Is Kalani Sitake on the hot seat heading into BYU’s first season in the Big 12?

BYU Cougars football head coach Kalani Sitake talks to journalists after practice at Brigham Young University in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
BYU Cougars football head coach Kalani Sitake talks to journalists after practice at Brigham Young University in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

There aren’t a lot of high expectations for Kalani Sitake’s BYU football program as it heads into its first season in the Big 12 Conference.

Most national writers are projecting the 2023 season will be a rough transition for the Cougars into the Power Five realm, with BYU’s ceiling likely to be battling for bowl eligibility.

Last month, the Cougars were predicted to finish 11th in the Big 12’s preseason media poll.


One national writer, though, predicted something even more bleak: that Sitake could be fired by season’s end.

In previewing the Big 12, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel listed three conference coaches — among them Sitake, West Virginia’s Neal Brown and Houston’s Dana Holgorsen — in danger of getting a pink slip at some point this year.

“This one would be more controversial, given he fielded back-to-back ranked teams in 2020 and 2021, but BYU backslid to 8-5 last year and is now going to play a much tougher schedule,” Mandel wrote on why he predicted Sitake will be fired at the end of the year.

“Combine that with the pressure of hated rival Utah entering next year, and one losing season could cause folks to panic.”

In seven years as BYU’s coach, Sitake has a 56-34 record and one losing season in 2017, when the Cougars went 4-9.

BYU isn’t far removed from going 21-4 over a two-year stretch in 2020 and 2021, where the Cougars finished the year ranked in the top 20 in the final Associated Press rankings both seasons.

Last year, the Cougars went 8-5, though BYU failed to elevate to some high expectations entering the season, thanks to a four-game losing streak in October.

This year, BYU must replace quarterback Jaren Hall — former USC and Pittsburgh QB Kedon Slovis is one of several transfers expected to play a significant role for the Cougars this season — and reinvigorate its defense under a new coordinator in Jay Hill.

Mandel predicts a 4-8 season overall for BYU, including 2-7 in conference play.

He also has three other Big 12 teams with the same record, including West Virginia and fellow Big 12 newcomers Houston and Cincinnati.

What is Kalani Sitake’s contract status at BYU?

Following the 2021 regular season, the 47-year-old Sitake received a contract extension to keep him at the school through 2027, a move the school described as “unprecedented.”

“As both a former player and a BYU fan, it is an honor to be the head coach at this great university,” Sitake said at the time. “I am blessed to lead a football program full of tremendous young men, outstanding coaches and staff and the best fans in the world. We’re all excited about the opportunities ahead as we prepare to enter the Big 12.”

Putting this in context

Mandel did not have as many as three coaches from a conference being fired in his previews for the ACC, SEC and Big Ten, like he did with the Big 12.

Instead, Mandel is projecting that the Big 12, without a clear favorite, will fail to produce a College Football Playoff contender and lead to multiple head coach firings.

Sitake’s name did not show up on recent coach hot seat rankings from USA Today, Yahoo Sports and Yardbarker.

West Virginia’s Brown and Houston’s Holgorsen, meanwhile, showed up in some capacity on each list.

Yahoo Sports even predicts that former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian, now in his third season as Texas’ head coach, has a warm seat in Austin and this year “feels like a critical step before Texas heads into the SEC in 2024.”

Last month, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd evaluated the pressure level for every head coach at the FBS level. He rated Sitake as “safe and secure,” one of 42 coaches at that level.