It just seems like the timing wasn’t the best. This is coming from the players and coaches and those who are involved. —Kalani Sitake
PROVO — Under first-year coach Kalani Sitake, the BYU football program will continue to do firesides — but the timing of them will be much different.
As instituted by former coach Bronco Mendenhall in 2005, the Cougars have held faith-based meetings on the eve of football games at LDS chapels near the site of games, drawing large congregations.
Sitake is keeping the fireside tradition, just not during the season. He's moving them to the spring.
“My job as the head football coach is to take into account what the players feel comfortable with,” Sitake said Monday. “It’s one of those things where the players see the positive things, especially being returned missionaries, of what firesides do for the program and what they do for others as well. They also know it’s difficult to do them the night before the game.”
Last fall on the trip to Michigan, for example, travel delays impacted the team. The Cougars arrived in the evening then, after the fireside, had to get up early for kickoff in Ann Arbor. BYU ended up losing to the Wolverines, 31-0.
“It just seems like the timing wasn’t the best," Sitake said. "This is coming from the players and coaches and those who are involved.”
BYU announced Monday that the team will hold firesides throughout the spring, mostly in locations where the Cougars will play in the fall. The first fireside will be held in Mesa, Arizona, this Sunday night at the Mesa Community College LDS Institute. It will be held in conjunction with a BYU FanFest event Saturday in Mesa.
Sitake, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, assistant head coach Ed Lamb and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki are scheduled to be in attendance at Saturday's FanFest, along with several athletes. The Cougars open the 2016 season on Sept. 3 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Other firesides are scheduled for East Lansing, Michigan (Michigan State); Montgomery, Ohio (Cincinnati); Washington, D.C. (West Virginia); Pocatello, Idaho (Boise State) and American Fork, Utah. Specific information on those firesides will be announced later.
Doing firesides during the offseason provides BYU with a recruiting edge, Sitake said.
“Recruits can actually be there,” he said. “If you do it on Friday nights before games, recruits have their own games to play. Plus, our fan base isn’t just nationwide, it’s worldwide. We could do a fireside in Japan and people would be there,” he said. “We could do one in Australia and New Zealand and people would be there. Other schools can’t do that.”
The NCAA recently banned satellite camps, prohibiting programs from conducting camps in distant, heavily populated areas filled with recruiting prospects. Through firesides, BYU will be able to showcase its program, and its message, all around the country.
“We feel like this is one thing where we have the best of both worlds — we get to do the firesides at a different time and be able to play the game and not do it the night before,” Sitake said. “It will be a good change.”
Other FanFest events, which offer fans a chance to interact with players and coaches, are scheduled for Pleasanton, California (May 7), West Valley City (May 11), Lehi (May 12), Irvine, California (May 21), and Laie, Hawaii (June 4).
Sitake is hopeful that the change in the fireside schedule will help the program.
“There’s the angle of being available and sharing your testimony with everybody and spreading the gospel,” Sitake said. “We feel like this is a good time to do it and spark some interest and excitement in the spring and summer and allowing our players to get ready for games and be focused on the games. Any mishaps or problems when we travel we would be able to adjust easily and it wouldn’t really stress the players out much.”
Sitake praised his predecessors, like Mendenhall, Gary Crowton and LaVell Edwards, for putting strong traditions in place in the program.
“There’s some really good things here. We want to continue the tradition of good things,” he said. “But things change and you have to adapt according to what players want to do and what’s comfortable for the coaching staff. I love the idea of firesides. It’s a great idea.”