SANDY — The “new normal” when it comes to the BYU-Utah football rivalry this summer is good friends, moderately good golf and a good cause.
But no fight songs.
For probably the first time in the 29-year history of the National Kidney Foundation Coaches Golf Tournament no one was forced to sing — or to attempt to sing — the other school’s fight song. Point of fact, BYU coach Kalani Sitake and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham played in the same group on Monday at Hidden Valley Country Club and Whittingham had to leave early because of a commitment with his football camps.
The irony is that Sitake knows both “Utah Man” and “Rise and Shout” as well as anyone since he was an assistant coach under Whittingham for 12 years up on the Hill before eventually landing back at BYU, the alma mater of both coaches.
“If there was a competition, I could be word for word and on point on both fight songs,” Sitake said. “Nobody else in the room could claim that.”
With Whittingham absent, Sitake and Utah Director of Football Operations Jeff Rudy chatted with Channel 4 sports director Wesley Ruff about the upcoming season at the awards ceremony. Sitake joked that the Cougars wouldn’t be very good and said, “We need a quarterback and we need a punter who can convert a fourth-and-19,” which got a good laugh from the Ute fans in the room.
“Kyle just called me a couple weeks ago and asked if we could play together. I agreed,” Sitake said. “We are always competing at stuff, whether it is for recruits or on the football field, athletically. We thought it would be good for us to join forces and play for the Kidney Foundation. I had a great time playing with him. I played with him a couple times earlier this summer.
“It is nice to compete together. We didn’t place in the top six or anything, but it was just nice to hang out and talk and for the most part we were able to talk about ideas. He is still a mentor to me, so it was really good for me to catch up with him, and I am glad he thought of doing it a different way to do it this year.”
Sitake said Whittingham is the better golfer and that the two men shared ideas and thoughts about their common experiences as head coaches.
“I am lucky,” Sitake said. “I lost a mentor in LaVell Edwards and I am lucky enough to have Kyle around and to have Gary Andersen and others who are still available to talk to, guys who have been in the head coach’s seat.”
Deen Vertterli, the CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho, teamed up with Edwards in 1989 to create the annual golf tournament, now called the Liberty Mutual Invitational. Gary Crowton, Bronco Mendenhall and Sitake followed Edwards’ lead from BYU and Jim Fassel, Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and Whittingham continued to play on the Utes side, creating one of the most successful fundraisers of its kind.
The rivalry has provided much of the momentum for the success of the golf tournament over the years and will continue to do so.
The competitive fire between the two schools is still there.
“I don’t think it is anything that is ever going to change,” Sitake said. “We are always going to be connected to Utah, myself and Coach (Ilaisa) Tuiaki. Right now it is kind of like an openness between the programs as far as our guys going to them, and them coming to us. Our recruiting paths cross here or there, but we have nothing but good to say about both programs. It is kind of nice to let recruiting be on the young men. We are obviously going to go for some of the same guys, but it is just good to have it go a decent way instead of having so much bitterness and things like that.”
BYU holds its annual media day on Friday. The Cougars report for fall camp on July 25 and open the season August 26 against Portland State.