Cal Coaches Tour 5.19.08

The California Golden Blogs West Coast Office got together with 450 other Cal fans to hear Sandy, Mike, and Jeff speak on Monday night.  TwistNHook provided the pink plastic sunglasses, Ragnarok and HydroTech provided the ladies, and I provided the...pen.  Exactly one of us remembered to bring a writing utensil.  Yes, we've got a pretty good handle on this blogging thing, thank you very much.

If you live in the east bay and weren't able to make it, you missed out.  Two hours of candid talk from our three highest profile Athletic Department employees and barbecue buffet, all for FREE?  Are you kidding me??  Twenty-five bucks for chicken skewers doesn't seem like such a great deal any more.  What did you guys think?

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TwistNHook:  I was stunned by how hilarious Monty was.  He must have had Bill Simmons writing for him.  Or, at the very least, somebody funny!  The best part was when he expressed incredulousness over how tight those bags of airline peanuts are.  Who are they trying to keep out of those things, he rhetorically asked to nobody in particular.  He later implored us to remember our wait staff when making tips.

Ragnarok:  Yeah, at least in this setting, Mike Montgomery is a hard guy not to like.  He was both funny and candid, and even a little self-deprecating (when asked to pick his favorite number between 151 and 300 for a prize drawing, he distracted everyone with a joke and then came back with 140.  When told that his number was, in fact, not between 151 and 300, he responded, "Hey, I didn't go to Stanford.  I just worked there.").

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He also demonstrated the sort of qualities you absolutely love in a coach, the sort of guy who gets and supports the notion of student-athletes.  You know he's a winner, but you just can't see him taking on an O.J. Mayo sort of player.  For instance, when asked about recruiting, he said that he was recruiting players for 3 years.  If, after 2 years, the guy is a certain lottery pick, then perhaps he should chase the NBA.  If after 3 years, the guy looks like guaranteed to get in the first round, he should go.  He wants players that want to go to school and are willing to give it at least 3 years, but he understands and supports players that have a real opportunity to make their NBA dreams happen.  Indeed, he acknowledged the fact that players who stay 4 years are often perceived as 'not good enough' because they didn't leave early, and he knows this factors into a kid's decision.  Still, he wants to field an experienced team, and he cited WSU's recent success as an example of "players who were not better, but they played better together".

Overall, you got a sense that the basketball program will continue Ben Braun's pattern of 'winning the right way', only with a bit more winning sprinkled in.

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TwistNHook:  Yeah, my favorite part was the preview video for Monty.  It spliced Cal b-ball with Monty's coaching record.  So, you'd see Devon dunking the ball with the caption "25 winning seasons in 26 years" and "10 straight tournament appearances."  That's funny, because I don't remember Cal makes 10 straight tournament appearances.  Ben Braun must be rolling over in his grave!

CBKWit: I really liked how brutally honest he is.  Braun was roundabout and talked in clichés; Monty, on the other hand, never minced words and said that the one & done rule is "just awful," when asked about it.  It was refreshing to hear a coach tell you, honestly, what he felt.

HydroTech:  I'm not much of a basketball guy, but after seeing the charisma and energy of Montgomery, I can't help but feel excited for Cal Basketball next year.  If I wasn't in grad. school and only had a job, I'd even buy season tickets.

Ragnarok:  Yeah, the enthusiasm at an event like this is really inspiring.  It sure gets the blue and gold blood pumping, something that's pretty rare in May.


Let's be honest about the goal of this event: wrapped around the program status updates and Q + A session (both interesting), this was basically an extended sales pitch for Cal Athletics, with the goal of nearly doubling the number of Bear Backers to 15K by 2010.  And it was a darn good pitch.  Getting Tedford, Monty and Sandy up on the same stage, you really get a sense of how lucky Cal is to have all of these people on staff, as well as the numerous other highly successful coaches and staff at Cal.  When you add it up, it's quite impressive how successful our athletic programs have been.  So far this year:

- 20 of 27 programs finished in the top 25 in the country
- 22 of 27 programs played in the postseason (guess the two!)
- Cal is currently ranked 5th in the Director's Cup (we've been ranked in the top 10 4 of the last 5 years), and based on the results from the Spring sports, Sandy tells us that the final ranking will be higher than that.

