Kalani Sitake addresses the media


BYU head coach Kalani Sitake appeared on BYU Sports Nation and held a video conference Tuesday with members of the media to talk about the current state of the football program amidst the global COVID-19 outbreak. 

Sitake gave several insights into how the team is staying connected and optimistic with all of the world's events. The following comments are from those media sessions. 

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake

On the status on the team
Everything moves so quickly. It wasn’t even day-to-day it was more like hour-to-hour from school adjusting to Zoom, but even before that we had made the decision to hold off on practice and wait this thing out. We wanted to see what everyone was doing first and get some feedback from our leaders at the school and also our local and federal government and see what their thoughts are.

I was really impressed with the leadership I saw from Tom Holmoe and our president Kevin Worthen. With the thought of taking care of people first and then Tom shutdown the athletic department way before the school shut down classes. I thought that was a great move and trying to get a handle on this, but at the same time, we are doing a lot of the same things that other programs are doing in trying to communicate with our players as much as possible.

On coaches keeping in contact with players
All of our position coaches have daily contact with their players and I am staying in touch with as many players as I can. I am trying to promote the idea of taking care of each other, take care of their families and then serve others and be mindful of others. I think everyone is going through that. I am obviously disappointed in a lot of things, especially not being able to compete, but I know a lot of the spring and winter sports are disappointed where they were not able to compete, especially basketball not being able to go to the tournament and things like that. But, there are some things that are way more important than sports right now.

On what everyone is going through
We are going through the same process that everybody is going through but at the same time just being really mindful of others and focusing on the positives of this. I have seen a lot of families hanging out together and people rallying around each other. I have just been really impressed with mankind altogether and being able to take care of each other. It gives me a lot of hope that we love and care about one another. I am hoping to see this through the people that we have already seen it from and then other people doing whatever we can to help everybody.

On what he is seeing from the team right now
I think rallying around each other has been a positive thing about this. I have seen amazing things happen with Cougar Nation and in our community whether its supporting local businesses and helping them continue to function or people with their families and spending more time with them. Doing things like TikTok and dance challenges and all this. I've seen it in my own neighborhood with families spending more time with each other. It’s a positive that has really helped us. It gives our players the opportunity to go home and realize the most important thing in their life. Once things resume and get back to normal I think there will be players that are more committed and are more committed to their goals and not taking things for granted. I think the sense of gratitude is there. Luckily, we have been given that message from the President of the University and our athletic director. Tom Holmoe has done an amazing job at instructing our coaches and assistants. Our specific mission to our players is to take care of themselves, take care of their family and each other. That’s been a really cool rallying cry for everyone and I've seen some really positive things from them. I've been really impressed with them—just all the people—but specifically Cougar Nation. I just love all of them.

On the players catching onto the idea of helping each other
I think with players all across the world and their reaction to this, I can honestly say that I've been really impressed with our players. About a third of our players have gone home and maybe more will transition to that but we are staying in contact with them. But, it's our job as coaches and as mentors to teach them as much as possible about coronavirus, but also in the adjustments and the transition that we are making and really not be worried about football. I think the sports world will take care of itself and each other. From this point on, we are focused on today and what we are trying to do as people more than anything but also look at the positives that come from this. There is a high sense of optimism coming from our leaders and coming from our athletic department. I think our players have taken to that mindset that this is just an adjustment and a transition, and we will get through it as long as we help and take care of each other and are mindful of others I think we will be fine.

On having experienced seniors that help
I think it’s a combination of things. I think because they are seniors and it's their last go-around there is a huge sense of urgency. The seniors know that it's their last time and they want to go out with a bang so they tend to be at the front a lot more. What we tend to see is the guys that have experience tend to take over that urgency. The seniors have done a great job including Taysom and Jamaal and the seniors before 2016. They set this standard for guys that have been on the field to take the initiative and it helps to get guys coming back like Khyiris Tonga and Matt Bushman. For the most part, I think the guys are starting to buy into needing more of that leadership. Where we have struggled is that there aren’t enough seniors on the team. But now, I think right now we have a good number of seniors but, more importantly, we have a good number of young men that have played and been on the field and have that experience. Now, it's just keeping everyone healthy and making sure that we are ready to go. We are currently just focusing on the present right now and make this still a competitive advantage for us concerning what we are dealing with right now.

