PROVO — Tasha Bell laughs when asked to describe her responsibilities as BYU’s new player development and on-campus recruiting coordinator.
“That’s a good question,” said the former Utah Valley University soccer player. “I think the best way I can describe it is just building relationships.”
Head football coach Kalani Sitake said he doesn’t really want to define the role as much as he wants her to be, well, just who she is.
“I don’t want to define it as much as I want her to just get to work and be around people, the players, especially, but also our coaching staff,” Sitake said of Bell, who was hired in April and began working as part of the football staff on May 1. “The things she’s done, who she is, it’s already had a huge impact on our program.”
Bell, who grew up in Farmington and served a Spanish-speaking LDS Church mission in Chicago, was working on her Ph.D. in Family Social Science (marriage and family therapy) at the University of Minnesota when she had a chance meeting with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe that changed the course of her professional life.
“I wasn’t looking for this position,” she said. “I was just finishing my coursework and beginning work on my dissertation.”
Bell spent the past three years working as both a family counselor and as an assistant soccer coach for Minnesota, and thus she chose a dissertation topic that married (pun intended) her dual passions.
“So my background is in soccer, and then academically, it’s in marriage and family counseling,” said the former UVU goalkeeper. “So I’ve kind of added sports psychology into that.”
Her dissertation will examine the impact of high-level, elite or college coaching on marriages. Her background, as well as her professional goals until a couple of months ago, account for the laughter because while Bell, who earned her master's degree in marriage and family therapy from BYU in 2015, has always loved Cougar football, she never envisioned herself working with the program in any capacity.
“I think I was definitely out of the box for them and a little bit unique,” she said, a smile spreading across her face. “And I would say the same for myself. This is not something I was looking for.”
Bell applied after Holmoe encouraged her to do so. She wasn’t sure anyone was serious about her application, however, until she met with Sitake.
“Originally when they reached out and said, ‘Hey, throw in an application,’ I’ll be honest, I laughed,” Bell said. “I thought they were just paying me a compliment.”
Holmoe said his conversations with Bell convinced him that she might fit with what he knew coach Sitake was looking for as he contemplated filling three positions on his staff — football operations, player development and on-campus recruiting.
"I saw in Tasha a very unique skill set that I hoped we would be able to benefit from at BYU Athletics,” Holmoe said. “When Kalani was looking at hiring personnel in football recruiting, he suggested that he might want to split the existing position into two distinct assignments. He mentioned one part that fit Tasha’s skill set extremely well, and I suggested he interview her. They saw eye to eye on a number of philosophies to the point where he offered her the job."
In fact, their interview was twice as long as anyone expected, and Sitake said he knew he wanted her on staff — even if her responsibilities aren’t easily defined.
“I was really just blown away with how intelligent and creative she was,” Sitake said. “We just really connected with her ideas, her philosophy on sports and life, and I thought, ‘This is someone I want around our players.’ My first obligation is to our players, and I think of them constantly.”
But more than that, he felt she could benefit the entire coaching staff, as well as the BYU athletic department.
“Everything about her is genuine,” Sitake said. “She is very easygoing, nothing is rehearsed, and it’s just real. I want to surround our players with exceptional people, and I want that for our coaches, our administration and me as a head coach. ... She’s been amazing.”
The fact that Bell would be the only woman on Sitake’s coaching staff and one of the few women in the country to work in a football program in the dual capacity of on-campus recruiting coordinator and player development is irrelevant to both the coach and to Bell.
“Going into it, the mindset wasn’t that I wanted a female in this position,” Sitake said. “I just want to meet people who can help our players. ... She just happened to be female. Because of the role models I’ve had in my life ... I think it would be foolish not to look at help in whatever form it may come, regardless of race, color and in this instance, gender. My only hope is to get exceptional people here at BYU so they can benefit our players, and, by extension, our coaches and me as a head coach and as a person.”
Bell is embracing her role with the players, which she said is unique among the staff because it has more to do with who they are as young men than their football talent.
“I love the player development side and bringing players along and helping them in whatever they need, whether that’s family or academics or whatever.”
That means Bell will become the primary contact for recruits and their families, a role she is embracing, even as her self-effacing personality makes her uncomfortable in the spotlight.
Because she was a college athlete, as well as a coach, she feels comfortable helping parents and players navigate the increasingly complicated recruiting landscape. She also understands the unique situation at BYU and can explain how that might work for some players and not others.
“We’re not interested in selling people something we’re not or that won’t be for them,” she said. “But there are some really great opportunities at BYU, and if they work for you, then we’re interested in figuring that out. And if they don’t, then it may be better for you to pursue something else.”
Unlike most everyone else in the lives of the student-athletes, Bell has no interest in analyzing performances, except as it relates to how the player feels about his or her success.
“I do think there is some value in the guys knowing, ‘I’m not making decisions on your playing time, and I don’t really have an opinion on your playing time.’ This is kind of a safe place.”
She said her work with the players could be anything in which they need help, advice or information. It could be dealing with family issues, physical problems, academic concerns, mental health struggles or even honor code questions.
That doesn’t mean she’s not on the sideline with the rest of the staff. She is just looking far beyond the statistics.
“I’ll be watching, and I’ll be aware that someone’s performance is dropping off or that they’re struggling with something,” she said, noting that all of the coaches and support staff have embraced her and sought her input. “Maybe they’re not totally engaged or they didn’t show up for a workout, whatever it is.”8 comments on this story
Sitake hopes that by better supporting the players in their entire lives, it will lead to better performances on the football field. Bell will also assist in team building and relationships among players and coaches. Ultimately, Bell said, she hopes to be a resource for student-athletes in a way that college athletics don't always consider.
“Hopefully there is one person in the office that you can go talk to who is not going to be like, 'Well, you’ve got to start running your routes better,' or 'You’ve got to start catching passes,' " she said. "That’s not my role here.”