Note: These names are based entirely on speculation. We have no known list of candidates.
Oh Tosh Lupoi. Who knew your name would ever appear on a Cal coaching search again. But here you are!
Pedigree: Lupoi got his first start on Jeff Tedford’s coaching staff as the youngest coach in Cal football history at 26 years old. Lupoi served as defensive line coach from 2008 to 2011, when the Bears enjoyed some of their greatest defensive successes in three of those four season. Lupoi helped develop NFL defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu, and the Bears enjoyed historical success despite Lupoi only having three down linemen to work with in a 3-4.
After Tosh departed for Washington in controversial fashion, the Huskies enjoyed solid success in those two seasons, coaching up future NFL prospects Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. After Steve Sarkisian left for USC, Lupoi did not follow due to NCAA allegations of paying for a recruit’s tutoring services.
He’d eventually end up at Alabama as an analyst and then became the outside linebackers coach in 2015, and would win his first national title with the Tide last season. Lupoi is currently preparing for Alabama’s second national title game in a row, with the Tide sporting one of the greatest defenses in college football history.
Recruiting: You know his work. Lupoi was named the 2010 Rivals recruiter of the year for most notably flipping Keenan Allen from Alabama to Cal. He is of course most infamous for recruiting Shaq Thompson at Cal before both of them departed to Washington. And he’s kept the recruiting game going at Alabama, going both national (Dylan Moses) and Bay Area (Najee Harris) in this class for the Tide.
Probably of highest note is the quality of talent he recruited to Washington to help rebuild that program to quality contender. Aside from Thompson, linebacker Joe Mathis, defensive lineman Elijah Qualls, guard Andrew Kirkland, wide receiver Darrell Daniels, and defensive tackle Vita Vea were all Tosh recruits, and instrumental components of Washington’s Pac-12 title run this season.
His defensive recruiting at Cal was mixed—most of the Cal three-star and four-star prospects fell prey to the injury bug and din’t make a huge impact—but much of that can probably be blamed on poor strength and conditioning. What would be of concern is if Lupoi can recruit at a high level given the new Cal academic restrictions.
Coaching style: We’re all familiar with the intensity of Lupoi. Here’s a reminder:
He’s a bundle of energy during practice, running players through drills while screaming at the top of his lungs.
“He’s very intense,” Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson said.
“From the way we meet to the way we practice, it’s just different. He keeps us on our P's and Q's.”
Evans, who labeled Lupoi a hands-on coach, went as far as to compare him to Alabama’s infamous strength coach Scott Cochran, who is well-known for his drill-sergeant-esque encouragement.
“He brings everything he has and is yelling as loud as Cochran is,” he said. “If anything, you would think he’s a weight training coach, that’s the type of energy he brings. He knows how to motivate.”
But there’s a method behind the perceived madness.
Lupoi described his style as one of “constant improvement.”
“It’s what I’d like to get out of my players,” he said, “and for them to recognize that we’ve never arrived and we’re always in the process of trying to get better.
“I tend to do that myself and hope that they would do that as well.”
Scheme: Lupoi has never been a defensive coordinator on any level. He has been a positional coach for nearly a decade. It’s unclear what scheme he’d run, but if I had to guess he’d try and stick to what he knows, which is a 3-4, with a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid as a fourth down lineman. You can think of Mychal Kendricks in 2011 when he won Pac-12 player of the year. Alabama’s version of that is Tim Williams.
You can see the issues that Lupoi would face if he took over Cal’s defense at this present moment. The personnel is severely lacking barring an immediate hire and an amazing recruiting finish. I’d also be more comfortable if Cal had a coach who had a better knowledge of the defensive side of the football to oversee Lupoi. Sonny Dykes is not exactly someone you’d turn to regarding defensive philosophy, so he’d essentially be handing Lupoi the keys and hoping he’s ready to go.
The big question: Can the Cal donors forgive? Lupoi left Cal in the lurch in 2012, which ended up blowing up a promising recruiting class, and Cal has really never been the same (one winning season in five years). That is a lot of damage done.
On the flip side, the Cal defense has done a 180 and has never been worse, and the Bears will not be competing for anything of note unless improvements are immediate. The hurting on that side of the football might be enough for the impatient ones in Bear Territory to let bygones be bygones.
Conclusions: I think Lupoi can be brought back with the right package. Giving Lupoi a chance to be the defensive coordinator of a Division 1 program with no previous experience is a tantalizing opportunity. It would need to come with job security of some sort though, because there are other programs replacing defensive coordinators that have coaches on long-term deals. It’s unclear if Cal can offer that type of security right now.
And Lupoi is a Bay Area guy. Regardless of where he’s been, the Bay Area is where he loves to recruit. Coming back to Cal and returning the Bears to glory would offer him a potential redemption arc.
I’d say there’s significant upside to bringing in Lupoi. He’s a magnificent recruiter and should be able to restack Cal with quality talent. He has the Cal story sold and can bring in the right quality of Cal athletes now that the football program is receiving better care and administrative support. Even if he moves the Cal defense back to “above average”, with the quality of the Cal offense, the Bears would likely return to the upper echelon of the conference.
The question is finding the security with which to offer him the job, and brings us back to our original defensive coordinator dilemma. Can Cal get a hot DC candidate without promising them long-term job security because of the iffy job status of Sonny Dykes?