Between Teddy, Monty, and Sandy, their comments also all reflected a desire to run ethical programs full of student-athletes that win *the right way*.  Sandy put it like this:  she wants an athletic department that can match the lofty academic reputation of Cal, a place she called "the greatest university in the universe".   Oooo, them's fightin' words, Mars University!

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HydroTech:  I agree this was a big sales pitch for Cal Athletics to double the number of Bear Backers.  The pitch worked on me.  I'll admit, I'm a whole 17 months removed from Cal undergrad yet I wasn't a Bear Backer.  Part of the reason was that (1) I'm poor; and (2) because I've served Cal in other ways without much compensation so I figured I was good for a while.  But then, after hearing everything said by Sandy Barbour - that there were 400,000+ living Cal alumni and we only had 8,000 Bear Backers, I figured part of that low percentage was because of people with a mentality like mine.  So I thought I'd give in and donate what money I didn't have.  So now I'm further in debt.  But it's okay.  Cal now has another Bear Backer, more money, and I have 8 other credit cards to max out.  God bless plastic and evading debt collectors.

TwistNHook:  I thought the most interesting aspect was how aware Tedford was of the QB controversy.  Firstly, Monty has that great joke when he first gets up there:  "Look, let's just cut to the chase here, who is gonna be the QB next near??"  That was hilarious.

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But then before the Q+A session even started, Coach Tedford made a point of addressing the crowd regarding the controversy.  He *knew* that'd be one of the first questions and wanted to cut it off at the pass.  He spoke eloquently about how hard Nate worked to succeed last year.  He spoke about the problem of having two great QBs on the team.  He spoke of the need to support any and all Cal QBs.  The controversy last year was so incredibly bitter, it's unfortunate.  He spoke of moving forward as a fan-base from it.

Also, it was interesting how he said Alex Mack was his biggest recruit this year.  It's true, Mack had a lot of money sitting on the NFL table for him.  To turn that down to return to Cal shows an impressive level of maturity and previous financial planning.  Hope it works out well for him!

Yellow Fever:  Jesus, I can't believe I missed out on free barbeque.

TwistNHook:  Yeah, but the lines to get the food were long.  The place was packed.

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Hell, even Father Time showed up.
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Ragnarok:  Tedford also mentioned, regarding the QB controversy, that it wasn't anywhere near settled.  Though he admitted (once again) that he doesn't like a 2-QB system, he seemed to think that there was a good possibility that both Nate and Kevin would play against Michigan State.

Perhaps we're going to get a situation like 2003, where both Aaron Rodgers and Reggie Robertson played until one of them (Rodgers) seized the starting job.  In any case, I think Tedford feels good about having two quarterbacks he feels confident in.  We can only hope that if one gets injured, he won't hesitate to put the other one in.

TwistNHook:  What is interesting to me is how relaxed Tedford seems at these things.

When you see him in interviews or on the sidelines, he always seems 100%
business.  So serious.

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But in the few opportunities I've had to speak to him personally, he always seems so relaxed.  Last time at the Cal FanFest he laughed when I told him how I spent the Holmoe years continuously in the fetal position.

This time I managed to get him to mock me to my face.  Truly a crowning achievement.  After the event, CBKWit and I went up to snap a photo with him.  The people in front of us seemed all rich and powerful with their suits and male pattern baldness.  Being young and poor and be-haired, I had the following exchange with Tedford (CBKWit's portion of the transcript has been redacted due to irrelevancy):

TwistNHook:  "Sorry, coach, we haven't met you before because we aren't rich and powerful."

Tedford:  "Why aren't you guys rich and powerful."

TwistNHook:  "We're just out of college."

Tedford:  "Oh.  What are you guys up to?"

TwistNHook:  "I'm an attorney.  (AND THIS IS WHERE IT GETS MODERATELY INSANE!)  I just tried to evict two people this morning."

Tedford:  "Were they tree-sitters??"

TwistNHook:  "No, one was a grandmother.....and the other was also a grandmother."  (True story!.....kind of)

Tedford:  "Wow!  What a guy"  (BUT SARCASTICALLY!!! HE WAS BEING  SARCASTIC!)

TwistNHook:  "Yeah, I'm kind of an asshole."  /slinks away

OMSOMSOMSOMSOMSOMSOMSOMSOMSOMSOMS TEDFORD MOCKED ME!!!!  THAT WAS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I don't
know why I started rambling about my work.  I looked Tedford in the eyes, I felt starstruck.  This is what it must be to stand next to the Pope!

