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Which College Football Head Coach Opening Pursues BYU’s Kalani Sitake?

Nov 15, 2021, 6:37 PM | Updated: 6:37 pm
BYU Football - Kalani Sitake...
Brigham Young Cougars coach Kalani Sitake celebrates a field goal in a game against the Utah State Aggies in Logan on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Could BYU football coach Kalani Sitake find his name linked to numerous jobs in the Coaching Carousel this year?

The always crazy coaching carousel is crazier than ever with numerous Power Five schools getting a head start on the action.

Schools are canning coaches at the midway point of the season so they can get a new coach in place for the Early Signing Period, or they don’t want an underperforming coach to catch lightning in a bottle and win enough to save their job.

It’s caused a crazy coaching carousel season, and we still have three Saturdays left on the field this year.

Success with BYU football is earning Kalani Sitake some attention

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is emerging as a popular name in coaching circles. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit called Sitake “one of the great coaches in the profession” earlier this month. The sixth-year headman at BYU is following up an impressive 11-1 season with another nationally-ranked campaign that has seen the Cougars face six Power Five opponents, with one more remaining in USC.

That on-field success at a tough program like BYU, paired with his likable demeanor, has led people around the country to bring up Sitake as a possible candidate for Pac-12 power brands USC and Washington.

There are eight FBS programs currently needing head coaches. Which ones could target Sitake? I’ll spare your time on the three Group of Five programs in Akron, FIU, and UMass. Any one of those three programs would likely love to have Sitake patrolling their sidelines, but that’s not happening. If Mario Cristobal couldn’t work at FIU, probably no one is going to work down there. Akron and UMass? Non-starters.

Sizing up the likelihood of each P5 opening pursuing Sitake

Let’s dive in and gaze into the crystal ball and forecast the likelihood of each Power Five head coach opening going after Kalani Sitake.

LSU 

LSU is the top head coach opening in the coaching carousel by a mile. Tigers AD Scott Woodward has a track record of making big-time hires as an athletic director. Since he was appointed athletic director of the Bayou Bengals in 2019, he hired National Champion coach Kim Mulkey away from Baylor.

At Washington, he pulled Chris Petersen away from Boise State. During his tenure at Texas A&M, he landed Jimbo Fisher from Florida State. Notice a theme?

Sitake is big-time for BYU football. But does he have a National Championship pedigree? No. That seems to be a requirement for Woodward. That’s why coaches such as Jimbo Fisher, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Michigan State’s Mel Tucker (who worked at Alabama, Georgia previously), and Baylor’s Dave Aranda are in the mix.

TCU

It’s kind of crazy to think TCU parted ways with the man that has a statue in front of Ammon G. Carter Stadium in Gary Patterson. Football in Texas is downright crazy. The craziness of the decision only magnifies when you try to think of which coach TCU will land that is better than Patterson.

Sonny Dykes from SMU seems to be the favorite that everyone mentions. Hiring a Texan at a Texas-based school looks to be the new popular trend based on hires at Texas Tech (Texas HS football legend Joey McGuire) and the success at UTSA in Jeff Traylor.

It’s hard to picture TCU pursuing Kalani Sitake, who doesn’t have many ties to Texas.

USC

This is where things get interesting. USC is a shell of its former self. Trojan fans want nothing more than a return to the glory of the Pete Carroll years. Or at a minimum, they want to be the dominant brand in the Pac-12 Conference. Honestly, that’s what USC should be. To see the Trojans become a middling unit in one of the weaker Power Five leagues has been shocking.

Not to mention a blue blood like USC running an Air Raid offense? What in the world?

But that’s what happens when you don’t have the football program, athletic department, and university administration all on the same page. Heritage Hall at USC hired Clay Helton and kept him on the sidelines for far too long. It’s hurt the USC brand.

They ultimately did what everyone thought should have been done two or three years ago, firing Helton two games into this season. At that time in September, it felt like USC was on the fast track to plucking a massive name in the college football world. They still might do that. But have you seen USC this year? They are 4-5 and the talent isn’t there by USC standards. Look past the star ratings, the Trojans aren’t talented enough and to their core, they are a soft football team.

