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BYU graduate assistant Kyle Griffitts (in blue) sings the country song “Wagon Wheel” with teammates in the Maverik Stadium locker room after a 34-20 win at Utah State on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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Former Cougar fullback and tight end Kyle Griffitts, now a graduate assistant, poses for a photo in August 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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BYU’s Kyle Griffitts works on special teams during a game against UTSA at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of BYU)
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BYU’s Kyle Griffitts and Blake Freeland walk through the tunnel to LaVell Edwards Stadium before a football game against UTSA on Saturday, October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of BYU)
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BYU’s Kyle Griffitts (foreground) warms up with teammates before a college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of BYU)
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BYU’s Kyle Griffitts runs with the ball during a game against Troy at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of BYU)
When Kyle Griffitts accepted one of BYU’s graduate football assistant positions in the winter of 2021, he had a message for Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake: “I’m coming for your job in 10 years.”
Griffitts, a former extra from Florida who played for Sitake from 2016 to 2020, joked with his mentor.
Or was he?
“I want to be BYU’s head football coach one day,” Griffitts said. “I told Kalani and he said, ‘Hey, I want you to come and take my job in 10 years.’ Really, my end goal is to become a head football coach at a Division I school. But my dream would be the head coaching position at BYU.
Griffitts’ coaching journey begins very simply as one of the Cougars’ four graduate assistants, along with Gavin Fowler, Jordan Howard and Spencer Patterson. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a graduate assistant is around $23,000 per year. It’s an entry-level job with entry-level features. The NCAA allows a graduate assistant two years before having to go out into the world to find a full-time position.
Griffitts, who played fullback and tight end for BYU, is working with defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki and defensive end coach Preston Hadley in his first season as an GA.
Griffitts served a church mission in Argentina and made the Cougars roster as an extra in 2016. His plan was to earn a degree in psychology and attend marriage and family therapy. After two years, he decided he wasn’t cut out to be a therapist. BYU staff encouraged Griffitts to consider a coaching career and told him they would like to have him on board when his playing career is over.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound player played in 33 games in his four seasons at Provo, mostly on special teams, but earned a scholarship in 2020. He recorded one reception (for 29 yards against Troy the last year), a punt return and a kickoff return. He considered the opportunity to come back and play an extra year for the Cougars, but one of the graduate assistant positions opened up for 2021.
Griffitts said he didn’t know why the coaching staff wanted him to coach.
“I’m just a normal dude,” Griffitts said. “But I love talking to people and I’ve made relationships my #1 priority. I’m good with coaches and players and get on well with them. I am a team guy. I mean, there’s nothing special about me as a D-line graduate assistant, but I love people.
Griffitts also has special teams responsibilities with the punt and kickoff teams.
“Shoot, a lot of stuff,” Griffitts said. “I am responsible for many, many reports. We watch and tag the movie for staff, down and away, what hash mark the other team is on, formations, watch for trends, then cut the movie, just a million different things. We prepare and organize for other coaches.
Another of Griffitts’ responsibilities brings him to the coaches box on game day, where he passes on the opponent’s personal information and formations while Tuiaki makes the defensive calls.
Griffitts said that as a senior he had the opportunity to wear a helmet and help signal plays during a game. He assumed his current duties during the scrums at fall camp. But the first time he stepped into the coaching box in a real game — the season opener against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas — came as a shock.
“It was awful,” Griffitts said. “I was so happy to be in a stadium with fans again, but it was such a new experience. My elbows were shaking and I couldn’t focus with the binoculars. I was so nervous. I would forget what order I had to tell Coach E. I thought I would be fired after the game. But the coaches were so patient with me.
The speed of college football presents unique challenges for coaches in the box. Most teams don’t use all 40 seconds of play in favor of a faster pace to unbalance the opponent. Griffitts must provide the correct information to coaches up to 80 times in a single game and in just a few seconds.
“I have three note sheets on which I write information about each piece,” Griffitts said. “I’m so locked in and I have to be really efficient.”
With nine coaches and several graduate assistants on the helmets, things can get a little crazy during games.
“It can be chaotic,” admitted Griffitts. “Attack is on one channel and defense is on another and sometimes we all try to talk at the same time. Coach (Kevin) Clune, he’s really good at helping us focus and get to the next game. So everyone stop talking and move on.
Griffitts has a nervous habit of chewing his tongue. After the first game, he said his tongue was raw and sore. He made a habit of bringing gum (Five Gum or any polar ice cream flavor, to be precise) with him to the booth. He consumes an average of 15 to 20 chewing gums per match.
Tuiaki said Sitake and assistant head coach Ed Lamb were doing chain hops to watch both sides of the ball. Tuiaki sits with offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on one side and the excitable Griffitts on the other.
“Sometimes I pass messages from Kalani to ARod,” Tuiaki said on this week’s Coordinator’s Corner. “When good plays happen we smack each other or after a big completion I smack on his chest. It’s supposed to be quiet in the club but I’m sitting next to Kyle and he’s still punching me in the arm. There’s a lot going on, but it’s generally clean and smooth.
Griffitts obviously doesn’t hide his feelings in the cabin.
“I’m an emotional guy,” he said. “My team, my friends, the girls, they all say it. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If something good happens during the game, I get up. I have to encourage my boys. I want to go crazy. I always hit Coach E’s right arm when something good happens or jump on his back. He tells me we need to focus, but I always give him hugs and first shakes. He likes that.”
Following BYU’s 34-20 victory at Utah State, Griffitts helped carry on a tradition that began after the 2019 win at Logan – playing the country song “Wagon Wheel” in the locker room to honor the traveling trophy between the two schools.
Griffitts took the speakerphone and climbed onto a locker to sing along with his teammates.
“Coaches laugh at me for everything I know about country music,” he said. “If the boys need a playlist, I’m the guy. Joe Tukuafu, Uriah Leiataua, Alden Tofa, Lopini Katoa, Lorenzo Fauatea – we just went out there and did our thing. When the music s stopped, we knew the lyrics and continued to sing anyway.
Griffitts said he very much appreciated the opportunity to learn and grow as a coach.
“What I love the most is that football is just a huge game of chess,” he said. “Being in the cabin with Coach E, the way he reads the pitch, he just takes the information I give him and in a split second makes his call to put our guys in the best position to succeed.
“I’m really grateful for my work as a GA. There are so many people who want this job and I’m lucky to have it. Kalani is a great father figure and coach (Steve) Clark is one of the main reasons I stayed in football. All coaches are great mentors to me. I would follow them anywhere. These are the kind of men and this is the type of culture that I want to be around. I learned more about football this season than in my whole life.
BYU football players sing “Wagon Wheel” after beating Utah State.
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