Sorting through BYU's real concerns and the concerns that are driven by anxiety
Let's go back to March 2020 for some story time: Like most of the world, I was watching the news of COVID in real time. On one night, Rudy Gobert tested positive. Then Donovan Mitchell tested positive. Then the NBA shut down. Then Tom Hanks tested positive and was stuck in Australia.
A week or so later, I woke up and started getting ready to hop into the shower when an earthquake hit the Salt Lake valley. (Sidebar: I was getting ready to hop in the shower when the earthquake it. Like most normal humans, I don't shower with my clothes on. When the earthquake hit, my naked self panicked and ran through the house to grab all of my children. One-by-one, I grabbed my kids and threw them onto my bed where my wife was still sleeping. That's where my mental state was... throwing kids onto a bed under ceiling fan while in the midst of an earthquake... that was my plan to protect them. Zoinks!)
At that point, my real job decided it was time to get everyone out of the office and working from home. Like most of everyone else, we quickly implemented a transition plan and implemented our WFH strategy.
Amid all of the crazy of the world, my anxiety starting to manifest itself. I lost control of my thoughts, frankly. My brain took over. Every kink in my neck or every headache that hit felt like it was the first symptom of my would-be-terminal illness. I was convinced I was going to die.
I went to the emergency room twice, thinking that my chest pain was a heart attack. Both times, I was told that I was fine and to go home.
I stopped sleeping, convinced that if I went to sleep, I wouldn't wake up the next morning. Over the course of a week, I slept about six total hours. I lived on energy drinks and pills.
Times were tough! Clearly, I wasn't right.
This isn't an article about mental health, but my mental health experience is a perfect metaphor for my larger point today.
While I was sitting in my bed or on my couch in March 2020, there was turmoil all around the world. It was difficult to figure out what concerns were based on the reality of where I was living and what concerns were a result of the voices in my head.
My experience wasn't unique. When things don't go well, people go through all of the 'what if...' scenarios in their heads. When things don't go well, it's easy to assume that the worst thing possible is imminent.
More often than not, however, things aren't as bad as they seem.
Today, things feel pretty bleak in BYU world. But what's real and what is one of those 'what ifs' that we probably don't have to actually be concerned about? That's our task today.
What if the defensive coaching stays exactly the same and we just keep living this nightmare over again and again and again?
It won't happen.
The last few years people have had the same complaints about the way the defensive coaching staff coaches games. The game plans have always felt basic. Midgame adjustments take too long. Players frequently look unprepared. And the damn hockey subs...
The difference between the past and 2022? BYU isn't winning. Winning extends the leashes and allows for patience.
Think about it like this. If your check engine light turns on and you rush to your local AutoZone (not sponsored by AutoZone but please sponsor us) to have the code read, you are assuming the worst case scenario. If they read the code and you can reasonably determine that it's just a faulty sensor that is causing the check engine light to turn on, you're probably comfortable driving around with the light on for a little bit. That doesn't mean that something isn't broken and that it doesn't need to be fixed, but hey, maybe the sensor will start working again and you don't have to pay someone to fix your perfectly functioning car.
The risk, obviously, is that the sensor doesn't work and an actual problem happens and you don't have a functioning sensor to tell you that the problem needs to be addresed.
Such is the case with winning. The defensive has had its issues for the last few years, but as long as the wins were still coming in, it was hard for Kalani Sitake to jump in and make mass changes.
Could he have? Sure, he could have. But when you're winning, you want to focus on winning the next game. Dramatic coaching changes or schematic changes could disrupt what is resulting in wins.
This year, BYU isn't winning. Furthermore, there aren't any metrics you can really look at that would help you make a case that BYU's defense is actually performing well.
BYU is losing games, giving up points, and looking very ugly in the process. This scenario isn't the same as years past even if the symptom kind of feels the same. As such, you should have plenty of confidence that Kalani will make appropriate changes and try to end the nightmare.
What if the players on the roster get sick of what's happening and decide to transfer?
Yeah, this is a real possibility. But, the answer to this question has two parts to it.
A) Is that really a bad thing?