USC isn’t an overnight fix, as many thought at the moment Helton was fired. It’s going to take two to three years at least to get USC back to a national level. However, if patience is given, Kalani Sitake could be an attractive option for the Trojans to restore glory to LA’s premier college brand.

At face value, Kalani Sitake is the perfect fit for USC. Sitake has strong ties in the Pac-12 Conference from his time at Utah and Oregon State. In addition, he has tons of connections on the recruiting trail in Southern California. The Mater Dei High School pipeline to Alabama these days could shift back to USC under Sitake. He pulled in Mater Dei High WR Kody Epps two recruiting cycles ago, and his OC Aaron Roderick is an ace recruiter in Orange County.

USC AD Mike Bohn said his vision for the Trojan football program is to have “the most student-athlete centered program in the country.” That vision aligns with Sitake, who has shown an ability to enhance the experience for BYU student-athletes with NIL, uniforms, apparel, player input, and more.

The big question is whether Kalani Sitake would be a big enough name to appease the USC fan base. Names such as Luke Fickell and Dave Aranda have emerged as some of the favorites. But at USC, there’s still the possibility of a bigger fish waiting in the wings.

If USC came calling for Sitake, this position should have BYU fans sweating the most. Because when USC is at its best, they are the one program out west that has the potential to be an annual fixture in the College Football Playoff.

Washington

There’s not enough appreciation given to the Washington Huskies brand in football. After USC, I look at Washington as the second-best football brand in the Pac-12 conference from a historical perspective. Washington football has a great tradition.

But this is a what have you done for me lately world. And if one of the greatest college football coaches in the 21st century isn’t on the sidelines for the Huskies, what has U-Dub done since the late, great Don James?

Chris Petersen got Washington to a College Football Playoff in 2016 and had them in New Year’s Six bowl games for three consecutive years, but outside of that, there isn’t much in the 21st century of Husky football. They’ve had as many winless seasons as Rose Bowl victories since James retired after the 1992 season. The lone Rose Bowl win was back in 2000.

Washington has shown that they can be a force on the recruiting trail out west when winning at a high level. Sitake would give them a jump. But could he get the same level of recruits at BYU now that they are headed to the Big 12 Conference?

Jimmy Lake was viewed as an excellent recruiter, but he lacked head coaching experience. His tenure at Montlake was a colossal failure for the Huskies.

Since BYU got invited to the Big 12, the Cougars find themselves in the Top 5 for the nation’s number one cornerback recruit in Cormani McClain along with the number one JUCO defensive back in Keionte Scott from Snow College. The Big 12 recruiting bump already appears to be happening for Sitake’s BYU program.

Washington is a job that would be a no-brainer for Sitake to jump to if BYU Football wasn’t moving up to the Big 12 Conference. But now, it comes down to what Sitake would prioritize if Washington were to come calling.

The Washington opening has national college football analysts around the country listing Sitake on Husky coaching search big boards. For example, ESPN noted that Sitake should be “a leading candidate” for the Huskies.

Out of all the Power Five jobs, the Washington position is the one to watch the closest when it comes to pursuing Kalani Sitake.

Washington State

After firing Nick Rolovich due to not complying with the state of Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the Cougs have moved along and competed well with interim coach Jake Dickert. This year’s BYU football team faced Dickert in his first game as interim coach, and he had the Palouse Cougs playing tough football. BYU won that game 21-19 on a rainy day in Pullman.

The Wazzu position is in the Pac-12, but it’s a clear step down from BYU. For those at Martin Stadium for BYU’s win over the Crimson Cougs, there was a total of 22,541 fans in attendance, with at least 40% of the crowd courtesy of BYU supporters.

Dickert seems like an excellent fit for Washington State. However, suppose they don’t go with him. In that case, a high-level Power Five assistant with Washington State ties might be a possibility, such as former BYU linebacker Dennis Simmons, an assistant at Oklahoma.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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