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Kalani vs Sarkisian Former Teammates Faceoff as Head Coaches in the BIG 12

LaVell Edwards Stadium
Photo Credit: McCord Mecham

The two head coaches of the BYU vs Texas game this week were once both players for BYU and Kalani actually hosted Sarkisian during his official visit to BYU in 1995. Kalani played as a freshman for BYU in 1994 before serving a mission during the two years that Sarkisian played for BYU. Sark played the 1995 and 1996 seasons, averaging a 66.9% pass completion percentage and throwing for 7400+ yards, with 53 touchdowns in those two seasons. Sitake played four seasons for BYU after his mission for the 1997-2000 seasons, mainly as a blocking full back but did get some touches each year averaging about four yards per carry with one receiving touchdown.

Both quickly went into coaching after their collegiate careers. Sarkisian played in the Canadian Football League for two years before joining the El Camino College coaching staff as the quarterbacks coach in 2000. Sarkisian has coached many places and with some of the best coaches out there. The following year, Sarkisian joined his former coach, Norm Chow, at USC. Sarkisian worked as an offensive assistant in 2001 and then as a quarterbacks coach in 2002 and 2003. These were the glory days of USC football. Sarkisian helped Carson Palmer win the Heisman Trophy in 2002 and coached Matt Leinart to a sixth-place finish in the Heisman race the next year. Sark then decided to take his talents to the NFL when he joined the Oakland Raiders as their quarterbacks coach for the 2004 season. After just one season with the Raiders, Steve came back to USC in 2005 as Assistant Head Coach as well as continuing to be the quarterbacks coach.

In 2009, the Washington Huskies came calling. They had just gone winless in the previous season and were looking for a new head coach. Sarkisian took the job and in his first season with the Huskies upset his old team with a 16-13 victory over then-ranked #3 USC. Sark stayed with the Huskies and found some decent success with them until the 2013 season when USC fired Lane Kiffin. Sark served as the head coach of USC until 2015 when he was released after reportedly being involved in multiple alcohol-related incidents.

In 2016, Alabama hired Sarkisian as a football analyst. Again, following Lane Kiffin's departure, Sarkisian was promoted to Alabama's offensive coordinator for one game, the national championship game versus Clemson in which the Crimson Tide would end up losing.

After another short stint in the NFL as the Atlanta Falcons Offensive Coordinator, Steve returned to Alabama in 2019 as their OC. During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Sark coached Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa to successful college careers and both went on to the NFL and have both done well so far.

On January 2, 2021, Sark was named the 31st head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Signing a contract for six years at $34.2 million dollars. And as we all know now, is doing quite well as their HC leading them to a victory over Alabama earlier this season and a #7 ranking in the AP poll.

Kalani on the other hand hasn't had as adventurous of a path to BYU. After playing 4 years at BYU Kalani signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001 and unfortunately ended up having a back injury that ended his playing career. During that same season, Sitake started as an assistant coach and worked with the defensive backs and special teams for Eastern Arizona College. The following season he returned to BYU as a graduate assistant for the defense. He then held a few different coaching spots at SUU for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Sitake then began his stint with U of U in 2005 as the linebackers coach until 2008 when he was promoted to defensive coordinator. Kalani became the first native-born Tongan to be named as a defensive coordinator at an NCAA FBS school. For the 2014 season, Sitake joined Gary Andersen at Oregon State as his defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Beavers. Then, when Bronco Mendenhall left BYU to coach Virginia in 2015, BYU gave Kalani his "dream job" as head coach of the Cougars.

After 7 and a half seasons with BYU Kalani has impressed, to say the least. With two top 25 finishes, reaching as high as 8th in the AP polls. Kalani and the Cougars have posted a 61-36 record since Sitake took the helm, with only one losing season in 2017 when they went 4-9 and their best season being the 2020 season going 11-1 with their only loss being a heart breaker against also undefeated Coastal Carolina. That game was scheduled as both teams were trying to strengthen their records to shoot for an NY6 birth since COVID-19 had restricted the P5 conferences to only conference games that year.

Sitake said in an interview recently with Inside Texas that the two of them have kept in touch over the years and Sarkisian "was never too big to answer a phone call or even to reach out."

This is going to be a fun match-up and I am excited to see how our Cougars do!

Go Cougs!


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