Saturday, December 19, 2015

BYU gets their coach and other notes

As someone who loves big picture, abstract thinking this is one of my favorite times of the year in college football. Teams reshuffle their decks and try to hire staff to make the most of different programs with some teams making sensible choices and other programs operating under mistaken notions of what will work in their own context.

Here's a few recent moves that I'm very interested in seeing play out.

BYU hires Kalani Sitake 

I wrote about BYU and their near-hire of Navy's Ken Niumatalolo recently, a move that I thought might fit their program long-term but would really struggle to make the most of a roster built to win in the near-future with QB Tanner Mangum.

SB Nation's Steven Godfrey noted that this was a very important hire for BYU as a big realignment move that could put them in the Power 5 might be imminent, in which case they want their program to be as strong as possible. Their choice? Kalani Sitake.

Sitake is a long time member of the Gary Andersen/Kyle Whittingham coaching tree who got started on offense as a RB/TE coach and then OL coach at Southern Utah after playing football as a fullback at BYU. He switched to the defensive side, coaching LBs under Whittingham at Utah and eventually working his way up to becoming defensive coordinator.

He has a great reputation as a defensive coach with the only potential hesitation coming from the fact that in his first year as a DC away from Whittingham the Utes pushed on and were fine while Sitake and Andersen were unable to turn the Oregon State Beavers into a good defense in year one. However, it would have been a miracle if they had, so there probably isn't too much to worry about there.

As a native Tongan, Sitake is perfectly situated to help BYU take advantage of their MAJOR recruiting advantage as a program, which is to land Islanders.

As an adherent of the Whittingham school of defense, he knows how to coach a zone-blitz heavy team that can match the aggressiveness of Bronco Mendenhall's units and make the most of what's already on that roster.

Since he isn't married to the flexbone like Niumatalolo, but instead more of a power-coast approach, he should be able to make hires and oversee something on offense that makes the most of Tanner Mangum.

Here's the challenge for him at BYU: defensive backs. His cover 3-heavy approach to defense is all about owning the middle of the field with great tackling safeties and aggressive pressures while daring opponents to beat the corners on the outside. There's little doubt that he'll be able to field DL and LB that can do real damage with this approach.

The big question is where he's going to find a rangy deep safety or athletic corners who can match-up and stay alive on the outside? Twenty-four year old married white guys and 210 pound aggressive Islanders don't make for very good cornerbacks, generally. Mendenhall had to adjust his schemes to feature off-coverage on the outside and play much more bend don't break styles.

Sitake is either going to have to find a recruiting pipeline of good DBs or else adjust his system to get by. Fortunately for him and his Cougar program, they weren't exactly swimming in NFL corners at Utah either and managed to get by so you have to figure he knows what he's doing here.

The marriage of Justin Fuente to Bud Foster

The hire of Fuente at Virginia Tech while simultaneously holding on to Bud Foster was one of the most terrifying successes of this offseason hiring process. On the one hand the Hokies add a spread coach who's built explosive offenses built around future NFL QBs he found and developed at TCU and Memphis. Fuente's resume as a builder of QBs and offenses is exceptional, one of the best in the business.

His struggle is the need to be paired with a great defensive coach. At TCU, he was operating under Gary Patterson who's one of the best in the business. He started at Memphis with Barry Odom, now the HC at Missouri, but lost him and saw his defense drop. Now he gets to work with Bud Foster, who's been building top defenses at Virginia Tech for a very, very long time.

The ACC is really rolling now with FSU and Clemson really putting strong teams out there on an annual basis and adding Fuente to Virginia Tech should make for an interesting mix to that division. Under Frank Beamer the Hokies rarely had exciting or particularly fearsome offenses save for when Michael Vick was manning their option attack but Fuente should get that straightened out in time.

His first move was to recruit Texas JUCO star Jerod Evans, who has the size and athletic ability of Tyrone Swoopes (with a little more quickness and a little less size) only a much greater feel for the QB position. He was a touchdown machine this year in the JUCO ranks and has the big frame to excel in Fuente's favorite concepts.

Without being familiar with the rest of Virginia Tech's roster for 2016 I'd venture a guess that they may not have to wait too long before they see results in the wins column.

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