PROVO, Utah – In a Dec. 17, 2009 column, writer Stewart Mandel called the coaching rivalry between BYU and Utah, “the best coaching rivalry of that decade.”
At the time, Kyle Whittingham was head coach for Utah, and Bronco Mendenhall for BYU. Also at that time, Kalani Sitake was an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Whittingham.
Sitake left for Oregon State following the 2014 season. He returned to Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2015 where he lost to the Utes, 27-12.
Now he will enter the stadium on Saturday to go head-to-head with Utah, this time as head coach for BYU.
“When I was at OSU, we went back there last year, and it was a cool experience. We obviously lost the game, it was tough. I thought the fans were great," Sitake said.
It was then announced Sitake would be taking the head coaching position at BYU, following Mendenhall’s leave for Virginia. Which meant two former Cougar players, who coached together under the same team, would now be coaching against each other in one of the biggest rivalries in the country.
It’s safe to say the rivalry, at least from a head coach aspect, has calmed down.
During his Monday press conference Sitake was nothing short of complementary to his time spent with the University of Utah.
"If anyone knows me, they know that I'm going to approach every game with the will to win, but at the same time I won't stomp over people, I'll speak the truth. I had a great perspective and my point of view was awesome, you know they were great to me. I'll never say anything bad about the University of Utah, about the program, especially about the football team. Because they were so great to me, and I think it's important to share that with everyone,” he said.
However, does that 10-year stint with the Utes mean BYU will have an advantage come Saturday? Players seem to think so.
"Probably. He worked there. Kalani is just telling us that it's not about hate, it's all about the team. And if we keep it team-oriented we'll be fine. Just worry about ourselves and our assignments and we'll be good," said running back Jamaal Williams.
Quarterback Taysom Hill agreed.
"I don't know what the turnover has been when he was there last, but it's certainly a program that he's familiar with and I certainly think that'll help us out," Hill said.
Sitake said he understands the intensity behind the rivalry.
While it may not be “nasty” to him, these types of games involve families, like the Nacuas.
Senior Defensive Back Kai Nacua plays for BYU, while his brother, Samson, is a freshman on Utah’s roster.
"If he does get in, I told him to 'keep your head on a swivel.' Because I might just leave my assignment and go hit him just for fun," Kai Nacua said.