Change can be difficult to accept at first, but once the dust settles down things begin to get back into a routine. Many of the current BYU players have noticed a visible difference between the former coaching staff under Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure and the new staff under Kalani Sitake. The reviews of the new staff have been positive so far.
“These guys on this coaching staff are awesome,” said sophomore linebacker Francis Bernard. “I originally wanted to go play for Kalani out of high school up at the U but it didn’t work out. To see him now come here to BYU as a matter of chance and have him coach me has just been awesome. It’s been a cool experience so far and I love it.”
“I would say it’s a lot more relaxed off the field and more closer,” sophomore wide receiver Akile Davis said. “I don’t want to say that it’s all chill because it’s not. When it’s time to go to work, it’s time to go to work. But after everything is done the coaches want us around, so now after classes we’re like, ‘Oh, let’s go say hi to Coach Cahoon or Sitake.’ Before it wasn’t really like that because it felt like a business off the field.
“Off the field they have us up here hanging out with them building that team bonding. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work and get after it. When it’s not time to work, we bond as a team and hangout with the coaches a lot of times. Before that wasn’t really the case.”
Under Coach Sitake, who has a more laidback and fun-loving disposition about him, the one noticeably visible change around the locker room and Student Athlete Building has been a less tense atmosphere. Akile Davis has been at BYU for only two years and he’s noticed the change in atmosphere.
“I like the atmosphere that the new coaching staff brings in,” said Davis. “Not that I didn’t like the old coaching staff, but this staff lets us be ourselves and that allows us to feel more comfortable. It’s more relaxed now than it was before. They want it to be a team atmosphere. As the day goes on they want us to take care of things as a team first, and take on that brotherhood aspect of taking care of one another and the team first.”
Francis Bernard agrees with Davis’ assessment.
“What I love about the new coaching staff now is we can all come and hang out over here with them at the SAB,” said Bernard. “With the old coaching staff none of us wanted to be here. When school was done, we would all just go home and kick it with the boys. Now it’s like, ‘Dang, I’m going to go say what’s up to Coach Sitake and visit all the other coaches.’ It’s just a better feeling here overall.”
Everything about a college football program begins with the head coach and trickles on down throughout the program. Everything from the friendly, at-home welcome you receive from the staff to the general dispositions of the players is influenced by the attitude the head coach takes on. One can get a sense of the mood of the program simply by gauging the reactions of players and coaches. Coach Sitake has set the standard, and the players are enjoying their time at BYU more than ever before.
“It’s been really, really cool,” said senior defensive end Sae Tautu. “I had been with Coach Mendenhall’s coaching staff for four years and I’m just trying to get used to [Coach Sitake’s] coaching style. I never want to say [Sitake’s style is relaxed] because it’s never relaxed. It’s just a more fun environment and not so wound up. Everybody is just like, ‘This is a more fun place to be. It feels less like a work place.’ Then out on the field it’s good to see the intensity and see our coaches in action. It’s as good of coaching as I’ve ever had while having fun so it’s been nice.”
“I wasn’t on the defensive side [last year], but as far as the new coaching staff they’re very similar to being around Coach Atuaia,” said Bernard. “They’re Polynesian so we can joke around and yet be serious at the same time. I think the thing I like about our coaching staff now is with dealing with the new players they can see the potential and will trust us in certain situations. They’ll trust our athletic ability and ability to go out and make plays.”
What’s it been like playing under new defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki? For Francis Bernard, it’s a blast playing under a defensive coordinator with a happy-go-lucky sense of humor commonly found among the Polynesian people.
“Oh man, Coach Tuiaki is cool,” said Bernard. “He comes in with the mindset of, ‘Hey, we gotta go out and play hard today’ but then he’ll say something funny and laugh at his own jokes. He’s cool and it’s been a great experience working under him so far. I have to say that I’ve had more fun being out on the field and off the field with these coaches more than any other I’ve ever played under. It’s been a great experience for me, and I know many of the players on the team have noticed the difference too. It’s been a lot of fun.”