Cal's Greatest Football Coaches: #7 Garrett Cochran

Note: This is the second in a series by OhioBear and CalBear81 about the eight greatest football coaches in Cal history.  Click here for the first installment: #8 Mike White

Garrett Cochran was only 22 years old when he was hired as the head coach of the University of California football team in 1898, and he only coached at Cal for two seasons.  Despite his brief tenure, this young man earned his place on the list of Cal's all-time greatest coaches by taking a team which had gone 0-3-2 in 1897, and which had not won a Big Game in seven attempts, and turning it into a nationally recognized power. Under Cochran, the Bears compiled a 15-1-3 record, and outscored their opponents 363-7.  Even better, Cochran brought the Bears their first two victories over Stanford, by a combined score of 52-0.  And California became the first western team to gain the respect of the eastern football elite, then still dominated by the "Big Three" of Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. Garrett Cochran was the Bears first great coach.


Garrett Cochran in 1896: All America end and captain of Princeton's national champion football team

Garrett Cochran was born in Driftwood, Pennsylvania on August 26, 1876.  He came from a wealthy and influential family, his father being a prominent financier and state senator.  When Garry was nine, the Cochran family moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania  (which would become the birthplace of Little League baseball in 1939). In 1894, Garry entered Princeton University, where he joined the football and baseball teams.  An outstanding athlete, Cochran made the varsity football team as a freshman, and immediately became a starting end (on both offense and defense, as was the rule of that era). Cochran was also a born leader, and in 1896 he became the first junior to be elected Captain of the Princeton football team and the first junior to captain the baseball team.

Under the inspiring leadership of Garrett Cochran, the 1896 Princeton Tigers defeated arch-rival Yale 24-6, and finished the season undefeated, 10-0-1.  The 1896 Tigers, nicknamed "Cochran's Steamrollers," were proclaimed national champions by five of the seven organizations which named national champions at the time.  That team is generally regarded as the greatest of the twenty national championship teams fielded by Princeton in the nineteenth century.


"Cochran's Steamrollers" - the 1896 Princeton Tigers National Championship team.  Team Captain Garrett Cochran is at the far right.

During the four years Cochran played on Princeton's varsity squad, the team was 38-4-4.  As a senior in 1897, Cochran was named a first team All American. The New York Times proclaimed: "No name is better known in American football than that of Garry Cochran."

While Cochran and Princeton were reveling in their success, things were not going nearly so well at the University of California.  The 1897 Golden Bears had a miserable 0-3-2 season under first year coach, and botany professor, Charles Nott.  The season had culminated in a humiliating 28-0 loss to Stanford. In fact, Cal had yet to win a Big Game, compiling a 0-4-3 record through the first seven years of the rivalry.  The 1897 loss was the worst yet.

Tired of football futility, University President Martin Kellogg asked California football and track star, Everett J. Brown, to head back east to find a coach who could turn the program around.  Brown, who would later become a judge and a member of the U.C. Regents, knew the man he wanted: the biggest name in football, Garrett Cochran.

Cochran had not even yet graduated from Princeton when Everett Brown arrived on his doorstep with a proposal to hire him as California's football and baseball head coach.  Cochran was a bit reluctant at first.  California was a distant and unknown location for the 22-year-old, and his family did not want him to leave the east.  The prominent family was also dubious about their son taking a job in the not-terribly-respectable profession of sports coaching.  But Brown was persuasive.  He offered Cochran a salary of $1,500 a year, a substantial sum at the time. Cochran decided that spending a couple of years in the "wild west" would be a great adventure, and signed the contract offered by Brown.

Garry Cochran's arrival on the Berkeley campus in the summer of 1898 brought an immediate wave of enthusiasm to Cal athletes and fans.  His reputation as a great player on a championship football team, and as an inspirational leader, was already well-known among followers of the sport. When Cochran sent out a call for prospective players, an unprecedented ninety students showed up to try out for the team.  The large number of prospects, and Cochran's unparalleled reputation as a football great, allowed him to establish a far more disciplined system than his predecessor, Coach Nott.  Each player was required to compete for his position, and Cochran felt free to move players to different positions if he believed they would be more successful there.  Cochran also brought with him training techniques and plays which had become standard in the Ivy League, but had not yet found their way out west.  And in a foreshadowing of the modern era, Coach Cochran decided that new uniforms would inspire the team.