On the line of communication from the athletic department
I would say that 90 percent of it is coming through Tom Holmoe to myself and to our coaches. He has done a great job in organizing a way that we can communicate with all the head coaches, with his staff and the sports that they are assigned to. Then in between, he has done a great job in getting some of the alumni, people that are involved at BYU and former players to help keep our players, our coaches and our staff focused and keep that high level of optimism. We have heard from people like Andy Reid and Danny Ainge, who have been shooting videos for BYU athletics and it has been really cool. I have to give tons of credit to Tom and his staff in the way that they are organizing this transition. It has been such an easy movement because of the work that they put in ahead of time to make sure that my line of communication would be easy as a head coach.

On the players working out during this time
We already had that in place and send out the workout to our players. We are having to modify it a little bit knowing that they won't be able to go to the gym. So we are having them do more of running and agility based things. We have those workouts out to our players and we are updating them daily. They have a basic checklist for them to get done but at the same time, we are being mindful of what is happening currently in the world today.

For the mental health part we have been in touch with our counselors that are available for us through the athletic department and they have been constantly keeping touch with all of our players, coaches, staff and whoever needs support at this time.

The leaders have done the transition well and have made it really easy to be able to satisfy the players' needs whether it's academically or socially with the connections that we have with our players and our coaches while also being able to stay with them mentally. The academics part, that has always been a huge support for us. Everyone is getting the help that they need.

On if he is worried about the status of the season
I am not really worried about that. I’m more focused on here and now and the day to day. I'm focused on the present... So right now, when things change so much hourly, it’s hard for us to project and forecast that much, so we are focusing on the here and now and staying in the present and then if we do our part as people I think it will all work itself out and all be fine.

Things change so much. It changes hour to hour. So (we are) trying to keep everyone focused on the positive and being optimistic about everything. But more importantly, being focused on today and what we can do to be a better person today and what we can do to be stronger whether it is spiritually, mentally or physically. Whatever it may be—just trying to focus on that.

I don’t think thinking about August would really help much right now when we are in March. I have been really impressed with the people, but I have also been really impressed with our student-athletes and the maturity that they have shown at this time. It's unprecedented. I have just been really impressed with our players and just thankful that I get to coach them and be around those guys.

On if he thinks they will need a month for fall camp
I think if everyone has the same amount of time then you just deal with what you have. I know we had some spring practices, six of them, where other teams didn’t even get to start spring. Whatever allows us to be on the same level so we are on the same page and have time to get ready for the season then that's fine for me. But, like I said, that is further down the road right now. I'm trying to focus on today. It's crazy. We are getting some instruction on how to practice social distancing and then get stuck with an earthquake for a lot of people up north. So there are a lot of times where we can still rally around each other and show we support each other. I have been really impressed with people.

On a potential scholarship juggle with return missionaries
We have 47 missionaries currently serving and 85 on the team right now. So we know that there are some adjustments that need to be made. Some missionaries, depending on how long they have served already, will be sent out again to maybe more of a local mission in the country, but again we are still working with that. We have asked our recruits and return missionaries to be patient with us. So far, they have been great. We are keeping the line of communications open with them, their families and the assistant coaches. It's always a difficult thing dealing with missionaries and numbers but its nothing that we can't overcome.

On hiring Harvey Unga
I think it was a pretty obvious choice. But from the beginning, we knew that it was important to take our time and make sure we did it the right way and go through the process of the hiring. Luckily, he was given the opportunity to run the room and run the practices and it kind of confirmed what we thought. It gave us the opportunity to meet with some others and talk with possible candidates. We saw the status of our position and it gave us a chance to look at all the other positions and see if there were any adjustments or things that we needed to do to get the best assistant hired.

On the timing to hire Harvey Unga
I think with the timing and with everything that was going on it made a lot of sense. There were a lot of things that were going on and there were a lot of great candidates that could have come in here and done a lot of great things and done the job well. But I think he is a perfect fit for what we are trying to do right now and to keep that room running. I have been really impressed with Harvey and his teaching. I have been around him pretty much his whole life so seeing him doing the things he did as a player didn’t really surprise me at all. I think he has a huge trajectory for what he can accomplish as a coach and I look forward to seeing that and being a part of his career.

On the seniors trying to go to the NFL in this time
I think they know they are important to us. I can tell you that talking with Tom Holmoe the NFL is important for our players. He has worked through a lot of scenarios and he is working with our NFL liaison, Jasen Ah You, and with our director of football operations, Jon Swift.  We are working on some things and trying to see what we can do with our NFL scouts to help our players be in a position to be ready for the draft. I think that this is just showing the scouts what they have been doing this whole time. The speed we see from our guys is not surprising to me. I just want them to get out there so the NFL scouts can see them. When I see the numbers and see how hard these guys have worked I think the scouts will be really impressed with the progress they have made since their senior year in high school.