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Getting to know Marques Tuiasosopo, the new Cal QB coach

The Pac-12 veteran player and coach makes his way to Berkeley

Fight Hunger Bowl - BYU v Washington Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In hiring his coaching staff, new Cal HC Justin Wilcox has made a point to find assistants who have extensive experience working on the West Coast. A failure to retain local recruits was a common gripe during the Sonny Dykes era at Cal, and Wilcox has made a concerted effort to turn that around. So it makes perfect sense that he would hire someone like Marques Tuiasosopo, a guy who has had success as both a player and coach with a number of West Coast programs.

Tuiasosopo, who will serve as QB coach and passing game coordinator under Wilcox, started his football career as a quarterback for the Washington Huskies in 1997. He spent his first two seasons as the backup for Huskies legend Brock Huard before coach Rick Neuheisel named him the starter at the start of his junior year. Tuiasosopo led Washington to a 7-5 record in his first season as a starter, including a record-breaking win over the eventual conference champion Stanford Cardinal. In that game, Tui became the first college player to pass for 300 yards and run for 200 more, cementing his bona fides as a lifetime enemy of the Furd.

Tuiasosopo showed significant improvement in his senior season, guiding the Huskies to an 11-1 record and a Rose Bowl win over Purdue. He finished eighth in the Heisman voting that season and was drafted 59th overall by the Oakland Raiders. Most of his professional career was spent as a backup QB in Oakland (minus a year on the Jets roster), and he started just two games before retiring from the league in 2008.

Tui got his first coaching gig at his alma mater, serving as an assistant strength coach for two seasons under newly-hired Steve Sarkisian. He then moved to UCLA in 2011 where he worked first as a GA and then as tight ends coach in his second year. After two seasons in Los Angeles, Tuiasosopo returned to Washington as a QBs coach. He took on the interim HC role when Sark departed for USC prior to the Huskies’ bowl game in 2013. Tui’s main pupil at Washington was senior QB Keith Price, who posted his most productive season despite battling a shoulder injury. It was in that season that Tuiasosopo would first work with Justin Wilcox, and the two of them would follow Sarkisian to USC that offseason.

Though Tuiasosopo was offered the chance to remain at Washington by Chris Petersen, he elected to take on the dual role of TEs coach and associate HC for the Trojans in 2014. During his time at SC, Tui established himself as a highly effective recruiter; for his efforts in locking down the Trojans’ top-ranked 2015 class, he was named Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by Scout. Promisingly for Cal, he was credited with the recruitment of top players on both offense and defense—including a pair of highly-touted linebackers.

Sark’s dismissal from USC also signaled the end of the road for Tuiasosopo with the Trojans, as new head coach Clay Helton signaled a change of direction by hiring his younger brother Ty as passing game coordinator before the 2016 season. Tui moved across town to take the same position at UCLA, adding QBs coach back to his list of responsibilities.

This year was a mixed bag for the Bruins, who struggled to a 4-7 record thanks to Josh Rosen’s season-ending injury and the uneven performance of his replacement, senior Mike Fafaul. Rosen was showing signs of improvement Under Tuiasosopo’s tutelage, demonstrating improved vision and passing efficiency before hurting his shoulder against Arizona State. Fafaul couldn’t say the same, throwing nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12) and completing just 52% of his passes in eight games of service. Even with Fafaul’s struggles though, the Bruins finished the season ranked 19th in passing yards per game.

The Bruins changed tack this offseason, letting offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu walk after just one year and hiring Jedd Fisch in his place. Sensing the Bruins were looking at a wholesale change of staff, Tui reportedly contacted Nevada about their head coaching vacancy (which eventually went to ASU’s Jay Norvell). As we know, his search ended with a new position at Cal, made official last week.

Tuiasosopo’s record as a QBs coach, then, is not particularly extensive. Likewise, it lacks the big-name clout that Jake Spavital had, having coached Johnny Manziel. But what Tui does bring is experience with West Coast programs and a reputation as a big-time recruiter. With Cal being forced to bring in a graduate transfer at QB last season, that’s an encouraging sign for improved continuity within the program.

Further, Tui’s hiring marks the first time since 2012 that the Bears will have a full-time quarterbacks coach who isn’t splitting responsibilities with some other position group. That was something Cal could get away with the past few years, seeing as Goff seemed to have a pretty solid handle on things without too much extra attention. But now, as Wilcox’s staff will have to pick a starter from a group of largely untested players, that dedicated coaching should pay dividends.

What remains to be seen is whether Berkeley will become a long-term home for Tuiasosopo, a young assistant coach who thus far hasn’t stayed in any one place for more than two years. That he has returned to work with Wilcox after being together at two other programs in the past suggests that theirs could be a lasting partnership if all goes well.