PROVO — There are few people more comfortable to be around than BYU coach Kalani Sitake, which makes the theme of making his players "more uncomfortable" seemingly hard to pull off.
Sitake drove home that theme during Friday's media day, opening his statements with it and then expounding on what it meant to the media during breakout sessions. He then followed his comments by just sitting and chatting with media members regarding topics from modern technology to old Seinfeld TV episodes, and most everything in between.
Just chatting. With everyone feeling the same warmth and belonging which has attracted many recruits to follow Sitake to the BYU program.
But feeling comfortable within a program isn't always a good thing, explained BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh.
"It's hard to find out much about yourself when things are easy," Pugh said. "Making things uncomfortable is good. Change is good. I think a lot of people are resistant to change and putting themselves in uncomfortable situations...But to be successful in life, you've got to make yourself uncomfortable."
Nothing was comfortable about last season's 4-9 debacle. For this reason, Sitake has gone about making changes within his staff and within himself. He addressed as much in the very first meeting he had with his coaching staff following the end of last season.
"He wanted to change as a head coach. He wanted to change his approach," said BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb. "Not as a person, though. Players are still very comfortable walking into his office, putting their feet up on the coffee table and talking about life. But as a football coach, he changed."
Lamb said one of the biggest changes has been "how vocal he is with how he sees players. He gives them feedback, and that's a critical piece of information — to know where we each stand. ...I think he's made great strides."
Players have noticed it as well, and have gone on about taking Sitake's lead. Senior defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi spoke at length on the need to make one another accountable, and how as a senior it's incumbent upon him to lead.
"There's more accountability," Kaufusi said. "Kalani has always been real, and that's something we all love about him, but he's expressing more to us on how we all need to be more accountable. We have to be more mean to ourselves and look at ourselves with how we need to work harder."1 comment on this story
Every media day is colored with quotes on how successful the offseason has been, and how there's a greater sense of unity and work ethic within the program. Sometimes those quotes are backed up by in-season performance, while at times the quotes don't match the performance at all.
Lamb understands as much, given his experience as a player and 21 years of coaching, yet he believes firmly the strides made since last season will translate to success on the field.
"I think we're in a very good place," Lamb said. "Not with our record, or not with maybe our fan excitement or optimism. But in terms of the players, and how hard they're working, and the product we're going to put on the field — I think we're in a really good place right now."