to be part of his staff.”
While there are still positions to be filled on Sitake’s staff, Lamb said the group that is in place is working well together.
“There’s a lot of humility. Coach Sitake talked to the team about being humble and being meek and how that doesn’t have anything to do with our talents or our toughness. We understand that it’s our responsibility to lead the way as a staff with regard to humility and the way we approach things.”