7 min read

Is Kalani "The Guy" For BYU?

Is Kalani "The Guy" For BYU?

This thought process was sparked by a discussion on our Discord - join us if you haven't yet.


Some questions that are top of mind:

What is BYU today?

What was BYU in the past?

What can BYU be in the future?

In other terms - do you know who you are? where you came from? where you are going?


I think it's pretty clear where we are today after last season: A team in rebuild mode after losing a wave of NFL guys with a really young roster that is adjusting to the grind of playing a P4 schedule.

Last year was brutal and down the stretch (which was one of the toughest 5 game slates in program history) the team was beaten physically, emotionally, and most importantly, on the scoreboard. It wasn't a fun time to be a fun, and it was even less fun to be a player or a staff member.

Even with recency, there's still a wide range of perception on how the team played where the eye test lies to us as fans.

Offensive SP+ Rankings from 2021-2023 went 37.2 (#14), 34.3 (#35), 24.7 (#74) respectively.

Defensively - 27.9 (#78), 34.8 (#102), 30.9 (#94).

Keep in mind - SP+ is opponent adjusted. The offensive rating is how many points you would theoretically score against a completely average defense, and the defensive is how many you would give up. It accounts for pace of play, and other factors (that said, it's just one system and you could find another one that tales another tale, but it is THE system)

The reviews on the defensive staff last year from fans were raving. Go on any BYU social site and you'll see people saying Kalani shoudl be let go and Jay Hill should take over. The change was exciting, but the results were still a defense that was worse than all but one of Ilaisa Tuiaki and Ed Lamb's squads.

Don't get me wrong - The defensive staff is great. Recruiting has improved, and I expect another year in the system and a full off-season gives them a step forward in competing in this league and there's a big improvement. But it's not like it was drastically better performance form the prior year.

Both units were sub-100 in raw stats. Advanced stats puts the offense slightly ahead. Neither were great. But new bodies get people excited.

The Past

LaVell Edwards is in the CFB Hall of Fame for a reason. He is won of the winningest coaches of all time for a reason. He took over a program that was #112 all time in win percentage (44.3%) and over 3 decades lifted that to #43 (56.8%).

He produced a national championship, a Heisman winner, Outland Trophies, Davey O'Briens and Sammy Baughs.

But still - we can traunch his career into a few eras:

The Startup Era (1972-1978): There were conference titles starting in year 3 (74, 76, 77, 78) but nobody nationally cared much. There was one ranked finish - #20.

36-12 in conference games, but just 17-16 in non conference play. BYU in this era was like being an App State fan: it's fun to win games and you won your league, but there's not much to show for it on a national level and you're the pesky underdog that plays a good game but isn't thought of as a big dog.

Overall Win Pct: 65.4%

The Golden Era (1979-1985): When people think of LaVell and BYU football, this is what they think of.

Marc, Jim, Steve, Robbie.

A Miracle Bowl.

6 ranked finishes in 7 years.

A National Title.

Overall Win Pct of 86.5%, going 49-4 in WAC play (damn you UTEP). 28-8 out of conference.

The "We'll Be Back Next Year!" Era (1986-1988): This one is short, and if it wasn't for Ty Detmer, would've lasted longer.

8-5, 9-4, 9-4. Not ranked. 8-7 in OOC play.

You start to wonder if the magic is lost. If twitter was a thing then, by '88 people would be tagging Lu Wallace and saying LaVell was washed up and we should promote Norm Chow.

Win Pct: 66.6%

The Heisman Era (1989-1991): Okay baby, we're back!

3 ranked finishes, 3 conference titles, that weird year with 2 ties. Ty wins the Heisman and sets the career passing record.

The Cougars win 76.3% of their games.  22-1-1 in the WAC, but those pesky high-majors strike us again - OOC we are getting big name opponents, and playing in big bowls, but other than that #1 Miami game, it's a pedestrian 7-7-1.

The End of an Era Era (1992-2000): 1996 was amazing. You could argue the best team in school history. Just laid the one egg against Washington and was a driver in the creation of the BCS and the current bowl system.

But outside of that 14-1 magic? Meh.

