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Vai Sikahema: BYU Coaching Questions

I couldn't agree with Vai more! If you're a BYU fan, you're going to want to read this insightful article which is a snapshot of what's going on from an experienced sportscaster, NFL player and BYU great, Vai Sikahema.

Vai writes a blog for the Deseret News and I try to read it as often as I can. He is a dear friend of my husband's and mine. We respect and admire him very much. This column, posted today on www.desnews.com is sure to stir some people up. But then again, the truth often hurts.

Vai Sikahema

| Feb. 4, 2011 at 8:45 a.m.

Earlier this week, BYU announced it had competed the retooling of its football coaching staff. Departing are Jaime Hill, Robert Anae and Patrick Higgins. Joining the staff are Kelly Poppinga, Joe DuPaix and Ben Cahoon. By all accounts, terrific hires. I endorse them all.

Now, if I may be so bold and perhaps, crass, to point out the elephant sitting in the room that in our euphoria, we've deftly maneuvered around on our way to the punch bowl to celebrate the new hires.

Even a casual observer would have noticed that two of the former coaches are African American and Polynesian and none of the new ones are.

Before I proceed, I should clarify one point: I do not believe in quotas and I do not believe affirmative action policies work.

I'm not demanding anything of BYU. I'm not asking for redress. Not filing suit or insisting heads must roll.

But as a journalist, I'm trained to poke, prod and ask hard questions of those who make decisions, policy and hires that affect our institutions.

We are also duty-bound to champion the weak and those without a voice.

This feels like such a case.

To everyone's relief, the aftermath of the team's house cleaning was mostly bloodless. Anae landed safely at Arizona and Higgins is at Purdue. Hill is still seeking work, but outside of anyone's view, so is Mark Atuaia.

Real BYU fans will recognize the name.

Atuaia and his younger brother Donnie, both played running back at BYU.

Mark Atuaia is one of BYU football's greatest unknown success stories, but oddly, he became collateral damage in the hiring process.

After five years of working, first as an administrative assistant to director of football operations Duane Busby, then later as a volunteer coach under Lance Reynolds, Bronco Mendenhall gave Atuaia a token interview, a handshake and then, the door.

I've been around football a long time. That happens everyday.

But Atuaia's situation is a little different in my mind. In fact, a lot different.

And because Mark Atuaia doesn't have a voice, I will advocate his case.

After a failed NFL tryout, Atuaia worked for a couple years as a cart boy at Thanksgiving Point. Defeated, he returned home to Hawaii with his wife and three kids wallowing in pity over his missed opportunities – in football and academically. He suffered the indignity of moving into his parents' already-crowded home in Laie while he worked at a local resort.

In that environment, Mark Atuaia had an epiphany. Despite squandering his football scholarship, he dedicated himself to getting his degree. He enrolled at BYU-Hawaii and found that he was more focused on learning because he was now paying his own tuition. It took time, but he graduated in political science. His curriculum required an internship, so he applied and won a position with Hawaii Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona.

Fortuitously, the dean of admissions for BYU's law school, Carl Hernandez, went to Laie seeking worthy candidates at BYU-H in hopes of diversifying the school's enrollment.

He saw Mark's improved transcripts, recommendations from his professors and Lt. Gov. Aiona and encouraged him to apply.

Amazingly, Mark declined. He simply wanted to remain in Hawaii, raise his family and possibly try his hand at politics. He was surprised at how much he liked working in government. He made friends easily and soon was hired by a state senator from the Big Island, for whom he worked as a legislative assistant. He learned to proofread the senator's sponsored bills and tracked them through the House and Senate. He loved the job but it didn't pay enough for his growing family so he worked a shift as a janitor in the Hawaii temple late at night.

Mark Atuaia soon found himself in the enviable position of being wooed and courted again, just as he was coming out of Kahuku High School. But this time, not for his football prowess, but for his potential as a lawyer. Hernandez hounded Mark for two years before he finally applied and was admitted to the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

Back in Provo, he wandered down to the football office between classes and found part-time work in Duane Busby's office. It didn't take long before he was volunteering as a coach, breaking down game film, helping running backs coach Lance Reynolds with drills and in the meeting room. Reynolds and Anae saw that Mark's law education offered their staff someone who could think critically, speak independently and provide wise analysis of the data they gathered on opposing defenses and schemes. He traveled with the team and was a major presence on the sidelines. The players and staff teased him mercilessly about how much TV time he got as he high-fived and chest-bumped players after touchdowns.

He was even a proven recruiter, if only within his own family. Next year's projected starter at safety, Jray Galea'i, is a fellow Kahuku alum and is Mark's nephew – his sister's kid.

Mark Atuaia will be successful in whatever he does; already is. In April, he will receive his doctorate of jurisprudence, making him the first Polynesian former BYU football player to graduate from the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

I'm left to wonder why, given his gilded resume, he was summarily dismissed. Mark Atuaia is a beacon to young Polynesians and represents everything the program professes to be: Tradition. Spirit. Honor.

I'm told former BYU President Merrill Bateman once challenged all of the departments to work on diversifying the university. Clearly, BYU Law is doing its part. So is the Marriott School of Management.

So, why not the football staff?

In my mind, this was a layup. A slam dunk.

It's a shame because of what it unintentionally communicates to our Polynesian community.

I like for my friends to tell me if I've got spinach in my teeth.

Initially, even with good friends, it's a little embarrassing, maybe even awkward. But at the end of the day, I'm glad they did.

Yo Bronco – dude, you gotta a little somethin' riggggght there.

You got it.


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Vai Sikahema: BYU Coaching Questions Vai Sikahema: BYU Coaching Questions Reviewed by Candace Salima on Friday, February 04, 2011 Rating: 5