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Kragthorpe: BYU’s Kalani Sitake is discovering some realities of a coaching job he loves

Kalani Sitake enjoyed a rather blissful first 20 months as BYU’s football coach.

By boldly authorizing a two-point conversion attempt that failed rather than kick a tying extra point against Utah last September, Sitake received almost as much credit from the Cougar fan base as he would have earned by actually winning the game.

His most spectacular failure, a fake-punt call on fourth and 19 from the BYU 5-yard line that lost yardage against Boise State, ultimately did his team no harm because the Broncos were penalized for celebrating and eventually missed a field goal. The episode merely became good material for Sitake’s offseason appearances.

In two recruiting cycles, Sitake has cited only the advantages of pitching BYU’s program. He loves his job, and his unofficial approval rating is high.

Yet the reality of his position is hitting home for Sitake lately, in multiple ways. The school’s Honor Code is making star linebacker Francis Bernard unavailable this season, according to his family. And the comments Sitake made this summer about not standing in the way of players (such as Bernard) who may want to transfer are being closely scrutinized.

All of that stuff comes with the job, as Bronco Mendenhall learned long ago and Sitake is discovering now.

As he observed Monday during his weekly news conference, “Once you make a statement, then people kind of throw that back at you all the time.”

Yeah, we do. That’s our job. Coaches are accountable for what they say.

In June, when the Cougars held their annual Football Media Day, Sitake was asked about BYU’s influx of players who once signed with other schools and were joining his program as returning missionaries, in many cases. He said he would never turn down a great athlete who fit the program, but he didn’t stop there in his response. Everything he went on to say has become a subject of this week’s debate about Sitake’s stance toward transfers.

“I mean, if a player comes home from his mission and doesn’t want to come to BYU, I will release him,” Sitake said. “If people want to transfer, we will release them. The [last] thing I want is a player that doesn’t want to be there. So why would any other coach want that? To me, I think it is pretty easy. If a kid doesn’t want to be a part of your program, then let him go somewhere so he can have a great experience and do well, and then you can bring in someone else who wants to be a part of your team.”

Sitake clarified Monday that his remarks applied only to returning missionaries who wanted to play elsewhere. That’s plausible. Yet he has to understand how someone could interpret his remarks as covering any of his players who chose to transfer.

If you study the second half of that statement, it sure sounds like complete freedom to transfer at any time. Sitake says that’s not what he meant, and I believe he believes that. He also has to realize it will create a bad look if BYU’s administration blocks Bernard’s potential transfer, even if it’s to Utah.

Even if he just redshirted and played for BYU in 2018 and ’19, Bernard’s absence would hurt Sitake’s program this season. That’s the reality of the working on a campus with BYU’s Honor Code. Bernard’s offense apparently was minor compared to the 2015 case of running back Jamaal Williams. Mendenhall said Williams “withdrew” from the school for one semester for personal reasons; in an extensive Bleacher Report story in April, Williams said he was “kicked out” for having sex, forbidden by the Honor Code.

Williams returned and rushed for 1,375 yards as a senior in 2016, but his absence had altered what turned out to be Mendenhall’s last season as BYU’s coach.

After 11 years, Mendenhall accepted Virginia’s offer for about three times as much money, taking the job at a school where winning football games is roughly 10 times tougher than at BYU. Compared with Mendenhall’s challenge in Charlottesville, Sitake has some built-in recruiting advantages and a winning tradition.

He also has some inherent challenges that come with the Honor Code and a job description that invites scrutiny. Both of those elements have come into play lately. Sitake needs to recognize they’re part of the game in Provo, if he didn’t know that already.


Chris Stewart says he’ll seek Senate seat if Orrin Hatch doesn’t run for re-election

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart “absolutely” hopes his colleague and mentor Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, runs for re-election in 2018.

But if he doesn’t, Stewart said he plans to launch a bid for Hatch’s seat.

“If he chooses not to run — and he’s indicated that he probably will — but if he were to change his mind and not run, then I believe that we would,” Stewart told The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board Wednesday morning.

“The senator ... hasn‘t made a final decision about a campaign that’s more than a year away.” <br>Matt Whitlock, Hatch spokesman

When first asked if he was eyeing a possible campaign for the Senate, the conservative lawmaker hesitated.

“How should I answer that?” Stewart asked his chief of staff with a grin.

“I don’t know,” Brian Steed responded, laughing a little.

“Honestly, openly, truthfully and on the record,” prodded Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce.

Before declaring that he would, in fact, seek the Senate seat if the seven-term incumbent stepped aside — his strongest statement yet — Stewart extolled his “dear friend” Hatch and vowed to campaign for him.

“If he ran again, I would absolutely support him,” he said, later adding: “Utah will lose certain stature without Sen. Hatch. His position and the respect that he carries has been beneficial to our state.”

Hatch, 83, said in April that he intends to run for an eighth term in office — though he added that a formal decision wouldn’t come until later this year and would depend on certain circumstances, including if his or his wife’s health deteriorated.

“Right now, yes, I’m going to run,” Hatch told KUTV, though he clarified that he may take that back if “my wife gets sick, or I get sick, or something like that.”

In March, the senator had indicated that he might be willing to step down if Mitt Romney decided to run. Hatch described the former presidential candidate as the “perfect” successor, though Romney hasn’t commented on the mention.

The senator, first elected in 1976, said during his 2012 bid that he wouldn’t run again, but he has since reconsidered. Hatch’s spokesman, Matt Whitlock, said Wednesday that the senator has ”great respect for Congressman Stewart and his dedicated representation in Utah’s 2nd District,” though he’s still weighing another bid for office.

“The senator is focused on a busy legislative agenda and hasn’t made a final decision about a campaign that’s more than a year away,” Whitlock added. 

A large majority of Utahns, however, do not want him to seek another term in office. Nearly eight in 10 surveyed registered voters said Hatch should not run for re-election, according to a Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted in July.

Stewart, who took office in 2012, joins a growing list of possible contenders, prominently including Derek Miller, president of the World Trade Center Utah. Many more Republicans are sure to jump in if Hatch steps aside, including, some speculate, Josh Romney, son of Mitt Romney. Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, has announced that she will run.

The Tribune will update this story throughout the day.

Judge: Lyle Jeffs jury will be told there is no rule against food donations, if you are allowed to buy the food

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled on the most contentious issue in the upcoming food-stamp fraud trial of former polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs — what the law says. 

Judge Ted Stewart, in a written ruling, said the jury will be told that only people authorized to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may use those benefits to purchase food. 

However, there is no prohibition on donating that food once it’s purchased, Stewart ruled, and he will not tell the jury otherwise. 

The ruling appears to most benefit Jeffs, a former bishop in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He is charged with counts of conspiracy to defraud the SNAP program and conspiracy to launder money. Prosecutors contend Jeffs pressured or ordered FLDS members to turn over the food they purchased with SNAP debit cards to the church or to swipe the cards at two church-controlled businesses so the benefits could be converted to cash. 

Jeffs attorneys have characterized the benefit and food transfers as consecrations and compared them to someone from a more mainstream faith taking a covered dish to a church potluck. Stewart seemed to agree with that argument. 

... under the government’s interpretation, a SNAP recipient could face criminal prosecution if they donated cookies to a school bake sale that were made from food obtained through the use of SNAP benefits ... ” Stewart wrote. 

This story will be updated. 



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