Yellow Fever:  From the sounds of that, I think you'd just spontaneously combust if you got to meet Marshawn.  Then again, so would I.  And who wouldn't?  Maybe that's why no one lives in Buffalo.
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CBKWit:  I was also struck by how relaxed he was, rather how relaxed all of them were, especially considering the circumstances.  People have more doubts about Tedford's coaching abilities and our program than at any point during his tenure.  Montgomery is faced with the serious possibility of losing his best player (Ryan Anderson, to the draft) before he gets to coach a game.  Sandy has a verdict coming up on project (The Stadium Athlete High Performance Center/Stadium renovation, of course) that, for better or worse, will define her legacy at Cal.

I spoke with Sandy after the event, and while it wouldn't be prudent (oh, for the days of the 1st George Bush) to disclose exactly what she said, let's just say that she is very confident about the outcome of the stadium lawsuit.  And while losing Ryan Anderson would hurt (Montgomery mentioned that one of the reasons he took the Cal job was that he wanted a chance to coach our players, particularly Ryan Anderson), Montgomery hit the nail on the head when he said "you can tell we haven't lost any games yet".  There's a lot of excitement surrounding the revitalized basketball program without any disappointment, (yet).  As for Tedford?  Well, I saw him speak in February and he looks far more relaxed now. He has spoken glowingly, as he did last night, about last years recruiting class (headlined by Best, most redshirted last fall), repeatedly calling them the "best" class he's had at Cal.  Maybe he knows just how good they are, and he's more confident in our team's chances this year than most "experts" are predicting.

Ragnarok:  I got that sense too.  Tedford didn't sound like a guy trying to put on a good face for the donors (as Braun often did), or someone who's trying to temper expectations because he knows that the path ahead might be rough (as he did during his first couple years).  He sounded genuinely confident.  He's not predicting a BCS berth this year or anything, but I think we're going to see a more consistent, cohesive team on the field this year.

BTW, speaking of Best, Tedford did have good news on that front, saying that Jahvid was recently put through simulated two-a-day practices, and came through with flying colors.  He's definitely not going to have to have surgery.

TwistNHook:  He also said that the Longshore-Riley 1-2 punch is the best QB combo in the conference and that they both played well this spring.  Not the way many fans would put it, but also probably true.

CBKWit: I love talking Tedford too, but I want to get back to Monty, who in my opinion was the star of the evening.  When he was asked about the OJ Mayo scandal, he quickly remarked that OJ was just "allegedly" paid before pausing, looking to Sandy, and adding "She reminded me that there's press here tonight."  He continued: "recruiting is a lot easier in the pros - you just pay them more.  Well, in the pros and the South Eastern Conference."

He later let on a bit about his coaching style during games.  Basketball commentators, he said, like to point out little strategy items that coaches should implement during timeouts, like putting in shooters to bust a zone, or reminding players to guard opposing stars.  "It's like, duh.  We know these things, and the kids know these things.  We're not teaching them these things late in the year.  We start teaching them during the pre-season, and we really want to teach them to think, so they can react properly during games."  Funny and smart.  Mike Montgomery is dreamy :)

Ragnarok: Another interesting point that Montgomery brought up was when he was asked about our newest recruit, Jorge Gutierrez, whom Montgomery called "maybe the best player in the country that was still unsigned.".  He and his staff are hoping that Jorge will be able be able to push Jerome Randle for playing time at the point guard spot.  That's not a knock on Randle, but an acknowledgement that Cal badly needed some depth at guard, especially after the release of Garrett Sim (whom Monty didn't refer to by name) from his letter of intent.  While Montgomery certainly didn't want to see Sim go, and he knows that Garrett was just using the pretext of a coaching change to play for Oregon, where he's from, Montgomery certainly didn't want any player who didn't want to be at Cal, and so allowed him to go.

Gutierrez, by contrast, apparently showed a great deal of emotion when Cal officially offered him a scholarship, and Montgomery sees him as a real tough kid who really wants to be here, and who will play his heart out for Cal; in Monty's words, "the sort of player you can go to war with."

CBKWit: If you're interested in hearing all of this information in person, without our garbled interpretations and random tangents, you're in luck.  There's a stop in San Jose tonight, a stop in Sacramento on Thursday, and three events in SoCal the week after next.  You can find more details here.  Free food and Cal coaches: take it from all of us, it's worth it.  Go Bears!
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