Coach Cochran and the 1898 Golden Bears pose on the steps of the SAHPC of their day -- the team's headquarters, nicknamed "The White House."

The "Cochran Revolution" was an instant success. Cochran had managed to find several outstanding athletes from among the California student body, including halfbacks Percy Hall and Warren "Locomotive" Smith, fullback "Kangaroo" Pete Kaarsberg, and tackle Charles "Lol" Pringle. Rumors spread around the Bay Area that the 1898 Bears were going to be a force to be reckoned with.  This would prove true in the Bears' first game against the Olympic Club, played on October 1, a game the Bears won convincingly, 17-0.  Next the Bears were challenged by the Washington army volunteer regiment.  They provided a sterner test, but the Bears managed to score two safeties for a 4-0 win. The Cal players were disgusted by their own performance in this game, and immediately challenged the army men to a rematch.  This time the Bears buried the army 44-0.  There were two rematches against the Olympic Club, one an 18-0 Cal win, and the other a 5-5 tie.  Cal beat a Kansas army volunteer team 33-0, but were held to a 0-0 tie by an army team from Iowa.  In a tune-up for the Big Game, the Bears played St. Mary's College.  "Kangaroo" Kaarsberg put on a show, scoring two touchdowns and kicking two field goals, as the Bears crushed their Bay Area rival 51-0.

Thus, Cochran's Bears were 6-0-2 as the Big Game approached, having outscored their opponents 172-5.  After having failed to beat Stanford in seven straight games, California fans were clamoring for a win against the 5-2-1 Stanford team. There was wild enthusiasm for the Cal team in Berkeley and San Francisco, and more than 20,000 fans showed up for the game at Recreation Park in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day.


The 1898 California Golden Bears. (Top row): "Kangaroo" Pete Kaarsberg, assistant coach Addison Kelly, head coach Garrett Cochran; Volney Craig, (Middle Row): James Whipple, Bart Thane; Charles "Lol" Pringle, Percy Hall, Fred Greisberg, Harry Cornish, Fred Athern (Bottom row): Lloyd "Wrec" Womble, Warren "Locomotive" Smith

Coach Cochran sent his team onto the field with this inspirational speech:

Boys, this is the opportunity of your lives.  A grander opportunity to immortalize your names, stamp them indelibly upon the pages of the history of your university, has never been given to you. For eight long years have those lobster backs made you bite the dust.  It is your turn now.  Make them bite and bite hard. Play, every one of you until you drop in your tracks; and when you can't play any longer, we'll put another man in your place. If you are repulsed once, come at them again harder.  Just think what it means! Here are twenty thousand people to watch you! Some of you have mothers and fathers and sisters here today.  Yes, boys, some of you have sweethearts here, who are wishing and praying that you may win. Play, fellows, play for their sakes.  Let your motto be, "Hit 'em again, harder, harder."

The inspired Bears roared onto the field and proceeded to give Stanford a long-overdue drubbing.  California out-gained Stanford 882 yards to 475 yards (the yardage totals included kickoff and punt returns). Percy Hall and Lol Pringle scored two touchdowns each, with Kangaroo Kaarsberg kicking the conversions.  Final score: California 22, Stanford 0. (For a detailed look at the 1898 Big Game, click here.)

During Christmas vacation, the team traveled to Portland for one final game against the Multnomah Athletic Club.  The Bears' 27-0 win gave them a record of 8-0-2 on the season.  They had outscored their opponents by a total of 221-5.  In a single season, Garrett Cochran had turned the winless 1897 team into the undefeated 1898 team.