One #18 finish in the other 8 seasons.

Win Pct: 61.2%

44-19 in WAC play and 16-19 OOC.  Take out John Walsh's 10-3 season and 38-17 and 12-18 is even less pretty to look at. I imagine if Twitter existed in this era, it would probably look like Iowa fans talking about Kirk Ferentz.

So What?

Well, I think we look back fondly of one of the best 7 year runs of a mid-major program in CFB history. The OG Boise State. The scrappy, high flying teams. And we view everything in that light and maybe don't give what came after the same credit. The rising tide of BYU's success lifted the entire profile of the WAC.

LaVell's career record was 257-101-3 - 71.6%. And without that 7 year run, 66.7%. Out of conference games always a thorn - 57 % overall, and 50% outside of the Golden Age.

This is a really long winded way to say: BYU has always struggled with the games we are now playing week in and week out.

The Future

Kalani Sitake has a lower win percentage, but he has faced the most brutal schedule playing in the Big XII than any of his predecessors did. Crowton was fired after 3 losing seasons - but those 2003/2004 schedules were absolutely ringers. Then there's all the off-field stuff.

Fans wanted Bronco gone by the end, and his arc was similar to LaVell's - fairly quick success, great run, taper off.

It's no question that Kalani has had a big adjustment. The excitement over Jay Hill might be the biggest thing having fans clamoring that it's time to move on. And with ARod's retention, if the offense sputters again this year and it's another 4-8 type finish, the voices to give Jay Hill the chance to be HMFIC will be louder than ever.

Kalani had 2 years of an offensive staff he didn't really get to choose.

Then there were 2 years of growing pains while starting an insane number of underclassmen (seriously - go look at the 2018 depth chart).

2020 and 2021 were awesome and 2021 especially going 5-0 against the PAC - he was winning games against the teams we normally split with.

2022 was back to reality wtih a defense void of talent and a team looking to the Big 12. Then there was last year.

Kalani has had a lot of change around him. 2020/2021 don't happen with the talent his staff brought in and developed from 2018 and 2019. Saying "well if you ignore 2020 and 2021 his record is not good!" surely aren't giving LaVell the same treatment (though they do tend to say "look at Bronco outside of 2006-2009").

Independence was more difficult than the WAC. Both the games and the lack of something to really feel like you played for. Your biggest rival getting a golden ticket to a power league never happened in the WAC days. Having to play a schedule of 10 P5 teams never happened in the WAC days.

I'm saying Kalani is the world's greatest coach and BYU should keep him forever - but I am saying that there's been a lot of chaos and a lot of the kinds of games that BYU has never done particularly well at. It's the reality going foward that the schedules aren't getting any easier, and the recruiting has improved and will continue to improve.

Aaron Roderick is still the same QB coach and play-caller that got Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall drafted.

Harvey Unga is still the same RB coach that made Pini Katoa look good and Tyler Allgeier look amazing after the last guy wanted to cut him (and it appears the recruiting efforts from him have been sorted).

Fesi is still the guy that got Dax Milne to stick in the NFL for 3 years somehow.

Now throw in TJ Woods and Kevin Gilbride and the offensive staff is okay. With a game manager at QB we can go bowling and move onward and upwards with the improvements the defense will make from another year in the system and more talent coming in.

If you look BYU's historical performance against Power programs:

Edwards: 33-45-1

Crowton: 5-7

Mendenhall: 22-25

Sitake: 21-23

So is Kalani doing all that much worse than those before him? Because if you take out 2023 conference games, his 18-16 record is the only coach who isn't sub .500 against major programs.

What can BYU be? Realistically with the new normal of CFB and life in the Big 12: NC State. Should never be downright terrible, and probably won't be winning a title anytime soon. 7-5 to 9-4 with a high floor and low ceiling given the institutional oddities of BYU is reasonable. But the kicker between us and the Wolfpack should be the expectation of 2.5ish double win seasons a decade.

If you want a new coach, that's fine - but I think it's important to a step back and look at BYU's historical performance, and assess what you think the ceiling is for the program overall - and then compare a coach to that ceiling - because this isn't Ohio State where anybody can waltz in and take you to the playoffs.