What Kalani Sitake and BYU Football can learn from 'The Redeem Team'
I didn't make it to the game against Notre Dame in Las Vegas. I was in Vegas and had tickets to the game, but I didn't make it into the actual stadium. Instead, after battling what felt like just a cold most of the day on Friday, I was bunkered in my hotel bed on Saturday morning. I was travelling with my uncle, a 70-something-year old man who suffered a pretty gnarly heart attack a few years ago, and decided that I should figure out if this cold was just a cold or if I had COVID.
As the rest of our party was preparing to go to the game, my test results came back: Positive.
At that point, we looked at each other and had a decision to make. Collectively, my wife, my dad, my uncle, and I made the decision to pack up, check-out, and head home. We hopped on the freeway just in time to see thousands of fans walking over the bridge from the The Strip and over to Allegiant Stadium. We listened to the game on the radio.
Knowing that people would looking for my regular BYU coverage on our GEHB Discord server, on Cougar Sports Insider, or even just on Twitter, I elected to tell the world that I had tested positive for "The Vid" (yes, more on that in a second) and was on my way home.
The decision to leave sucked. We had spent thousands on tickets, thousands on hotel rooms, and had been looking forward to this trip for literal months. To leave just minutes before everything was about to actually happen was painful.
The response to my tweet went about as expected. Most people wished me health and sympathetically laughed at the irony of me leaving Vegas just as the game was kicking off. A few decided to ask me why I would even test for COVID and suggest that I should have just gone to the game. A few others (including one moron specifically) said that I was mocking and downplaying the significance of the virus because I called it 'The Vid' instead of COVID. (Why that guy thinks the nickname COVID is an acceptable level of seriousness but The Vid isn't acceptable is beyond me. Frankly, I'm a little offended that he's not calling it SARS-CoV-2 everywhere on the internet.)
It was the reaction that I expected from the internet. Some people questioned my intent in sharing that I had tested positive. Some believed I was virtue-signaling. Some believed I was placating to my audience and downplaying the seriousness of the virus.
The reality is that I was just explaining why my BYU coverage would be lacking.
The decision to leave Las Vegas and skip the game was mine. People might think it was an overreaction or they might think I was irresponsible for not quarantining more quickly, but frankly, I don't care what they think. I did what I felt I needed to do. I did what I felt was right. You can agree or you can disagree but it doesn't matter to me; I feel I made the right decision.
As I've spent the last few days in bed watching Netflix, I have thought about that principle a lot: I did what I felt was right and I did it for me and my family, not for anyone else.
In my binge of anything that looks even moderately interesting on Netflix, I've watched 'The Redeeem Team' that was just published earlier this month. For those of you who don't know, it's about the 2008 USA Men's Basketball Team.
The Dream Team was in the 90s and USA basketball destroyed everyone. But in 2004, USA basketball was getting beat by the likes of Greece and Puerto Rico. It was a pretty pathetic time to be a USA basketball fan.
Players were opting out. Coaches were forcing schemes down players throats and not managing to their strengths. The world was looking to send a message by beating the United States and the United States was just arrogant enough to not adjust. Things were pretty bleak.
But in 2005, Coach Mike Krzyzewski took over as the head coach of the team and he brought pride back into the national team. He made it cool to play for USA Basketball again. And he restored America's dominance on the international stage.
The documentary on Netflix sent me into a deep hole of YouTube videos and speeches from Coach K and other players from the Redeem Team.
Folks, I think Kalani Sitake and BYU football needs to take a lesson from Coach K and USA Basketball. Without any further rambling, the introduction to this newsletter is over.
The Hurdle Coach K Had To Climb
Let's talk about a few things that Coach K is and a few things that Coach K is not.
Coach K is a legendary college basketball coach. Coach K is also a military guy, who graduated from West Point and had an inherent love for his country and wearing his flag on his chest.
Coach K is not a professional basketball coach who is used to coaching some of the most rich, famous, and egotistical athletes in the entire world. He is also not an international head coach who has been working with the players of the national team since they were 18 years old.
Coach K had all the tools to be successful with USA Basketball but there was an undeniable hurdle that he had to clear first. He had to find a way to connect with a bunch of established, rich, famous, and egotistical basketball players. His military background oozed into the way he coached at Duke with lots of yelling and commanding respect, but that wasn't going to fly with the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Coach K had to find a new way to inspire his new team. And given the condensed time schedule that USA Basketball had to practice and prepare, he had to do it in relatively short order. It was not something that was going to be easy.