Cochran also had a particularly notable success with the other California team he coached, baseball.  In a game played on April 15, 1899, the Bears fell behind the heavily favored Stanford team, 6-0 in the sixth inning. But once again, Cochran's never-say-die spirit prevailed.  Led by pitcher, and football star, "Kangaroo" Pete Kaarsberg, Cal began to scratch its way back into the game. By the end of the eighth, Stanford's lead had been cut to 7-5. In the ninth, Kaarsberg came to bat with the bases loaded and promptly hit a triple to put the Bears ahead.  Kaarsberg himself scored on a single and in the bottom of the ninth he shut down the Stanford hitters 1-2-3. Final score: California 9, Stanford 7. But of far more significance, the Bears fans, including Everett Brown, who had recruited Cochran as Cal's coach, managed to make off with a certain Axe which the Stanford fans had been using to taunt the Cal fans throughout the game.  After a wild chase, that Axe made its way to its rightful home in Berkeley, where it became the most venerated symbol of Cal sports.


Lol Pringle, Golden Bear football star and "Guardian of the Axe," leads Cal students in the first Axe Parade on April 17, 1899.

Coach Cochran spent the summer of 1899 visiting his family in Pennsylvania.  When he returned to Berkeley in September, he was greeted with euphoria.  According to The Daily Californian:

Enthusiasm was at its height this morning at the Sixteenth street station where 300 students awaited the arrival of Coach Garrett Cochran.  "Here's to you, Garry Cochran" and the college yells rang in the air and college spirit was manifested as never before.... At twelve o'clock the "Owl" steamed into the depot and all pent up feeling broke loose.  At the sight of Cochran all let forth a shout and rushed to grasp the hand of the idealized coach.

Cochran's Bears picked up the 1899 football season where they had left off at the end of 1898. Once again, the Bears played the Olympic Club three times, resulting in wins of 6-0 and 15-0, and a 0-0 tie. California also added three new college teams to their schedule, and scored impressive wins over all of them: Nevada 24-0, Oregon 12-0, and San Jose Normal (now San Jose State) 44-0.  The main event, however, was the Big Game. This year, there was the extra incentive of a statue called "Football Players" which the Mayor of San Francisco had pledged to give to the school that won two of the three Big Games between 1898 and 1900.  Since the Bears had already won in 1898, a win in the 1899 Big Game would earn the statue for California.

Cochran's Bears simply decimated Stanford.  Locomotive Smith scored three touchdowns, a Big Game record.  And Percy Hall scored at the end of a 108-yard touchdown drive, the longest in Cal history (the field being 110 yards long at that time). Stanford, on the other hand, never came close to scoring. Final score: California 30, Stanford 0.  It was the biggest blow-out in Big Game history to that time, and 112 years later, it remains the eighth biggest blow-out by either team.

As a result of the win, the Bears secured the "Football Players" statue, which remains a landmark on the Berkeley campus.  Carved in its base are the words: "The Prize for Superiority in Football Won by the University of California 1898 and 1899."


The "Football Players" statue on the Berkeley campus, as it appears today. The statue was the first permanent work of art on the Berkeley campus, and is considered to be the first internationally significant work by a California sculptor. The statue was exhibited in Paris before arriving in Berkeley. More recently, it has been adopted as a symbol by the Bay Area LGBT community.

And on the back of the statue's base, there are engraved the names of all the players on the 1898 and 1899 Cal team, plus the name of their extraordinary coach, Garrett Cochran.


Garrett Cochran's name was added at the bottom of the list of players' names inscribed on the base of the "Football Players" statue after his death in World War I

But the Big Game victory did not end the 1899 season. Based on the prestige of his own reputation, and California's successful season, Garrett Cochran was able to negotiate with Glenn "Pop" Warner, coach of the famous Carlisle Indian School (where Jim Thorpe would later play), to come from Pennsylvania to San Francisco to play the Bears. The Carlisle Indians were regarded as the best team on the east coast.  The Cal-Carlisle game was the first-ever to be played between an east coast and a west coast school.  The game was closely followed by the national press, which called the game "the East-West Championship."  It was expected that the upstart west coast Bears would be blown out by Carlisle.

