When BYU hired Kalani Sitake to be its head football coach in 2016, he may not have known about the traditional support of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho.
But for four of the last five years (except 2020, of course), Sitake has enjoyed golfing in the charity golf tournament put on by the foundation and said after Monday’s event at Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy that he is grateful for the opportunity to help others by supporting the charitable efforts.
“Anytime that you can help others, that’s a big part of what this life is all about,” Sitake said. “The fact that I get to do it with friends makes it even better. Everyone is interested in how I played but it’s just nice to see familiar faces and good people, and have a lot of fun. I don’t think the goal was to see who had the best golf swing today, but I think the goal is trying to help people and have fun.”
One of the reasons that Sitake enjoys the annual 32-year-old event — which is fittingly named the Coaches Legacy Golf Invitational — is because he gets a chance to cross paths with his friend and mentor, Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham.
“Kyle and I will always stay close,” Sitake said. “That’s a relationship that lasts a lifetime. My connection to him extends to his family and not just his wife and kids but also to his siblings and to his mother. He’s a mentor of mine so he will always be a friend and that’s a relationship that I cherish. We have the ability to connect and talk often. I’m just really thankful that he’s there for me.”
Sitake’s perspective toward the rivalry between the Cougars and the Utes may not be the same as hard-liner fans on both sides, but he has always been very clear with how he feels.
“I’m always gonna try to support him (Whittingham) as much as I can in every game except the one,” Sitake said.
Whittingham expressed similar sentiments when talking about Sitake.
“We are very good friends,” Whittingham said. “That’s something that hasn’t changed. He’s my guy and we talk very often.”
It’s been a tough year for the entire world, with the COVID-19 pandemic, but Whittingham and the Utah football program also dealt with an additional tragedy when freshman running back Ty Jordan died of an accidental gunshot wound last year.
“The Ty Jordan situation was just horrific and he’s still at the forefront of our minds, Whittingham said. “We’ve got the scholarship in place for him and we’ll name a recipient of that scholarship during fall camp.”
He said he is looking forward to some normalcy over the coming months, including having recruits visiting on campus and getting ready for a traditional fall schedule.
During this time, he said the fraternity of coaches have relied heavily on each other as they’ve tried to figure things out.
“We circled the wagons and talked to your go-to guys,” Whittingham said. “We were asking how to handle things because it was all new territory. No one ever dealt with this before and so there was a lot of collaboration, a lot of conversation. It was good because a lot of those guys I talked to I hadn’t talked to for quite a while.”
No one appreciates the friendship, camaraderie and support like Deen Vetterli, the CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho. She started the foundation in 1987 and began the annual golf tournament with the help of then-BYU head coach LaVell Edwards and then-Utah head coach Jim Fassel in 1989.
“I think it’s really exciting because of what’s happened with this over such a long period of time,” Vetterli said. “It’s become a cultural legacy in the state of Utah. The fact that these coaches are so supportive of this cause and it’s such an important cause is really a unique situation. It just doesn’t happen with many great university coaches and particularly with rivalries.”
She said the kidney foundation estimates it will make around $60,000 for the event, money that goes to support kidney patients and kidney research.
The organization had to cancel the tournament in 2020 because of the pandemic and that made Vetterli even more grateful to be able to have the support of the coaches, the sponsors and the participants this summer.
“The money allows us to have more patient services, medical research and public education programs than you can imagine,” Vetterli said. “We have a very large variety of community services. One of the main thing that was difficult for us in the pandemic was that we had to stop so many patients services.
“After the difficulties we had last year and not being quite sure if or when it was going to end, to now be able to see the whole golf tournament come off the way it has, to be able to see the coaches happy with one another, it’s been amazing.”
While the coaches certainly draw attention because of their name recognition, the bottom line of the tournament is helping people in need.
“I wouldn’t pass it up unless I get something that prohibits me from being here,” Whittingham said. “It’s a fun tournament and for me a really good cause.”
For more information on the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho, got to http://www.KidneyUT.org.