The Gold Standards
Coach K knew that he needed ownership on this team. He couldn't simply establish a bunch of rules and then force his team to comply. He needed his team to own the direction of this team. It was their team as much as it was his. So, instead of rules, he had an open conversation about the standards of the team.
For Coach K, there were two key things that needed to be worked into the team's standards: Honesty and Trust.
Beyond those two things, he opened it up to the players to come up with the Gold Standards of USA Basketball. This is what they collectively came up with:
USA Gold Standards
1. NO EXCUSES
a. We have what it takes to win
2. GREAT DEFENSE
a. This is the key to winning the gold.
b. We do the dirty work.
a. We look each other in the eye.
b. We tell each other the truth.
a. We believe in each other
5. COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY
a. We are committed to each other
b. We win together
a. We have each other’s backs.
b. We give aid to a teammate
a. We respect each other and our opponents
b. We’re always on time.
c. We’re always prepared.
a. We take good shots.
b. We’re aware of team fouls.
c. We know the scouting report
a. We show no weakness
a. We can handle any situation.
b. We don’t complain
a. We’re connected.
b. We make the extra pass.
c. Our value is not measured in playing time.
a. We play hard every possession.
a. This is fun
a. We’re hungry.
b. We have no bad practices.
a. We are the best team in the world and we represent the best country.'
What Can Kalani And BYU Learn From This?
Coach K is a more established, successful, and renowned coach than Kalani Sitake is today and probably more than he will ever be.
LeBron and Kobe were bigger names and more established in their craft than Jaren Hall or Puka Nacua or anyone else on BYU's roster is and probably more than they will ever be.
And yet, those players were willing to humble themselves and come up with a list of simple standards that they forced themselves to live by. As long as they were representing USA Basketball, these standards were part of the fabric of who they were.
These weren't rules that were simply followed. These were standards that dictated certain actions. Sometimes, it was uncomfortable.
Coach K talked about one of these standards specifically in an interview towards the end of his career. He explained why 'looking someone in the eyes' was so important to this team.
I'll paraphrase what Coach K said, but essentially, these players weren't used to looking at people in the eyes when they talked. They were better than most of their peers. They were better than most of their coaches. They knew every fundamental and every technique imaginable when it came to basketball. When it came down to basketball conversations, these guys simply weren't used to looking at someone in the eyes because whatever it was that the someone had to say was something that the player already knew.
Coach K knew he couldn't yell and scream at these players they way he would have a true freshman kid at Duke. He knew he needed respect. He would look LeBron in the eyes and have a conversation, and for Coach K, all he asked is that LeBron respect him enough to return the courtesy.
And it worked.
Coach K was able to calmly talk to his players. Whether it was Jason Kidd or Kobe Bryant, Coach K would look at players in the eyes and talk honestly.
At the risk of totally stealing Coach K's Gold Standards, it's time for Kalani to look his coaches, his players, and even himself in the eyes and have some honest, respectful conversations.
But It's More Than Knocking Off Coach K's Standards...
Kalani could take this list of standards and tell his team that these are the new standards of BYU football, but isn't that just a rule?
And frankly, does the whole 'Intelligence' section even apply for football? Not really!
But Kalani does need to take a page from Coach K and figure out - with his coaches and players - what BYU's standards are. Because frankly, it doesn't really look like there are any right now.
Over the last few weeks, we've seen position coaches (coughKevinClunecough) tell the media that the defensive scheme 'is what the scheme is' in a disgusted, discouraged tone. His linebackers have said they were doing certain things in certain situations only to have Kalani say, 'Ben is wrong' when asked about it in press conferences.
We've seen execution problems. We've seen players get discouraged and make dumb penalties. Against Notre Dame, we saw multiple instances of wide receivers running different plays than the quarterback.
Kalani needs to find a way to re-connect with this team and to re-galvanize things in a way that with withstand the trials of the rest of the year.
Kalani needs standards for this team. And his players need to hold each other accountable. And his coaches need to hold each other accountable. And Kalani needs to hold everyone - including himself - accountable.
It seems incredibly simple and almost elementary, but it was important enough for Coach K and USA Basketball to do. Why not BYU?