The Bear defense held Carlisle scoreless and came close to pulling out a huge upset. But late in the game, a broken play resulted in a Cal fumble into the end zone, which Carlisle recovered for a safety.  Final score: Carlisle 2, California 0.  Nevertheless, the game was considered a great success for Cal and for west coast football, demonstrating that they could hold their own against an eastern power. (For more on the spectacular 1899 season, click here.)

After the Carlisle game, Coach Cochran decided that the time had come for him to return home to the east.  His accomplishments in the space of just two years were extraordinary.  The Bears had gone15-1-3, and outscored their opponents 363-7. Their sole defeat had been a 2-0 loss to the team generally regarded as the best in the country.  The Bears had shutout their opponents in 10 straight games and in 1899 the Bear defense did not give up a single point. California had also become the first west coast team to gain the attention and respect of the eastern press.  It was an amazing record for a young coach who was still only 24 years old.

When Cochran returned home, he took the head coaching job at Navy, where his team went 6-3 in the 1900 season, including an 11-7 win over arch-rival Army.  He then decided it was time to settle down into a "real" job, and took a position at the Williamsport Wire Rope Company.  But the following year, 1902, the head coaching position at his alma mater, Princeton, came open, and he could not resist.  Cochran led the 1902 Princeton Tigers to an 8-1 record.  Thus, by the age of 27, Garry Cochran had four years of experience as a college head coach, with a career record of 29-5-3.  Had he remained in coaching, he might now be regarded as one of the all-time greats.  But, instead, he decided that it really was time to settle down to a "real" job. After the end of the 1902 season, he married Eleanor McNeeley of Philadelphia, and returned to the Williamsport Wire Rope Company, of which he eventually became president.

But Garry Cochran never completely lost his adventurous spirit.  He joined the Pennsylvania National Guard and, in 1916, was sent to serve along the Mexican Border in a what proved to be a fruitless American pursuit of the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. In a sad irony, Charles "Lol" Pringle, who had been a star player on Cochran's California teams, was killed in Arizona by Pancho Villa's raiders that same year.


Lieutenant Garrett Cochran in 1917

Cochran was called to active duty again in 1917 for service in World War I.  He was sent to France with his unit and served as a lieutenant in the field artillery. In June 1918, Cochran developed a severe case of pneumonia.  He was put on a ship back to the United States for treatment, but he died on July 8, 1918, before the ship reached port. He was 42 years old, and left behind his wife and three young children.  In Berkeley, Coach Cochran's legacy was not forgotten, and a memorial service was held for him at the site of the "Football Players" statue which his teams had won for California with their spectacular Big Game victories in 1898 and 1899.  It was at this time that Garrett Cochran's name was engraved on the base of the "Football Players" statue, added to the list of names of his players.


The memorial service for Garrett Cochran in Berkeley.  In attendance, at the far left of the photograph are his former players, "Kangaroo" Pete Kaarsberg, Percy Hall, and Warren "Locomotive" Smith. The speaker is Judge Everett J. Brown, the man who hired Cochran to coach at Cal in 1898.

Upon hearing of this honor to Garry Cochran, the Princeton Alumni Association sent a letter of thanks to the University of California, and placed this apt tribute to Cochran's California coaching career in the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

Every university has a football team that stands out prominently from the many other strong ones that are developed from year to year.  In the University of California the teams of 1898 and 1899 are looked upon as those which started the University on its victorious football career. . . . With the coming of a coach from the East, football was played with a different spirit, and before the season had advanced very far, the whole University knew that a leader had come amongst them.  The student body was awakened to the need for getting behind the team and giving them the support necessary to win. Garrett Cochran '97 of Princeton was the coach who accomplished this. He did much for California.  It was his spirit which spread through the student body.  His enthusiasm for and thorough knowledge of the game soon showed results, and the season ended with a victory and the biggest score California had ever run up over Stanford.

In 1971, Garrett Cochran was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.




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Be nice. You can find the original CGB team at

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