by Daniel Olsen |
2020 has brought a lot of ups and downs but during the year the sports moments we have had brought fans to their feet. From January to March there were crowded stadiums. Then, there was a dark period of no sports from March until June. This left many sports fans to watch re-runs that were aired on several sports channels. The Last Dance became a closely followed documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls. From July until now, the sports slowly started to rise again in the Beehive State.
Real Salt Lake participated in the MLS Restart in July. The Jazz came back and played into the end of August in the Disney Resort bubble in Orlando. College sports returned in the fall after spring sports were cancelled. The MLB and NHL had shortened seasons and the NFL made it through several cancellations due to the spread of the pandemic in multiple locker rooms.
There were many talented coaches that helped their teams reach heights they had never imagined before but few matched the output that these coaches did. Let’s take a look at their resumes and allow you the fans to decide who you think most deserves this award.
Quin Snyder: All he does is Quin
Quin has had some years where he’s deserved to be in consideration for the NBA Coach of the year more than others. The 2017-2018 season comes to mind most recently. When they were 19-28, he helped them rebound to have one of the comebacks after the All-Star break in team history. This year he had plenty of adversity to navigate. His regular season wasn’t the most impressive given the expectations of this new talented team but there were a lot of new parts to figure out in year 1. The global pandemic also made this hard with a significant break between the majority of the season and the seeding games in the Orlando bubble.
I will say that Snyder almost put himself into the conversation for best coach in Utah. It’s hard to say because sometimes the recognition of a coach’s talent is based on whether his players make or miss shots. The Jazz had a 3-1 lead and were one Mike Conley three away from avoiding the comeback from the Nuggets. If that shot goes in, maybe the Jazz figure out a way to beat the Clippers in Round 2 and go to their first Western Conference Finals since 2007.
Snyder would need to be the best team in at least his division to be in the same conversation as the other coaches in the state in 2020. I would have him as maybe the second or third best coach of the year. Mike Malone seemed to be getting out coached in the series but found a way to help motivate his squad to come back. Snyder was definitely better than Saunders and had a better season than Terry Stotts. Billy Donovan might have done a little bit better job giving the expectations of a rebuilding OKC team but still also lost in the first round. My point is, Quin is good but maybe better-than-average. If he can continue to improve as a coach, maybe he will reach that upper-echelon at some point. He seems to be figuring things out as he tinkers with the Jazz roster.
Mark Pope: The Pope at BYU?
One first-year BYU head coach had a year and that was basketball coach Mark Pope. He inherited a team that had struggled mightily the year before in the final year of Coach Dave Rose. They were inconsistent and lost in the conference tournament to San Diego in the quarterfinals. Pope picked up some great players in the transfer portal. After the home win vs #2 Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Cougars had perhaps the best win of 2020 under Coach Pope. He brought the juice that a great young head coach often brings.
While BYU again had an early exit in the conference tournament (they did receive byes until the semifinals where they lost to Saint Mary’s) they certainly had a great season overall with only three conference losses. Splitting with three of the top teams in the conference boxed well for their tournament hopes. Their conference losses were all on the road and their only home loss was against San Diego State at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season. They recently beat a ranked San Diego State team in Viejas Arena so they are already off to a great start to the 2020-2021 season in the non-conference slate. With additions like graduate transfer Matt Haarms, Caleb Lohner (who he snagged from the rival Utes in the transfer portal) and players from his former job in UVU transfer Brandon Averette, Coach Pope is proving he can recruit as well as he can coach.
Craig Smith: Cut down nets…. again
The measure of a great Coach is how well they respond to adversity. USU basketball coach Craig Smith got a taste of that when his team lost consecutive games for the first time in his career at Utah State. They began the New Year with a loss to Air Force and followed that with disappointing performances to San Diego State and UNLV. He helped the Aggies get back on a winning track and they only lost three more games to end the season. It was a tighter conference race this season but that winning stretch in the second half of conference play helped secure the second seed in the conference tournament.
San Diego State wasn’t to be touched in the regular season. They were nearly unblemished with the exception of a close loss to UNLV at the end of the regular season. However, in March the regular season was over.
These Aggies were made for the conference tournament in March.
Things didn’t look too good a couple of times with the Aggies in close games and even trailing by double digits sometimes. However, with the leadership of Coach Smith and a little help from an all-time Aggie great in Sam Merrill, the Aggie captured back-to-back conference tournament titles.
Coach Smith is in strong consideration for this award because he overcame the most adversity this season. He waltzed his way to a championship his first year but overcame the “sophomore slump” of his coaching career at Utah State. The future looks bright and he very well could lead the Aggies to a third straight conference title if things line up right.
Kalani Sitake: Best season
Kalani Sitake is in consideration for this award largely due to his team’s 11-1 record to end the season. BYU hasn’t won that many games since they did so in the 2009 season. While their schedule got significantly easier after many Power 5 conferences elected to only play conference games, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe built a schedule on the fly that tested Sitake’s ability to prepare sometimes on short notice. Their only loss was to an unbeaten Coastal Carolina team that they had two days to prepare for.
BYU beat two teams that were ranked at the time in Navy and Boise State. It isn’t their fault that they absolutely manhandled most of their opponents. With the exception of a single-possession win to UTSA and the loss to Coastal Carolina, BYU won every other game by double digits. Coach Sitake has found his groove with Jeff Grimes leading the offense and Ilaisa Tuiaki leading a very underrated defense. BYU was one of the top teams in the nation on both ends. Jake “The Make” Oldroyd even shined on special teams as he made every field goal he attempted. While it is easy to have fun when you’re winning, nobody has more fun than the players and coaches on the sidelines at BYU this year. They weren’t afraid to play anyone, anytime and anywhere (and do some fun dance moves in the process).
Our pick: Coach Sitake
It is hard with these great choices. It comes down to personal opinion. Coach Pope won the best game in beating #2 Gonzaga. Coach Smith overcame the most adversity. Coach Sitake had the best season. Coach Snyder is the only coach on the pro level on this list which presents its own challenges. While I love what Coach Smith has done with his second conference tournament championship, I have to give a slight nod to the best BYU football team in over a decade. It’s not easy to win 11 games no matter what the schedule. Although they don’t play in a conference, BYU would have won a conference title in at least half the conferences in the FBS this year. I personally love a championship team in the Aggies but I cannot deny how great this BYU team has become. I feel other coaches have done more in their tenure than Sitake but this is the type of season that will remove doubt in the eyes of the BYU faithful. 2020 was the breakout year for Coach Sitake. While I was close to choosing another coach and even replacing him with Coach Whittingham (due to past head to head matchups) I cannot ignore what Sitake has done this season. Whittingham gets the honorable mention and Sitake is my pick for Coach of the Year!