First and foremost, if BYU loses a bunch of players to the portal but those players weren't getting the job done on the field, then that gives BYU a chance for a net gain. The transfer portal is like a get out of jail free card. Coaches used to have to hope a recruiting class and JUCO transfers could help re-tool a roster. Now, coaches can turn to D1 players who are proven and looking for a different opportunity to re-tool a roster.
Sure, there are some players (notably younger, higher profile players) who you want to keep on your roster no matter what. If BYU were to lose those players, that would obviously sting. But, there are other scenarios where a change of scenery is probably best for the player and for BYU. So, this concern isn't inherently a bad thing.
B) If they haven't transferred yet, then at least they're giving Kalani a chance to fix things.
Dallin Holker left three weeks ago. He had his mind made up and nobody was going to change it so he got out of dodge.
Wisconsin fired their head coach and multiple players left immediately. More will still leave down the road, but players left immediately after the change was made.
The transfer portal makes transferring awfully easy. If a player's mind is made up that they are going to leave, why are they sticking around and risking injury? Simply put, they aren't.
Now, players could still decide to leave after the season, for sure. But as long as they're willing to defer that decision until December, then Kalani has a chance to change their minds. He can do that with coaching changes - whether it be actual dismissals or assignment changes.
If they haven't left yet, Kalani can still keep things together.
What if recruits see this and decide that they don't want to play at BYU?
Frankly, this is the kind of question someone who isn't an elite-level athlete asks themselves. Elite-level athletes are, generally speaking, wired differently than the normal human. Do they want to play for a winning program? Of course they do. But that's just one part of their decision, and usually, it's not the most important part.
Let's take one Zach Wilson as a case study.
Wilson grew up a Utah fan (Did you know that? And he went to California to train with John Beck too), he hated BYU, he wasn't an active member of the Church, he had multiple P5 options at schools who were winning and schools who were losing, and he had been spurned by BYU on the recruiting trail for months. All of that was on top of the fact that BYU was coming off their worse offensive season in literally decades of Cougar football.
If your mindset is that top recruits only go to winning programs, there was zero reason that Wilson should have ever picked BYU.
But Wilson was different than you and me. Wilson felt he could win anywhere and that he was talented enough to not only turn a program into a winning program, but to achieve his goals of the NFL no matter where he went. Wilson's priorities in his eventual school of choice were different than what the casual fan's are. And as for those things that the casual fan thinks about, Wilson was confident enough in himself that he didn't really worry too much about it.
Lo and behold, he was absolutely right.
BYU could lose a recruit or two, no question about it. There might be some guys who decide that they can't play for BYU so they just don't do it.
But if a guy like Spencer Fano is going to sign with BYU, it isn't because BYU is on the cusp of winning a national championship and all they need is a star left tackle. No, he's picking BYU because of billion other reasons and he feels like he's a star left tackle no matter what.
How does Kalani and BYU recruit in the midst of their losing ways? The same way they would if they were winning, only harder and more aggressively. You can still recruit talent when you're losing. You can still get better when you're down. It requires some more work, but as long as BYU is willing to put in that extra work, they're going to be fine.
Kalani has done that before, and he's capable of doing it again.
What if fans stop supporting the program because they're tired of these isseus?
Then those fans suck.
Be mad about the problems. Hell, stop going to the games for the rest of the year, I don't care.
But if you're going to forsake your team completely because of losses? BYU is better of without you.
This program is about to go into the Big 12. That's happening no matter what happens the rest of the season. And that's exciting as hell.
If you can't find a way to support a team that has finally achieved its goal of reaching a Power 5 conference, that's a you problem, not a BYU problem.
BYU needs to adjust and prepare to compete in the Big 12. Winning won't simply happen because BYU exists, especially given the current state of the defense. But damn, this program has achieved some crazy lofty goals in the last few years. If you can't bear with the team during a little bit of a downtime, then you don't deserve to be win things get better.
And frankly, all BYU has to do to erase the sour taste in everyone's mouths is make appropriate adjustments and win games down the stretch. They're capable of doing that.