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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
BYU coach Kalani Sitake celebrates as the Cougars and Utes play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

PROVO — It’s been three years since BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe announced the hiring of Kalani Sitake as the head coach of the football program.

Sitake has experienced one winning season and one losing season. Right now, near the end of his third year at the helm, the Cougars have a 6-6 record as they get set to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan Friday (2 p.m. MST, ESPN) in Boise.

The outcome, of course, will determine whether 2018 will go down as a winning (7-6) or losing (6-7) season.

A setback in the bowl game would mean back-to-back losing seasons for BYU for the first time since 2003-04. A win would give the program a much-needed winning campaign.

“I’m not really worried about that,” Sitake said last week when asked about his team's record hanging in the balance. “I’m just trying to get this win.”

For Sitake, who has one more year left on his contract, his overall record is 19-19, so his career mark as a head coach will go one way or the other Friday.

After a 4-9 season in 2017, Sitake revamped his offensive coaching staff and made other changes to the program.

How does Holmoe evaluate Sitake’s job performance in Year 3?

“Kalani understands there is more to success than just talent and took on the challenge of establishing a stronger culture for the program,” said Holmoe, who answered several questions about the football program from the Deseret News via email. “He’s made good progress on building a champions culture in Year 3, and I feel confident success on the field will follow.”

The hiring of new coaches, including first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, was a positive move, according to Holmoe.

“I felt there was more of a unified purpose among players and coaches,” he said. “Both groups know where we need to go and are willing to do what it takes to get there. They both also learned their strengths and weaknesses and are willing to change strategies to grow stronger.”

This season, the Cougars lost four games by a total of 17 points.

“We’re not where we all desire to be yet,” Holmoe said about the state of the program, “but I believe we’re back on track after what was an uncharacteristically rough year in 2017.”

What was the highlight of the season from Holmoe’s perspective?

“Jumping out to a 20-0 lead at Utah,” he said. “Even though we lost the game, it proved to the players they are very close. There was a fine line between wins and losses this year, and this offseason will be an exercise in overcoming those obstacles that held us back in those close losses.”

ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich, a member of BYU’s 1984 national championship team, is optimistic about Cougar football under Sitake's direction.

“I think Kalani Sitake was the perfect hire at BYU. I think the future is bright with him as head coach. He’s got a combination of qualities that you need, especially at a place like BYU, but even in general. He connects with people. He genuinely cares about people,” he said. “That’s important because recruiting is the lifeblood of the game and recruiting is all about relationships. He has fire and passion. He’s quite opposite from LaVell Edwards from an outward perspective. LaVell had that fire, and it was burning bright, but he didn’t express it much. Kalani has the opposite style. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Both work. With today’s players, being demonstrative has a lot of advantages because everything is all about the here and now rather than the long-term. Coach Sitake having that passion and fire that he can draw on is a good match for today’s athletes. … You combine those two things and you’ve got what you need to build a program, not just a team.”

The way Matich sees it, the success of BYU’s 2018 season shouldn't be determined by the outcome of this bowl game.

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“It’s already been a positive season because they got to a bowl game. They got another two weeks of practice to develop those young players. All that is really important, and they can tell recruits that they’re headed in the right direction, which they are,” he said. “The success or lack of success of the season is not dependent on winning this bowl game. But winning would be a monumental bow on top of the package because they’ve got a winning record, they can say they are bowl champions and it sends them into the offseason on a positive note. I do not think that if they lose this game that the season is diminished. They have had some great victories. That win at Wisconsin, BYU went up there and beat them. Games like that are tent-poles that you can build a program around. This season has already been a success. It would just be a bigger success if they win the bowl game. Right now, it’s more about trajectory than it is about destination.”

Idaho Potato Bowl

BYU (6-6) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)

  • Friday, 2 p.m. MST, Albertsons Stadium
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM